(Pocket-lint) - Mini pitches itself at youthful tech-savvy people who want a car that's personalised and fun, while not missing out on any of the core technology essentials.
It has an infotainment system that offers lots of options, covering the basics from a 6.5-inch display and Bluetooth connectivity as standard, with an upgrade option to an 8.8-inch system that's has wider smartphone connection options, remote access features and a whole lot more.
Here's a deep dive into what you get from Mini, what's available and how well it all performs.
Mini displays: A tale of two sizes
As standard you get a central display in all Mini models, built into the roundel that sits in the centre of the dash. On older Minis, this space was used as a speedo, with BMW aping the style of the classic Mini with a central dial cluster. In around 2011 this became a dial and a display, before moving to the current layout in about 2014.
This has evolved to the latest models where a 6.5-inch display is standard, sitting in the centre of this circle and only expanding to 8.8-inch touch display when you opt for the Navigation Plus Pack.
The latter makes the best use of space, but both can be controlled via the buttons in the centre of the car, with a clickable dial and individual buttons for the main areas of the system - nav, map, phone, media - if you have all those options. This controller will be recognisable to anyone who has been in a BMW, because it's essentially the iDrive controller.
However, where the big central dial was fun when the Mini first appeared, there's no avoiding that putting a rectangular-ish screen in a circle doesn't make the best use of space, so we wouldn't be surprised to see some sort of design update in the future.
The driver's display
Which leads us neatly to the driver's display. Early Mini models were very minimalist in the driver display department, with essentially a dial sitting on the top of the steering column. Again, there is a heavy dose of retro design here and that's evolved to add extra information around the edges.
But it's only the advent of the Mini Electric - fully launching in 2020 - that shifts to a digital display (below). For everyone else, you have a central speedo, flanked by other information fuel gauge/battery power and small display with select driving information.
This has also lead to the advent of the heads-up display as an option. With the driver's display somewhat constrained by styling, the heads-up display provides a route to get things like track information, speed signs and navigation directions into the eye-line of the driver - and avoid the need to look in the centre of the car.
We can't help feeling that the driver display refresh that's been designed for the Mini Electric will filter across to other models as it brings some escape from current limitations - although it's worth noting that on the whole, the interior of the Mini Electric (with a central round infotainment display) appears to be the same as the current generation of Mini.
A quick overview of the Mini system
Mini's in-car infotainment system is loosely based on BMW's iDrive - as hinted by that similar controller. The system also has a similar click-through hierarchy of pages, divided into major segments - My Mini (car controls, stats), Mini Connected, Notifications, Communication, Media, Navigation - although what you get might depend on the packs you have (pictured here are Navigation Pack Plus screens).
Beyond the main icons, Mini applies colour themes across the system and it's fairly click heavy, asking you to rotate the dial and click to confirm before moving to the next level. Mini has always liked to add some graphical flair and you don't have to dig too deep to find a Mini wearing a pair of sunglasses.
Things can be a little hard to find, so it's often easiest to hit the buttons on the controller to start in the right place, before clicking through - and knocking the "iDrive" controller back to move back up to the previous menu.
There's also a "recent" section which is a drop-down bar at the top. This can save a lot of navigation as it means you can open it up and scroll across to something you were recently looking at.
We suspect that with BMW moving to a new interface in BMW Operating System 7, that Mini might change the user experience in its cars for parity across brands.
It's all about packs
Mini loves packs - it has packs for styling and packs for technology, and the ones we are interested in are called Navigation Pack and Navigation Pack Plus.
If you want to uprate the technology in your Mini, this is where you start. Everyone gets Bluetooth as standard - and that will provide calling and Bluetooth audio, as well as USB audio, meaning that if you plug in your phone you can access the content on it.
That also means, as standard, you can use your phone with streaming music services on your Mini, get access to your contacts for calling and so on - on both Android and Apple devices.
You also get a DAB radio as standard.
The Navigation Pack is standard on the Clubman and Countryman, meaning you get a full dose of connected technology if you are opting for either of those models. Otherwise, you need to make sure you have opted for the Navigation Pack to access a range of tech on the Hatch or Convertible.
The highlights include Mini Connected and Apple CarPlay (both discussed below) which are big parts of the package.
Navigation Pack also brings satnav as the name suggests. If you have the Clubman and the Countryman, again there are extension features included with real-time traffic information, ConnectedDrive services (online search and weather) and remote services for Mini Connected.
Mini's navigation is pretty good. The colour scheme is a little whacky so it's not always as clear as some other systems, but being able to quickly zoom using the controller helps. If you have the heads-up display, you'll get arrows in your eye-line to help guide you as well.
Navigation Pack Plus
The big thing that Navigation Pack Plus brings is the 8.8-inch touch display. This does a better job of filling that space in the centre of the dash, although in some situations (like when using Apple CarPlay) its width means you either have a section of the display that's not really doing anything, or you have to have it presenting in split screen.
This enhanced pack brings wireless phone charging for Qi compatible phones (that's recent glass-backed iPhones and many Android devices) and the charger is in the centre armrest. This cage also boosts the phone's reception using the antenna on the outside of the car and means that your phone is out of the way so you're not tempted to play with it when driving.
