It's time for a new Mini, the third iteration of the reborn classic that goes from strength to strength as it fragments into myriad models and variants. The new car is set to be unveiled concurrently at the Tokyo and Los Angeles motor shows in November, so for now we have to settle on a virtual preview of its upcoming concept car, the Mini Vision.
It is hard to make a definitive judgment based on its digital format, but on first glimpse the new car appears more compact, a little more chiselled and certainly less heavy than the outgoing model. Sharper, more defined exterior lines help shed visual weight so the car feels less cutesy. 'We are introducing a sharper sculptural language,' confirms head of design Anders Warming. 'It represents our next era of form language,' he told Wallpaper* during the event held at Mini's design studio in Munich.
Most striking is the new double grille design. Warming notes that it 'reverts back to where we came from', and it's certainly closer to the original 1960s Sir Alec Issigonis car in how the top grille integrates with the bumper and fog lights. The curvature on the bonnet is also a direct reference to the former, where a sharp raised line intersected the bonnet.
Warming and his team have had the most fun with the interior. In typical Mini fashion, there's self-conscious quirkiness in the shape of Union Jack cup holders and disco lights, but overall the cabin is less cluttered. The familiar oversized circular central display unit remains the dominant feature, but it's now fully digital and housing all the connectivity aspects. Meanwhile, all that relates to physical driving appears on the steering column, and the floating centre console houses the mechanical dials for a 'good balance between mechanical and digital,' says Warming.
A new feature is the stretch fabric element in the doors - here criss-crossed as the Union Jack - that can be modified to act as cup holder, storage unit and so on. It replaces the usual plastic elements, is light and therefore a good way of shedding weight. The cloth concept is intriguing and it would be interesting to see if the team will push this forward for development.
A switch allows you to change the lighting, colours and atmosphere inside the car. Hit the sport button, for instance, and the whole space lights up in red - the display switches change too to signify that the steering, throttle and exhaust are now in their sportiest settings. This will also change the display unit to a classic, analogue-style view or 3D look. Finally, the footwell can be activated for a series of 'Mini disco' patterns.
According to BMW Group design director Adrian Van Hooydonk, the differentiation in the Mini line caters for increasingly different drivers. 'This wouldn't mean the Countryman for instance becomes sober, but there would be a different feel especially with interior colour and trim treatment,' he told us.
BMW is also making sure that tech sharing lowers costs. 'Now that we share the new front-wheel drive platform with BMW there is no longer the pressure to expand,' Van Hooydonk says. 'That gives Mini more time and space to consider its next step.'
Mini Vision isn't quite back to basics, but it bodes well for a more harmonious, honed and attractive basis for Mini to weave its magic in the years to come.