Deep Dive: Mini's Big Plans

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In early 2013, the Mini Paceman crossover coupe -- the seventh and final body style of the current Mini -- will arrive. Just six months later, the third-generation new Mini is set to debut. The new line will launch with the signature two-door hatchback, but brand expansion has firmly taken hold at Mini and the company is planning four new models to bring the full lineup to eleven vehicles.

Historically, Mini (and Riley and Wolseley with their sister models) has concentrated on two-door cars. In the future, however, we will see more and more four-door variants. Key to the expanded range is the new F family architecture that's more advanced and more flexible than the outgoing R chassis. The F matrix (alternatively known as LU for lower-class line) also serves as the basis for the first product collaboration between Mini and BMW, setting the stage for a slew of BMW 1-series models driven by their front wheels.

According to reliable sources, we can expect the following highlights from the next-generation Mini:

Mini four-door hatchback, summer 2014
Fusing style and practicality, the four-door hatchback is an obvious addition to the range, but Mini has made more changes to this model than simply adding two doors. The hatchback features a bespoke grille, its own set of doors, a third side window, a more upright C-pillar, and a slightly longer rear overhang. The four-door moves Mini closer to direct competition with Mercedes-Benz and Audi, sizing up against the new A-class and the A1 Sportback.


Four-door Mini Clubman, summer 2015
The next Clubman will be fitted with two rear doors instead of the quirky asymmetrical arrangement of the current vintage. To distance the Clubman from the new four-door hatch, Mini will also add ten inches to the length for an expanded cargo area. The vertically split "barn" doors remain at the rear in place of a conventional top-hinged tailgate. We may even see a modern interpretation of the woody theme. The still-tentative Traveller would be given a slightly taller roof, a longer rear overhang, and a contrasting geometric structure made of pressed steel rather than timber.


MiniVan, spring 2016
After long discussions, the Mini division has narrowed in on the definitive version of the MiniVan. Concepts ranged from a rustic school-bus-inspired design, to an XXL Countryman proposal, to a radical one-box Fiat Multipla-like exercise. Instead, management chose a sporty van that surprises with unusual proportions. The highly versatile five-seater sits on an extralong wheelbase and displays an unexpectedly low roofline on par with the Traveller. An insider who has worked on the car explains the strategy: "We asked ourselves why nobody does a premium people mover, why there is no cool alternative to the [Renault] Scenics and [Volkswagen] Tourans of this world, why minivans are always subconsciously linked to kiddy seats and shopping carts. Could it be that the height of the vehicle is the decider between prestige and pedestrian, that no one has yet found the right formula for a prestigious crossover to fill the void between wagon and SUV? By keeping the roof low and by stretching the wheelbase, we have created a compelling package that can be a four-seat lounge-chair cruiser, a beach express for three people with surfboards, or a four-door shooting brake for a happy couple on a four-week trans-European holiday." For cost and commonality reasons, the sporty van retains conventional front-hinged doors, but the seat configuration, the cargo deck segmentation, and the roof treatment could hardly be more innovative.


Mini four-door sedan, fall 2016
Mini's four-door sedan is paired with the BMW 1-series NES, short for new entry sedan. Although NES is, at this point, a China-only project that may spread to the U.S. at a later stage, the Mini notchback is reportedly a global program. Earlier Mini-inspired three-box microcars like the Riley Elf were not exactly huge commercial successes, but many Anglophile car nuts still fondly remember the Vanden Plas edition of the Austin 1100 and, more recently, the Mini Goodwood spec'd out like a Rolls-Royce. Since both Audi (with the A3) and Mercedes-Benz (with the CLC) are readying stylish compact notchbacks, Mini may be doing exactly the right thing with its chunky and funky four-seater, which incorporates the full set of trademark brand cues.


Three-cylinder engines are the standard
As we've previously reported, BMW is at work on a new family of three-cylinder engines that is lighter and more efficient than the current four-cylinders. Mated with a turbocharger, the three-cylinder engine will be the standard powertrain for Cooper models, while S and John Cooper Works models could retain four-pot power. Some models like the Countryman replacement are planned to be offered as plug-in hybrids.


The MiniMini is dead
The only Mini design exercise that did not make it through the committees is the Rocketman, a.k.a. MiniMini or Mini City. What killed the charming yet extremely small urban runabout wasn't marketing or accounting but the fact that the radically shrunken platform would have entailed all sorts of stability, handling, and crash performance problems.

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