Because the Mini supports Apple CarPlay wirelessly, there's no need to plug it in - but more on that in a second.
Nav Plus also has concierge services, so you can dial-up an assistant to find information, includes remote services via the smartphone app, traffic information and weather, so there's a whole host of extras if you're getting it for the Hatch or Convertible, while the big benefit on the larger Minis is the display.
Apple CarPlay on the Mini
Apple CarPlay is one of the sought-after features for car owners now, letting you access compatible apps and services on your device. You'll have to have one of the Navigation Packs to get it on the Mini as we detail above. Assuming you do, that then gives you wireless Apple CarPlay, which is still a fairly rare thing.
This is an added convenience because you don't need your phone plugged in like many systems - you just pair with Bluetooth and if your phone supports CarPlay, the car will prompt you to enable it.
You retain the option to have a CarPlay connection or to just use a smartphone connection, so if you'd rather not use Apple's system, you have ability to choose.
Apple CarPlay will present a familiar graphical interface, with big icons for the core services like mapping, including the ability to choose who provides the mapping - Apple Maps, Google Maps or Waze.
You can also use a wide range of streaming music and podcast services.
Connecting to Apple CarPlay will also mean that a long press on the steering wheel button will trigger Siri for voice commands when you're driving.
A note on Android Auto
There's no support for Android Auto on Mini cars. There's also no support for Android Auto on BMW cars on which this system is based.
You can still connect an Android phone and take advantage of Bluetooth functions, but you can't have the fully connected experience that iPhone owners get.
Mini Connected is a whole collection of extended services that stretch onto your smartphone via an app. It's supported by both Android and iOS, but iPhone users have a much more advanced system.
At a basic level, the Mini Connected app will let you link your phone with your car so you can see status info, like how much range you have, what mileage you've been getting, share arrival times with contacts and access Mini Connected ready apps (for iPhone users).
Connecting takes some patience as you need to register an account, register the VIN and then enter a password that the car gives you. But once that process is completed, logging into your Mini Connected account on any device will show you that linked vehicle.
This latter option is one of the ways of connecting phone-based apps with the car and Alexa is one of those options. There's a whole range of Mini Connected-ready apps, including the likes of Spotify, Deezer, TuneIn to get you access to streaming music.
Mini connected also provides remote services (Clubman and Countryman on Navigation Pack, all on Navigation Pack Plus) and these remote services will let you do things like remotely lock the car - as well as move navigation from phone to car.
Being able to search for a destination on your phone and send that to the car is useful, because in many cases it's easier to input information on your phone before you leave and then your car will know where you're going when you get in. It works really well and is available on both Android and iOS as long as the car is compatible.
This can also be extended to frequent trips, destinations from your calendar, with a pre-planning option saying when you want to make that journey.
We've tested Mini Connected on the Countryman SE - the plug-in hybrid - and it gives you access to information like how efficiently you've been driving and how many miles you've done on electric since the last charge, as well as pre-conditioning options. With the launch of the Mini Electric in 2020, this information will become a lot more important to drivers.
Voice control and Alexa
There are a number of routes to voice control in the Mini. At the basic level, a press of the voice button on the steering wheel will fire up the default voice control system. This is basically not worth using, unless you're prepared to practise, because it's one of those older systems that doesn't really understand or interpret things well - it's frustrating to use unless you nail the exact phase it will recognise.
BMW recently replaced its system with a Hey BMW system on new cars - which is really good - and we wouldn't be surprised if Mini gets a system of its own based on the same platform.
For those using Apple CarPlay, you'll get Siri on a long press of that voice button. That works as well as Siri does, although we found it can be a little slow. Whether this is due to connectivity on the phone, or just Siri taking its time, we don't know.
If you happen to use Waze as your navigation software, there is a backdoor into using Google voice services here, as Waze will allow the "Ok Waze" hotword, or allow you to tap the microphone that appears on the display - and we found this works better than BMW's system or Siri when it comes to navigation.
As we mentioned, Alexa is one of the services that Mini Connected facilitates. To get Alexa to work you'll have to connect the Mini Connected app with your Alexa account and then have that phone connected to the car.
To access Alexa, you have to short press the button and then talk to Alexa - if you don't use the Alexa hotword, you'll end up in BMW's system instead.
If you do connect and Android phone, you can always use Google Assistant with Ok Google on your phone to control things like music - although you can also click through tracks via the buttons on the dash - but it's no where near as good as having the full Android Auto experience.
There's a range of technologies on offer through the Mini, and Mini Connected is actually pretty good for those who want something out of the car as well as in the car. There's a leaning towards the iPhone - and both BMW and Mini have never denied that - but if you do have an Android phone you still get a lot.
Mini's own services are pretty good - the interface, while perhaps not as easy to navigate as a smartphone, is easy enough to use especially if you stick to the major control buttons. But it is fast and fun and it doesn't look as dated as some rivals do.
Overall, there's definitely a sense that it's worth upgrading to get the Navigation Pack, as that brings a lot with it. We always enjoy the larger display of the Plus - but ultimately, there are some constraints on what's presented because of Mini's retro-leaning interior design.