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MINI's Vision Urbanaut MPV is a big departure from what we know

Even since its late 90s revamp, MINI has stuck to a recognisable style with its roots clearly in the original 1950s design. Now, at the BMW #NEXTGen event, MINI has presented the Vision Urbanaut – a BMW Group Design experiment which shows how the brand envisions reinventing the clever use of space upon which the original car was founded.

We'll try not to use the word 'radical' too much, but the MINI Urbanaut is the embodiment of the word when set against the current, wildly popular model range. It has been designed to show how the brand could utilise the space and flexibility afforded by electric powertrains and high levels of autonomy in 2030. This clever use of space extends to both the exterior and interior proportions.

There's rationale behind this: the original Mini combined a transverse engine and front wheel drive with minuscule proportions and yet space for four (well-packed) adults. It was a revolution in vehicle packaging and a design icon all in one.

The Vision Urbanaut is less pragmatic than the original car, and its design benefits from the usual fluff around emotional connections with the occupants. In fact, the Urbanaut has been designed around “three curated MINI moments – 'Chill', 'Wanderlust' and 'Vibe'”, all of which are imagined scenarios in which the car and occupants might find themselves.

Exterior design

The MINI Vision Urbanaut exists only as digital renderings, but the brand is signalling that future models could look like this. Two of the most recognisable features of the original and current crop of MINIs have been harnessed as a centrepiece: the headlights and radiator grille. The lights are only visible when switched on and are reactive to the outside world. The grille is now octagonal, versus the original six-sided affair, and acts as an 'intelligence panel' for autonomous driving sensors.

The colours, materials and details on the exterior have been picked specially and include a matte finish and windows with a gradient so that they blend harmoniously. Tyres have been designed with Union Jack tread pattern as a nod to the car's heritage. Furthermore, wheels are illuminated from within, changing colour depending on the selected 'MINI moment'.

Interior design and features

Whilst the outside is different, to say the least, the inside is an even bigger departure to what we know (and love) from MINI. The BMW Group designers actually designed the car from the inside out, creating the interior and then shaping the car's proportions around it. This means that the MINI Vision Urbanaut is tall, but at 4.46m long, it's not huge compared to most MPVs, though it is significantly longer than a MINI Electric or even a MINI Countryman.

“The interior of the MINI Vision Urbanaut provides the ideal environment in which to go on a journey, but is also the aim of the journey,” or so says the designers. Once at a destination, it can transform into a 'living room' thanks to a flexible four-seat layout, with the front seats able to rotate, rear seats folded and the car's dashboard lowered to become a “daybed” seating area. Even the windscreen is hinged upwards to create a 'Street balcony', as well as a link to the outside world.

In the rear is a 'Cosy Corner', backlit by LED lighting, whilst between that and the driver's area is an airy central section to spread out in. Up front, buttons and traditional interfaces are eschewed for pure touch-based controls, a feature that extends throughout the cabin. It's all part of creating simplicity as well as “natural interaction” between car and people. As you'd expect, there's a full range of connectivity and digital services in the concept.

Another little feature that is very cutesy, and thus on brand for MINI, is 'MINI Charms' – programmable graphical representations of things, places or experiences which sit in a virtual cabinet on the inside of the C pillar. Programmable sounds and even fragrances are designed to add to people's own MINI Moments with the Urbanaut.

Sustainable – but available?

Throughout the MINI Vision Urbanaut, the brand has made liberal use of sustainable materials. On top of this, the fundamental design is such that individual components are fewer in number, reducing the environmental costs at a production level. It's a clever way of thinking which is so often overlooked in car design and production.

As for availability, the MINI Vision Urbanaut is unashamedly pure concept – an exploration of what could happen, rather than what will. Elements of the car – such as packaging and some of the connective elements – will inevitably make production in some form. Experiential ideas like MINI Moments are a bit more abstract, and it's questionable whether there's demand for it at the moment. But given the changing nature of car ownership, in ten years' time they could be common.

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