With the transition to electric, software-defined vehicles, technology is becoming a point of focus like never before, and one of the most important pieces of tech is the infotainment system. The Tesla Model S with its massive 17-inch portrait-style infotainment screen made this evident, and manufacturers have since been trying to mimic Tesla’s solution of putting larger and larger touchscreens in their cars, with ever-more functions moving into the screen.

Very few manufacturers have messed with the orthogonal nature of car infotainment displays, though, with most opting for simple rectangles. Mini has thrown out the playbook with Operating System 9, however, and it’s excellent. Its round shape is inspired by Mini's history, and it's surprisingly delightful to use.

All modern Mini models have had a retro-infused design, including the interior. That’s why every generation of new Mini built under BMW ownership has had some style of round ornament in the center of the dash housing dials or infotainment, mimicking the central placement of the instrument cluster in the original Mini.

Mini Operating System 9

Mini Operating System 9

However, when BMW put a display in there, it was trying to put a literal square peg square into a round hole. The result was always going to look awkward. With its latest generation of models, Mini is finally doing the original design justice by making a gorgeous 9.45-inch round display the focal point of the interior. They call it the “Mini Interaction Unit.”

It’s not a big screen by current standards—it wouldn’t have been considered big ten years ago—but it just looks right. It's placed within easy reach and the circular form factor makes it feel special. There are bigger, flashier displays like the 56-inch Mercedes Hyperscreen, but the new Mini infotainment shows size isn’t everything.

Samsung OLED Magic

Mini Operating System 9

Mini Operating System 9

There’s something indescribably cool about a completely circular display. You get less screen real estate than on a square or rectangular screen, but I don’t care because it feels enjoyable and natural to use. Mini says it has placed the screen closer to the two front occupants compared to previous models, keeping it within easy reach.

It is an OLED (short for organic light-emitting diodes) screen, which isn’t all that common in the automotive industry. Automotive OLED displays have the same advantages as a modern flagship smartphone's OLED: great contrast, deep blacks, better image quality, improved viewing angles, quicker response time and better energy efficiency compared to LED or LCD screens. And because black pixels in an OLED display are fully off—not backlit as they are in an LCD—OLEDs reduce eye strain and improve contrast at night. 

The 9.45-inch screen is made by Samsung, and it took the Korean technology giant four years to develop this display specially for Mini, drawing on its vast experience making round screens for smartwatches. You can tell it’s a high-quality screen not only by the high resolution—there are no visible pixels no matter how closely you look—but also by the accuracy and responsiveness of the touch functionality.

Mini OS9 Official Photos

Mini OS9 Official Photos

Mini OS9 Official Photos

Mini OS9 Official Photos

You can add an optional light projector behind the screen, which illuminates the entire dashboard with patterns and colors that vary depending on the mode and activity. This isn’t as cool as older Minis’ mood lighting embedded into the dashboard trim, but it’s a unique feature that no other car has, and it leaves room for future updates to bring new patterns and colors.

The optional head-up display (still shown on a separate flip-up screen rather than directly on the windscreen) also adjusts its colors and graphics to match the driving mode. I’m usually not a fan of HUDs displayed on a flip-up screen, but this one is good enough that I don’t mind it.

Mini Operating System 9


Just like the new iDrive 9 that BMW is rolling out for its smaller models, Mini Operating System 9 was developed in-house based on the Android Open Source Project (AOPS for short) software stack, and the two systems are related. Unlike in older systems, though, you wouldn't know they're related. They look and feel very different.

There are very few physical buttons for interacting with the infotainment. You have a couple of shortcuts and simple directional controls to move through menus from the steering wheel, and below the screen, there’s a toggle to go through the driving modes (now called “experiences”) and a rotary volume control. But while I struggled to use BMW's button-light iDrive 9 in the iX2, I had no issues with the Mini. I’d even say that using this infotainment system is fun.

Mini OS9 Official Photos

Unlike in BMWs, where the driver gets a separate digital gauge cluster, the Mini system puts everything on the central screen, which feels way more special. You have eight Mini Experience Modes to choose from: Core, Green, Go-Kart, Personal, Balance, Timeless and Vivid. There’s also Trail mode that's only available in the Countryman crossover.

Personal mode is the only one shared with the BMW system, and it allows you to set your own background image, a simple feature that’s missing from most cars with fancy high-resolution screens. Uploading a custom background is quite simple, and you can pick any image you have on your phone and send it to the car via the Mini app.

Some of the other modes are only accessible via a monthly subscription (the equivalent of the $9.99 BMW Digital Premium monthly plan), but the one that matters, Go-Kart mode, comes standard. It's equivalent to the old Sport mode, giving you to access all of the car’s performance.

