First Look: Mini Rocketman Concept
Clearly someone at Mini still dreams of future cars. While most recent concept cars look like they're no more than three months away from production, the Rocketman Concept for the 2011 Geneva auto show lives up to its name by blending futuristic style and technology with classic Mini design elements.
To start with, the Rocketman is almost foot shorter than a standard Cooper and is built on a carbon-fiber spaceframe to save weight over the traditional steel unibodies employed on Mini production vehicles. Much of the spaceframe is visible inside and outside the car, to show off the carbon construction and save weight on trim pieces. Mini calls the seating arrangement a 3+1 layout, similar to the Toyota iQ setup. The idea is that modular seating makes the smaller interior space as versatile as possible. While the two front seats and one rear seat are considered permanent, a second rear seat easily stows to increase cargo space. The other permanent rear and front passenger seats can also be folded to create near station wagon-levels of space while accommodating only the driver.
For easier cargo loading, the rear glass is cut forward into the roof and folds up out of the way, to allow loading straight down instead of requiring the driver to lean over and into the car. The tailgate is also unique, operating like a drawer that slides out from the body. The drawer can be sealed and left extended outside the car, again to increase cargo space when needed.
The outside of the Rocketman is instantly recognizable as a Mini with classic and futuristic touches. The doors feature bulges reminiscent of the external hinges on the original Minis, but the new doors are mounted on double hinge mechanisms that allow for easy access even in tight parking spots. The openings are cut extra low into the body of the car, thanks to the extra-stiff composite space frame. Normal unibody cars use large box sections in the rocker area for torsional stiffness; Mini was able to design the strength in the car's underpan instead.
Although not ideal for weight, the glass roof gives the interior an open feel and adds another high-tech touch. The aluminum braces are used in the segmented glass contain fiber optics that light up in the Union Jack design at night. The rear lights also provide another unique touch, extending in trapezoidal hoops out of the rear fenders. The taillights are integrated into the hoops, while brake and signal lights are projected onto the body panels. It's an interesting idea that may or may not be functional, never mind legal.
Mini calls the interior a fresh perspective on its traditional design language. The Rocketman's dash looks exceptionally futuristic but is still recognizably Mini. The center mounted speedometer, toggle switches, and oval-shaped trim pieces on the doors look like a Cooper S interior, after 20 years of evolution. The seats and dash are covered in suede, while non-touch surfaces use metallic and high-gloss finishes. Further trim pieces were pressed out of paper and backlit. The dash and instrument panel is adjustable along with the front seats to further increase useable space inside the car when carrying a backseat passenger or two.
The infotainment system in the Rocketman is again futuristic, yet derivative of current Mini technology. The interface uses three-dimensional graphics in the center display, which is controlled by either a steering-wheel mounted trackball or console-mounted joystick. Mini touts full phone integration, Internet connectivity, and a configurable display as more advanced technology, but most of it is already available in Mini showrooms, just without as slick an interface.
Mini calls the Rocketman Concept a vision of urban mobility of tomorrow. While it may look completely futuristic, it doesn't seem all that different from what the brand's been doing for the past 50. Small car enthusiasts groan at the thought of needing a larger car, but sometimes it's unavoidable. A car that expands only when needed is a dream come true for those people. It may not make sense for everyone, but in urban areas where space is always at a premium, this is a much more realistic solution than cars with growing wheelbases or interchangeable bodies.
The majority of Mini's concepts make it into production in very similar forms to its one-off show cars. This may be its first concept that is a little too advanced, but we're sure some of the ideas will carry over in the near future. Most of the interior design elements could easily be adapted into current models, and the infotainment isn't far off. But the carbon-fiber space frame? We think it's gonna be a long, long time.