The designers over at Mini have both the easiest and toughest job in the auto industry. Why? Because, while they do not have to reinvent the wheel with each passing generation of the Cooper hatchback, they also have to keep the styling fresh and with the times.
That said, we were not expecting a radical redesign of the next Mini Cooper codenamed F56 that our crafty spies captured testing in Europe. Perhaps the most visible change to the styling of the F56 are the new headlamps that sit less upright stretching more towards the back.
Other noteworthy differences we spotted on the prototype is the slightly longer front overhang and the more rakish front and rear windshields compared to the current, second generation of the hardtop model since BMW took over the British company's fates.
We have not managed to scoop the interior yet, but we expect Mini to retain the car's basic styling philosophy with the funky décor and large speedometer located on the center console.
The big news about the F56 has to do with its underpinnings. As suggested by its codename that replaces the previous models' "R" prefix with the BMW-esque "F" prefix, the new hardtop will be the first Mini to share a common platform with a BMW model.
Before you mind starts…drifting, it is not the Mini that will get rear-wheel drive but the 1-Series that will adopt a front-wheel drive platform, or at least some of the models in the range. One of them is the 1-Series Gran Turismo, rumored to debut at this year's Paris Motor Show in September.
The new Mini hatchback as well as the other body styles in the range, will make use of a modified version of this architecture. We will also see Mini and future small BMWs sharing a new family of turbocharged three-cylinder engines as well as a plug-in hybrid driveline.
The next generation of the Mini hardtop will enter the market in 2013 with a convertible model to follow about a year later.