Of all the foreign takeovers of traditionally British brands, it’s hard to say that BMW’s acquisition of Mini at the turn of the new millennium was anything but successful.
The German marque has successfully reinvented its UK subsidiary from a maker of functional but dated vehicles, into a fashionable, urban-chic lifestyle brand.
One of the reasons Mini has achieved this is by continually reinforcing brand value through a consistent and iconic design language.
Icons can be identified by a distinctive silhouette, and Mini – similar to Porsche – has adopted a core set of design cues that have proliferated throughout the model range, so a viewer can easily recognize a Mini even though he may not know the specific model or variant.
The recently revealed Aceman concept car showcases a new generation of Minis designed from the ground up (rather than adapted from combustion counterparts) to be electric, and thus shows us how the fundamental design principles of Mini can be transferred .
It is expected that a toned down version of the Aceman itself will enter production in the near future.
First of all, what makes a Mini?
Modern Minis all feature a common set of design cues that draw inspiration from the classic 1959 Morris Mini, while introducing some contemporary embellishments.
The fundamental basis of a Mini is its proportions, and all Minis sold today retain the ‘wheel at each corner’ position of the classic hatch, with minimal front and rear overhangs.
Another distinctive feature of the classic Mini is a strong waistline that runs almost parallel to the roofline, combined with a twin-box shape with a distinct bonnet and cabin.
The exterior design of the classic Mini is crowned by a set of round headlights for a distinctive face and slim vertical taillights.
Today’s Minis retain the two-box silhouette similar to the original and place more emphasis on the roofline and waistline through the use of blacked-out A, B and C-pillars to create a design of “floating” roof.
The roofline of later models also slopes slightly towards the waist, creating a sportier appearance that gives the impression of a car ready to take off.
Most models in the current lineup also retained circular headlights and a vertical taillight design, except for the latest Clubman which uses a horizontal layout.
One of the main starting points between classic and contemporary Minis are the interiors. Sir Alec Issigonis designed the original Mini as an affordable and functional car, and accordingly the interior was stripped down to the bare essentials – not much more than a central circular speedometer from Smiths and a set of rocker switches below.
The current Mini range has amplified these circular patterns to the extreme to create a more premium, vaguely steampunk interior.
Much more lavishly upholstered, models in the current range emphasize a large circular surround for the infotainment system and use ovoid or circular designs for features such as air vent surrounds, door trim cards and even the door handles.
“Charismatic simplicity”: how is the concept of Aceman related?
The “Charismatic Simplicity” design philosophy behind the Aceman can best be summed up by Mini’s Head of Design, Oliver Heilmer, who notes that:
“The purely electric vehicle concept means that the design can again be oriented more towards the traditional core values of Mini, in terms of the principle of creative use of space.”
This means that the next generation of Minis, as previewed by the Aceman concept, will move away from some of the garish, retro-futuristic design cues currently present (particularly inside), and put more emphasis on the simplification of key elements while emphasizing practicality.
At 4.05 meters in length, the Aceman retains the compact proportions and wheel position at every corner of the current and classic Mini range.
Although it was built from the ground up as an electric vehicle, the two-box silhouette is also preserved, with blacked out A, B and C pillars ensuring that the design continues to emphasize a strong waistline and a slightly sloping roofline.
The Aceman brings a more geometric take on other elements of the Mini design, with the brand’s signature circular headlights replaced by a more angular alternative, and a more pixelated variant of the Union Jack LED taillight arrangement that is a feature of the current range. .
The interior is perhaps where the most significant advances have been made.
The classic Mini featured an instrument, a speedometer, mounted in the center of the interior. Despite having orders of magnitude more technology, the Aceman aims to create a modernized version of that using a single circular OLED display that integrates all functions based on software using the Open Source Android Platform (AOSP ), plus a set of physical toggle switches.
All other excess chrome and circular patterns have been removed for a heavily streamlined dashboard emphasizing width and smooth curves.
Mini has pledged to make more sustainable cars and, apart from promising to sell only electric vehicles from 2030, has also said it aims to phase out the use of leather in its future models.
The Aceman marks the first step in that direction, showing how Mini will ditch leather without losing the premium feel that material usually carries.
Soft, knitted surfaces feature heavily, with the dashboard covered in this material, while the steering wheel uses a velor velor fabric for a particularly comfortable feel to the touch.
Meanwhile, the fabric is also used on the seats, which Mini says use a “combination of textile flat knit, velor velor and waffle weave, and an oversized houndstooth pattern” to achieve a look. three-dimensional.
The overall effect is inspired by the Scandinavian ambience of the revolutionary BMW i3 salon to create a calm, warm and spacious atmosphere, further aided by the use of contrasting colors to create a brighter feel.
What will make the production?
Mini claims the Aceman concept is 80% true to the final production design. On the outside this means that while the overall shape, size and proportions are realistic, some details will change for vehicles on the road.
This will likely include the Union Jack roof rack, contrasting orange elements in the lower front bumper, as well as the Union Jack headlight graphics and illuminated grille.
Inside, the items most likely to produce are the OLED infotainment screen and rocker switches below, with spy shots of the next-gen Mini Cooper hatch confirming a similar production arrangement.
It’s also possible that some of the material choices will be available as an option, perhaps in a more toned down format. For example, it’s hard to see the velor steering wheel passing durability tests in its current form.
MORE: Mini Concept Aceman EV concept revealed
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