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The new Mini Cooper is design-forward and fashionable

At the IAA in Munich, Mini showed off the new electric Mini Cooper and Countryman cars with subtle new designs and a fresh take on infotainment.

The new circular OLED screen stole the show and sits prominently on the centre of the dashboard like the crown jewel of the car. It runs the new Mini OS 9, which looks incredibly modern. Time will tell if users react positively to it, but as a tech nerd who loves cars, I’ve been waiting for someone to make bold steps like this.

Mini says that it’s based on the same logic people use when operating smartphones, and in my brief time looking at it, it lived up to expectations

The new Mini display

The glass screen is almost a full circle and has a diameter of 240mm. It also has a flat bottom like older smartwatches like the Moto 360, but at this scale, it’s less of an issue since there’s ample screen real estate for the car’s features.

The OLED panel looks very colour-rich, and it’s very responsive to the touch. It’s not as snappy as a phone, but it’s very close. The software is also designed with larger-than-you’d-expect touch targets, which make it easy to interact with the controls. This is a good thing since 90 percent of the car’s controls are digital. Yes, this includes climate controls, but thankfully, the defrost button is still physical.

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In my brief hands-on time with the new system, it felt fairly straightforward, and swiping around the OS worked as expected. My favourite part was being able to switch between the eight software themes. Each one was visually distinct and helped the car change its personality on the fly. Even the accent lights in the cabin switch to match the aesthetic of the screen.

The company has segmented the circular area with the top holding vehicle information like battery status and speed. When you hit the accelerator, the screen morphs into a giant speedometer, and it looks fantastic. It does seem like it might take a bit of time to build enough muscle memory to use this new system appropriately, but I think buyers will be happy overall and will learn how to use it quickly.

Swiping up from the bottom of the display reveals a few custom widgets on the screen. In my testing, these were all labelled in German, so I was unclear what they were doing, but it feels like an easy way to access all your most used controls.

In a strangely pleasing turn of events, Mini added a physical toggle that switches between these modes. It feels a little extra to have a hardware controller for this, but it’s really satisfying and fun to use. The company chose to leave it and a few other dials just below the screen to help modernize the simple Mini dashboard from 1959. To bring this fully into the 2020s, BMW is also touting many improvements to the in-car voice assistant, but it was in German at the event, so I was unable to properly test it.

Overall, the new screen looks amazing, functions smartly and feels laid out like a typical dashboard, but without the satisfying button click that some people might miss.

Design

On the outside, the Mini Cooper and Countryman have both been simplified to their core elements, much like the dash. This means less detailing all around, giving the car a clean feeling. It’s a smart refresh for the brand, giving the company a clean slate to work from in the coming years while still retaining the iconic Mini off-colour roof and proportions.

In the hands-on areas, I was drawn to the taller stance of the Countryman, but up close, the Mini Cooper also looks very nice.

The new Mini front grill uses a subtle grey/silver colour instead of chrome, and it gives the car a slightly more robotic look that gels with its futuristic software. The company also dropped the iconic side accents (known as scuttles) and I was worried that it would look too plain. However, in motion, it’s still a classic Mini with bright round headlights and a short go-kart-style stance.

On the rear, the company also retooled the taillights, but this time, it added in a nice bit of customizability. Drivers can choose to have the lights take on the classic Union Jack flag design or two other looks that can help give your car a bit of personalization. Combining this with the custom infotainment screen and this is stacking up to be a very appealing car.

The rest of the interior is also very clean and minimal. There are different trim levels available, but both the Countryman and Cooper on display at the reveal event were comfortable and cool. The Mini even had some fun accent straps on the dash that helped this version feel moderately sporty.

Conclusion

This is a big step for Mini and these new vehicles are its most exciting electric options yet. Combining potential industry-leading infotainment with a new clean design might help capture more users around the world.

There’s no word on Canadian pricing yet, but perspective drivers can expect to learn more before the car’s full launch in 2024.

The Mini will start with a 402KM range and the Countryman will drive as far as 462KM.

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