For 57 years, Mini has offered cars for the masses that blend practicality with performance in a way that few automakers can compete with. But the history of the brand can be (for sake of brevity) summed up into two eras: 1959-2000, the era of the original Mini, and 2001 to today, the era of the modern, German-owned company. The Mini has gone thoroughly modern, but it’s still retained its spacious, fun-to-drive reputation — even if today’s three-door hatch dwarfs the original.
But parent company BMW has turned 100 this year, and as part of its celebration, it has envisioned what the smallest car in its portfolio will look like in several decades. The result is the Mini Vision Next 100, a concept that looks and feels decidedly futuristic while managing to convey a plausible direction for the brand. If electric powertrains, autonomous driving, and car-sharing are all bogeymen out to kill driving as we know it, then it looks like Mini has found the perfect antidote.
Simply put, the concept is based around car-sharing. BMW Group believes programs like its current DriveNow program (or ReachNow in Europe) will continue to grow in popularity over the next few decades, and the Vision Next 100 was released under the banner “Every Mini is My Mini” to reflect that. The car utilizes a host of sensors and connectivity technology to identify drivers and their preferences — imagine climbing into a rental car and having your seat and driving preferences, radio presets, contacts, and GPS destinations follow you instantly.
Inside, the concept is more architectural than automotive. The simple shelf and single gauge is highly reminiscent of the original Mini, and the rotary “Cooperizer” dial in the center controls everything from entertainment to communication to driving options. The novel steering wheel and pedals are on tracks, allowing the driver (the controls can be configured to either left- or right-hand drive) to move them out of the way for autonomous driving, or move them back to take control of the car. If you’re in the mood to explore but don’t want to drive, you can select the “Inspire Me” setting, where the car analyzes your interests and past destinations to take you somewhere new.
Refreshingly, the Vision Next 100 was designed to be driven. With an imagined electric powertrain, a torquey, full-performance “John Cooper Works” setting can be unlocked from the center control for performance that lives up to the legendary nameplate.
On the outside, the car’s performance pretensions are on full display with big, flared fenders housing the wheels at the outermost corners, where a Mini’s wheels should be. And in a move that should please the fanbase that still grumbles “the Mini’s getting too big,” the concept isn’t much bigger than the tiny Mini Rocketman concept that thrilled the faithful a few years back.
The trademark bulldog look and contrasting roof color instantly make the concept recognizable as a Mini, but the boomerang taillights remind us of the recent Porsche Mission E concept, and the headlights mounted within the grill make the front end look less like the classic mini and more like another Alec Issigonis design — the 1948-53 Morris Minor MM. The power clam-shell doors have a smoky silver finish that fades up into the windows, and have LED projectors inside them, allowing drivers to personalize their cars in a number of ways.
Aside from the showy one-piece doors, and myriad of LEDs and projectors, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to envision something like the Vision Next 100 on the roads before 2030. The automotive industry is changing faster than ever before, and many of the features found in Mini’s future car seem to be coming sooner rather than later. The brand’s signature model has been one of the quintessential city cars for over half a century, and it looks ready to continue that trend well into the next few decades.
All that glass and those hard surface areas inside might be acceptable in the future as safety and collision-avoidance technology continue to evolve. Besides, autonomous driving might not just be the norm eventually, it may end up being required in high-traffic areas, so being able to select between driving and being driven could end up being essential. And if you do want to drive yourself, a torquey electric drivetrain should be used to its fullest potential. Besides, car sharing is already beginning to change the way people in cities travel. If Mini can offer all the perks of ownership without any of the drawbacks, something like the Vision Next 100 could be irresistible to millions.
It might not be quite like anything the brand offers today, but the Vision Next 100 concept proves that Mini is already thinking well into the future. If you look at it just right, you might just be able to see the late 2020s from here.