MINI Vision Looks at the Future of "Actual Size" Cars
MINI is getting set to reveal the third generation of the Cooper Hardtop three-door hatchback that is the cornerstone of its brand and provider of the mental image most of us have when hear the word “MINI”. While many have seen the spyshots and leaked photos of the next-gen MINI at various times on the intertubes, MINI has released the MINI Vision concept to give us a good look into the design philosophy that is going into the development of MINI v3.0 (or v4.0 if you count the original).
MINI calls the MINI Vision’s exterior styling a “perfect balance between old and new”. With two big round headlights framing a bisected mouth-like grill, rounded body edges, bonnet scoop and very MINI-esque proportions, the MINI Vision certainly looks like a MINI only slightly more space-ship-y and concept-y. That makes sense since this is in fact a concept.
Inside, we’re treated to the very cool Union Jack straps in the doors, beautifully molded panels, interesting-yet-not-completely-bonkers seats and something MINI calls Driving Experience Control which allows the driver to change the ambiance and color of the interior at the push of a button (basically a far-out extension of the mood lighting they already offer). It’s likely that none of this will make its way into production in anything other than an inspired shadow.
While the full-LED headlights, floating wing mirrors and kookie interior are all very, very cool, there are a few things about the MINI Vision, and to a degree about MINI in general, that bother me. They’re starting to feel less and less like Minis. The original Minis were tiny, stripped down, lightweight cars that could carve corners like a Ginsu and make every drive feel like a Formula 1 Grand Prix lap.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love MINIs. I’ve had two, a Pepper White 2006 Cooper S John Cooper Works and an Astro Black 2009 Cooper S, that were nothing but an absolute blast. I’ve driven the new models and, apart from the styling of the MINI Coupe, they’re great cars, especially the Paceman.
They just are getting a bit too big and a bit too heavy to truly feel like Minis. My 2006 Cooper S JCW felt like a go-cart and drove like one too. It did an amazing job of bringing everyday usability, comfort and convenience to a car that still had the same spirit as the old Mini rally cars. Then, with my wife’s 2009, it felt bigger, heavier, more ponderous, especially in the twisties. But, it was still fun… still a Mini, just a bit less of one.
People will argue (and they’d be right) that the new MINIs are faster and better handling than the older MINIs (and even my 2006 JCW), that with each subsequent model and upgrade in technology, the new MINIs are getting better and better. It’s true, just look at the current John Cooper Works GP, the fastest ever production MINI.
But, that’s all well and good. For me at least, the point of a MINI (and a Mini) wasn’t the top speed or the 0-60 time or the g’s in a corner, but the way you felt driving the car… and, the way the car felt while you were driving it. The driver and the car were one. In order for the car to succeed, the driver had to as well. It’s that sensation, that partnership which is waning.
My concern with the next MINI Cooper Hardtop, the F56, is that more of that original Mini essence, that Mini-ness will be lost in favor of back-up sensors, a color changing interior and a car that does most of the driving for you. I hope the next MINI Cooper Hardtop will still feel like a go-cart and still make a run to the shops an exciting drive. And, I hope the legacy of the switch from Mini to MINI is only a growth of the letters, not of the car. We’ll have to wait to find out.
For more info on the MINI Vision concept, check out the press release below.
