In this pandemic-plagued era, the Mini Vision Urbanaut could be just the right place to “Chill,” suggests the British automaker which sees the concept as a sort of three-in-one vehicle where you also can experience “Wanderlust” or set just the right “Vibe.”
The small-car division of BMW is in the middle of a major transformation as it tries to redefine itself for the future, and the Mini Vision Urbanaut concept appears to offer a hint of where that future lies. To start with, the show car will be all-electric, Mini recently signaling plans to add as many as three new battery-electric cars on top of the Cooper SE that recently started rolling into showrooms around the world.
“The Mini brand has always stood for ‘Clever Use of Space’. In the Mini Vision Urbanaut, we extend private space far into the public realm, creating completely new and enriching experiences,” said Adrian van Hooydonk, head of BMW Group Design, in a statement accompanying these images.
The concept “curates” three different “Mini moments,” according to the design director:
- “Chill,” where it can serve as “a kind of retreat, a haven” where an owner could either go to relax or even to work. Considering the new round of lockdowns being ordered as the coronavirus pandemic surges, this setup could strike a resonant chord for urban dwellers with few places to go;
- “Wanderlust” is an obvious use of a vehicle like Mini, and is “the only Mini moment where the Mini Vision Urbanaut is being driven or driving with automated driving functions,” according to van Hooydonk; while
- “Vibe” is the “moment” where you gather with friends inside your car, even if just parked.
In keeping with Mini’s heritage, all those different “moments” are packed into a tight space, the Vision Urbanaut measuring a mere 4.46 meters, or 175.5 inches, long. But it helps to have an all-electric drivetrain powering the concept. That means the battery pack, motors and other key drivetrain components have been relocated under the floorboards, freeing up additional interior space for passengers and cargo.
The Urbanaut looks nothing like today’s Mini models and more like a quirky little microvan. It’s all but completely glass above the beltline and might be thought of as a sort of Microbus for the millennial generation.
The face largely consists of slotted and milled aluminum, with hidden headlights that appear only when illuminated. The grille reveals a new, octagonal take on the brand’s traditional logo shape. Lighting plays a key element in the Urbanaut’s design, both inside and out. That includes even what Mini calls the concept’s “illuminated skateboard wheels.”
According to van Hooydonk, the project was developed in augmented reality allowing Mini designers to explore the many ways the cabin might be laid out.
In its final configuration the two front seats not only can recline but rotate, Mini explains, “while the backrests for the generously sized seat surface in the rear can be folded manually (left rear seat) and turned around (right rear seat).” The dashboard, meanwhile, can be lowered and, in effect, this helps create a sort of “daybed.”
The windshield of the Urbanaut, in turn, can be opened upwards, creating a “Street Balcony,” and also reminiscent of the iconic Microbus.
The rear section of the concept’s cabin transforms into what Mini dubs a “Cosy Corner” where occupants can go to relax “and find themselves.” There’s even a small table on the side opposite the single sliding rear door where one could put a plant to give the cabin a more homey feel.
As one would expect, the Vision Urbanaut features plenty of high-tech elements, from LED lighting to digital screens for entertainment. Conventional buttons and switches have been “omitted,” however the design of the “Loop,” or control section, over the rear bench provides a haptic, or tactile, sense of feedback, Mini explains.
Not surprisingly, there’s a heavy emphasis on sustainable materials, especially in the cabin where there’s a notable absence of chrome and leather, the Argonaut using knitted textiles as its dominant material.
The automaker isn’t providing details of the electric drive system, so it’s difficult to tell if it will offer much more range than the Mini Cooper SE which delivers a mere 110 miles per charge. But the debut of the Mini Vision Urbanaut does underscore the British marque’s plan to start shifting to battery power with more and more future products.
Though the design of the concept isn’t likely to carry over into production, some of the key elements, including the use of a skateboard-style platform to deliver an unexpectedly roomy interior, clearly will influence the design of future models.