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MINI Vision concept revealed: what’s next for MINI?

 This is the MINI Vision concept – quite literally a concept vision of the next MINI, highlighting where the brand is heading and the latest technology, features and styling cues that will be present on the new third generation MINI hatchback, set to go on sale in 2014. MSN Cars was at the official unveiling of the MINI Vision project – shown as a high-tech 3D hologram – and spoke to BMW Group (MINI’s parent company) design director, Adrian Van Hooydonk, as well as head of MINI design, Anders Warming, to find out what’s next for MINI with the mk3

 According to Van Hooydonk, “MINI is an attitude”. Since the resurrection of the British brand in 2000 with the MINI Hatch, the premium small carmaker has latched onto a lifestyle clientele. It knows what it needs to keep with the new car and where it needs to advance, and looking at the Vision concept, it looks like it has got the balance right. The MINI Vision plays on the brand’s British heritage, but sticks to designer of the original Mini, Sir Alec Issigonis’ small car ethos, developing new technology and a new identity for the third-generation car.
 That’s reflected in features such as the new detailing around the wheel arches and the windscreen pillar. These new ‘spats’, as Van Hooydonk calls them – along with the contrasting plastic cladding that runs from the base of the A-pillar into the wheel arch – reflect the original 1959 Mini’s trademark welding flanges. The modern MINI played on this with the first generation revival vehicle in 2000 with the lipped design of the contrasting roof, which is also present on the new car.
 MINI design boss Anders Warming also pointed out that the MINI Vision plays on the brand’s heritage in a number of new ways. Unlike the previous two MINIs, the Vision sports a larger, one-piece trapezoidal grille and twin driving lights – inspiration drawn heavily from the ground-breaking 1959 car. It’s highly likely the new 2014 MINI will receive these styling cues, too.
  In fact, it’s highly likely this is the new MINI. The new car was ‘papped’ earlier this month, showing similar styling cues to the MINI Vision concept. These included a much more sporty, sculpted bonnet, with exaggerated contours over the front wings, and a more curvaceous area around the bonnet scoop compared to the current car.
 At the back, the Vision is recognisably MINI, characterised by exaggerated features. The taillights are larger than ever, but stay true to the original with their vertical orientation. There’s more detailing, too, with what Warming describes as “sharp lines” swooping into the boot lid and more defined creases for the hatchback and bumper – the latter housing two fat tailpipes. Picture this with number plates and you’ll be looking at the 2014 MINI Cooper S.
 MINI is now a multi-model brand with a burgeoning portfolio of cars, but the new third generation model is core to the firm’s continued success. It’s therefore important it moves the styling on suitably, but doesn’t upset the applecart too much, as Van Hooydonk explains: “The new MINI will be at the core of the brand, so it has to respect the brand’s heritage. That means the car’s new lines won’t ruin the traditional clean MINI look, but it will still be new and fresh
 A MINI should always look taut”, according to Warming, which is why the design team has decided to introduce more ‘sharp lines’ down the flanks of the car. Not only does this allow for a more sculpted and interesting side profile, it means MINI’s designers can use light as a medium. “With these sharp lines you can hold light in certain areas and emphasise certain areas – it’s the interaction of these lines that tells the story,” says Van Hooydonk.
 The MINI Vision draws inspiration from the compact three-door MINI Rocketman concept first seen in 2011. The Vision shares the ‘halo’ ringed LED headlights and larger one-piece grille, as well as the new A-pillar detailing and different treatment of surfaces, including the tauter rear end.
 Aerodynamics have played a big part in the MINI Vision’s design in order to help improve efficiency on the eventual production version. Air intakes for each front wheel combine with corresponding outlets to reduce pressure inside the wheelhouses, cutting drag as a result. Warming outlined that these cut-outs would become increasingly important on MINIs of the future to improve aerodynamic efficiency, helping reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
 Just like the outside, the MINI Vision features a recognisable interior, tweaked and tuned to improve ergonomics and sportiness. That means there’s still a central infotainment ‘pod’, but all driver-related information – including the speedometer and fuel gauge – has now been moved to a more traditional location behind the steering wheel.
 The interior has been designed to improve driver-car interaction and sportiness, and receives even more technology than before. That means the all-new centre console now houses the engine start button, as well as a ‘dynamic’ button to change the characteristics of the car – when pressed, this will most likely sharpen up the vehicle’s throttle response, but it also turns the concept’s cool blue backlighting to red, reinforcing the change.
 The new MINI should be slightly more refined inside than the outgoing version, but contrasting with the new technology in the Vision concept is one old school low-tech feature. The door cards use a number of stretchy fabric bands laid out in the shape of the Union Jack – a typical tongue-in-cheek MINI solution to the problem of storage. The company says bottles and other trinkets can be put away here.
  The eventual production version of the MINI Vision will be based on an all-new platform shared with BMW; MINI’s parent company is likely to move to front-wheel drive for its next generation of compact vehicles. This will help MINI stay true to its ‘maximum space, minimum footprint' mantra.
It’s thought the MINI Vision concept very closely represents what the eventual 2014 production car will look like – that means short overhangs, with the wheels pushed as far as possible towards the corners. This should mean it’ll replicate the traits of the current car, hopefully delivering agile and fun handling, just as a MINI should.

Just because the new car will be underpinned by the same chassis as some future BMWs, it doesn’t mean the vehicles will be alike to drive. Van Hooydonk: “A MINI should steer round a corner in a certain way, and just because we will share a platform with BMW doesn’t mean these cars will handle and steer in the same way. “The next MINI will go round a corner in its own way and we will focus on differentiating how it handles from BMW products.” Rest assured, then, that the MINI DNA will survive.
The MINI Vision concept and the next generation of production MINIs will be based on a shared chassis with BMW, but it’s also thought the two companies could jointly develop engines, too. This will likely mean three-cylinder and three-cylinder turbo motors for more economical variants, while hotter Cooper S and potential future GP models may use a development of the current 1.6 turbo engine.

It’s no secret that MINI has experimented with electric propulsion in its MINI E electric prototype. With links to EV technology from BMW’s new i electric car sub-brand, it’s possible a fully electric or range-extender version of the next MINI Hatch could be developed. Van Hooydonk: “We’ve experimented with electric drive and three-cylinder engines. People look to premium brands like MINI for orientation, so we’ll see what happens.

As part of the next generation MINI, the firm is in the process of designing its own in-car apps and connected services. On a tour of the MINI design studios, we got to explore how the team is developing this new software in-house, experimenting with icons and how the integration between smartphone and car will occur.
We got a sneak preview to some of the apps MINI is working on to monitor driving style, as well as giving smartphone-based tutorials on issues such as finding the correct driving position. You’ll be able to collect badges in the apps, rewarding you for your driving. The icons we saw on the screen showed a ‘curve tamer’ badge and a ‘limit pusher’ icon for example, leading us to believe the next MINI will certainly still focus on fun.

The production version of the MINI Vision concept is due to be unveiled simultaneously at the Tokyo and Los Angeles Motor Shows in late November this year and will go on sale in 2014. As for prices, expect the range to start anywhere between USD $18,000 and $20,000.

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