MINI Vision Concept Press Release
Munich. At today’s MINI Design@Home event Anders Warming, Head of MINI Design, previews a sampling of visionary design and innovative ideas. The MINI Vision, for example, showcases various elements of future MINI design. Here, MINI has developed a vehicle design laced with new creative impulses that advance the cause of premium quality in the compact class. In customary MINI fashion, the MINI Vision seizes the limelight with creativity, individuality and a generous helping of versatility. Interactive gadgets such as the Driving Experience Control switch offer a glimpse of the future. This particular feature allows the whole of the car’s interior to be transformed into a variety of different colour and experience worlds in the blink of an eye. The presentation of the MINI Vision is based around a virtual 3D hologram. This form of expression provides a window into how the MINI designers go about their business. Complementing their familiar toolset of sketches and 1:1 clay models, virtual reality allows them to test and fine-tune creative ideas quickly and under realistic conditions. The exterior: a perfect balance between old and new. The design of the MINI Vision reaches pointedly into the brand’s past and combines the underlying features and values of MINI with future-focused aesthetic and technical innovations. The hexagonal radiator grille is inspired by the classic Mini, for example, and the MINI Vision integrates both the bumper and auxiliary lights into the grille. The traditional and unmistakable rounded MINI forms are reflected in the exterior through elements such as the elliptical full-LED headlights. Their outer ring emits a consistent light and fulfils a daytime driving light function. Among the stand-out signature features of the MINI brand are the clear separation of the roof, glasshouse and body. The chrome strip wrapped around the top of the body, the distinctive side indicator element and the black band framing the lower edge of the car are all hallmark MINI styling elements. The MINI Vision presents these three defining design elements as a flowing, interconnected unit – conjured from innovative and lightweight “organo metal”. This extremely mouldable but also very strong material is produced by pressing various fibres into a composite. Organo sheets have a unique texture comparable to that of fabrics. Alongside lightweight construction techniques, aerodynamics also play a frontline role in the conceptual ideas behind the MINI Vision. The car’s body includes an aerodynamic air intake and outlet around each front wheel arch, airflow-optimised wheel rims and exterior mirrors, and an integral, air-channelling roof spoiler. At the rear, muscular shoulders lend the MINI Vision extremely sporty and compact proportions. The finely drawn and clearly defined edging in the car’s bodywork is central to the exterior design language of the MINI Vision and underlines the concept’s precision and sporting intent. The interior: originality and creativity packed into a very small space . The interior of the MINI Vision stands out with its individual style, variability, functionality and aesthetic appeal. The fundamental idea behind the MINI brand – of providing maximum comfort within minimal exterior dimensions – filters through every detail of the interior. A transparent and open cockpit, sweeping doors and a “floating” centre console allow the driver and passengers to experience the sensation of a wide open space coupled with the benefits of a space-saving small car. Lounge seats featuring dynamic piping add the finishing touch to the unique interior ambiance. The creative design solutions have been brought together with established pillars of MINI design. For example, the elastic fabric straps on the insides of the doors – arranged like the stripes of the Union Jack flag – are a nod to the brand’s British heritage. However, the stretchable straps have a functional as well as stylistic role: these flexible retaining devices are designed to hold a magazine, mobile phone or drinks bottle within easy reach. The fresh layer of variability added by the MINI click system offers additional scope for customising the interior. Smartphone holders, a storage box, cup holder or small safe can be attached and removed in a single movement as and when required. The interior of the MINI Vision as a whole can also be adapted to a variety of interaction requirements with similar flexibility and immediacy. The Driving Experience Control switch allows the driver to choose between a pure and focused or fully-interconnected mode. The two modes are expressed in different colours using calm, clear light and dynamic, energy-charged shades.
Another highlight of the fully-interconnected mode is the “MINI Disco” floor. Here, an expressive interplay of colours, light and forms transforms the footwells as the MINI Vision appears to come vibrantly to life. As well as turning the ambient colour scheme of the interior on its head, the Driving Experience Control switch also changes the face of the familiar MINI circular central display. Depending on their selection, drivers will be met by either a classic, analogue-style view or an impressive 3D look, which gives the full suite of display elements an unaccustomed depth. Colours and materials: structures form characters. The Glamorous Gold paint finish – a shimmering gold-tinged orange tone – has never been seen before in the history of MINI design. And the use of organo metal creates an intriguing contrast to this gleaming metallic shade. The organo metal adds highlights not only to the outside of the car, but also to the interior, its unique structure lending the MINI Vision a cutting-edge character. A tough, dark-blue fabric recalling the properties of a high-quality suit is employed for the seats and sections of interior trim. The seamless transitions of the various materials between the interior and exterior bring consistency to the MINI Vision despite the use of different materials and textures. Its unbeatable scope for personalization and an extremely sporty and precise design make the MINI Vision the perfect partner for the road, tailored to the needs and preferences of the individual driver. This design vision demonstrates that MINI will continue to use intelligent variability, imagination-capturing technology and a compact sporting presence to deliver unrivaled driving fun over the years to come.