Mini OS9 Official Photos

Timeless is my favorite of them all, though. With its retro look and beige color theme, it completely changed the ambiance inside the car, more so than any of the other modes. You can have navigation in the center of the screen for all these modes, and its color palette changes to match each one.

Whichever mode you’re in, swiping left or right will take you to different screens, including ones for phone information, navigation, media, weather, car information and a live representation of the vehicle. The screen responds very well to your touch inputs, and all the animations are fluid and stutter-free.

At the bottom of the screen, there’s a bar with shortcuts to frequently used functions like climate, media, navigation and phone. For basic climate functions like adjusting the temperature or enabling the seat and steering wheel heating, you don’t have to go into the climate screen, and you can do it by tapping on one of the two climate zones on the screens.

This is still not as good as having physical climate controls, but the solution in the Mini is the next best thing—I found it to be one of the least frustrating touchscreen-only climate controls in any car.

Next-Level Navigation

Mini OS9 Official Photos

Mini OS9 Official Photos

Mini OS9 Official Photos

Mini OS9 Official Photos

The navigation function has been improved, and for the electric versions of the Mini, it will now look for charging along the route. It will not only tell you where the chargers are and how much power they deliver, but it will also tell you how much charge you will have in your battery when you get there and how long you need to charge at a given location. Mini calls this “charging-optimized route planning,” and it’s a must-have feature for an electric vehicle these days. I'm happy to see it included.

The map itself looks way better than in older Minis, and holding and dragging to move to another place on the map or pinching to zoom works really well. It even has 3D buildings. Most of them are blocks representing a building's approximate volume, but there are also recognizable landmarks that look more detailed.

Mini has also added an augmented reality function that adds navigation information over a feed from the front-facing camera. This is like other similar systems from other manufacturers—Volkswagen and Mercedes have been offering this for a few years—and it works just as well. It’s not quite as advanced as in an ID.3, for instance, which projects directions directly onto the windscreen so you don’t constantly have to look at the infotainment.

One big benefit of using Android code as a base for Mini Operating System 9 is that it is compatible with a wide range of apps. When I tried it out, it had a couple of games and proprietary apps to download, but Mini says new apps will be added over time and porting already existing apps should be easy too. The system can also receive over-the-air updates through its built-in 5G connection. You have to pay for it, but having a car with its own internet is a cool feature.

Say Hello To Spike

Mini has tried hard to inject personality into its infotainment, and it’s taken a page out of Chinese automakers’ book to give its intelligent voice assistant a name—Spike. You can keep it impersonal and just have a stylized Mini appear whenever you engage with the voice assistant, or you can choose Spike, a cute stylized English bulldog that pops up from the bottom of the screen.

Engaging with the voice assistant is surprisingly easy, and it can answer (or try to answer) pretty much any question you have. Gone are the days when these systems only recognized certain pre-recorded phrases. You can almost have a conversation with Spike, and it seems to pick up what you’re saying quite accurately thanks to two microphones located in the headliner.

Mini already offers the AI-based Alexa Custom Assistant in the United Kingdom, but it’s not available anywhere else yet, so I couldn’t try it out. It promises to further expand the realm of possible questions and ways for you to interact with the voice assistant. The company says it will be made available in other markets at a later date via an over-the-air update.

Infotainment Evolved

Mini Operating System 9
Mini Operating System 9
Mini Operating System 9

There are a few things I didn’t like about Mini Operating System 9. It ran almost flawlessly, better than BMW’s iDrive 9, and had a lot of personality and functionality. Yet I did observe some slight stutters when swiping from one screen to the next. These were so rare that I didn’t feel like they marred the overall experience.

Playing games through the AirConsole App—which grants you access to over 130 multiplayer games—isn’t quite as good as it is in BMWs with rectangular screens. When you launch the app, it opens a square window in the center of the screen, so it doesn’t use all of the available surface area. Games look pretty small. The same goes for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are displayed in a square window that I thought looked a bit strange. At least they're both wireless. 

Gallery: Mini Operating System 9

Overall, the interface is way easier to navigate compared to the BMW version. Even though I will admit I’m not the biggest fan of having to do everything through a touchscreen, what Mini has achieved here is quite remarkable. The company has also proved out what I already believed: Bigger screens aren't always the answer.

Other manufacturers need to take note. I liked Mini OS 9 better than the Tesla's infotainment system, which used to be my favorite system. The Tesla offers a smooth experience, but Mini shows that good technology can be fun, too.

Got a tip for us? Email: tips@insideevs.com