New EV model, due in 2019, sheds light on future design direction of BMW brand
Mini confirmed, production of the Mini Electric for its Oxford plant in 2019 last year, 11 years after the Mini E was launched. Just 600 examples of that pure-electric Mini were made.
The Mini Electric’s official unveiling took place at the Frankfurt motor show, and in the lead-up to the production model’s arrival, a schedule of public events has been lined up. BMW has explained the Mini’s technical make-up simply as having a “powerful electric motor”.
However, after Autocar viewed the car, it’s clear that the concept gives strong hints not only at the first production battery-powered model, but also at how Mini’s design language could be reinvented as it enters the third decade as a BMW brand.
Mini’s exterior design boss, Christopher Weil, said the job of creating the Mini Electric concept started in January and lasted just six months. “The process was very quick,” he said. “Projects that run quickly are often both nicer to work on and more effective than those that take longer. The quicker we move, the more pure ideas can be.”
Weil, of course, applied the expected caution: “This is just a concept car — we are thinking about how an electric Mini could look. This is not the production car — we are just in the process of designing it, so it is too early to say [how it will inform the production car].”
The concept does not contain an interior. Changes to that will remain hidden until closer to production. Nevertheless, this car is a clear proposal for modernising the Mini range. Some within the company believe that the current hatchback models have missed the mark, their chrome-laden chubbiness harking too much to the past.
The stylistic indications that the concept is battery- powered are subtle. The lower edge of the car along both sides and across the back is marked by a matt black strip that consists of radiator-like cooling fins.
Like the recent BMW 8 Series concept, the Mini also gets an air extractor slot behind the front wheel, a much more heavily sculpted bodyside — the R50 and R56 Minis had almost flat door skins — and a neat intake and tiny spoiler in front of the rear wheel. Weil referred to this as the “efficiency layer” and added: “The way you manage airflow is specific for every individual car, but the main aerodynamic principles are the same. It’s very good for the drag co-efficient when you have an opening behind the wheels so that the air can flow out, rather than just creating turbulence [inside the wheel wells].” He admitted that the unusual asymmetric wheel design is heavily influenced by 1980s car design.
By approaching the Mini Electric from the rear, it was evident how different the concept as a whole is from the current three-door hatch that is in production.
As Weil explained, while this 2019 concept is based on today’s car, some extremely subtle tweaks — especially the clever surfacing on the body — have transformed its stance into something closer to the original R50 model and certainly more sporting than the current Mini.
“We wanted to show something with a very reduced form language that takes out the detailing,” Weil said. “The upper of the body has been cleaned up a lot. We’ve played with very simple and powerful themes — there’s a cleanness to the car [that gives] it a more contemporary feel.
“The chrome details, which have really stood for Mini, like the waistline finishers, the headlamp and tail-light surrounds, and even the door handles — we took all of these out. Even the Mini logo is very minimal. Then we reduced the door handles and rear-view mirrors to a more minimal appearance.”
Also gone are the Mini’s trademark black wheel arch spats.
“The new rear [hatchback] panel is bold and different and it gives a certain width to the car,” says Weil. “We think it looks very substantial from behind, emphasising the width and the stance of the car.” What’s remarkable about this proposed re-skin is how Mini’s character has changed with such minor tweaks. Weil says the glasshouse and roofline are the same as the current car’s and that the rear lights are similarly located, but that the wheels tracks are wider.
The rising belt line, which gives the car a more wedged look, is only about 7-10mm higher than the current crop of Mini production cars.
So how much is the concept an indication of the next-generation Mini? All Weil would say is that “we are always looking at possibilities — we wanted to explore modernity and how a Mini could live without the chrome, and we believe it’s very successful”.
But even ignoring the bespoke electric vehicle detailing of this concept car, there’s clearly a crisper, sharper and much more modern fourth-generation Mini on the horizon.
Twenty years of the BMW Mini
Next month’s Frankfurt motor show marks the 20th anniversary of the public debut of BMW’s Mini.
A rolling mock-up was shown on the eve of the 1997 show, a stunt aimed at taking attention away from the radical Mercedes- Benz A-Class, which also premiered in Frankfurt.
The R50 Mini’s styling had been chosen two years before at Rover’s Gaydon engineering centre, but it would be another four years before the BMW Mini went on sale.