MF Design Analysis: MINI Rocketman

To understand the Rocketman we first have to understand what MINI is actually showing us with this concept. The Rocketman (interestingly known inside MINI as ‘MINI Pure’) is a design exercise meant to give us clues into two areas. First off it gives us a hint at the new design language MINI will use for the 3rd generation car. Secondly it gives us a peak at the kind of packaging we could expect for a MINI city car. But lets dive deeper and decipher what this concept really gives away.

To start with lets talk about what the Rocketman isn’t. The concept above isn’t telling us that MINI will be downsizing the 3rd generation car. Instead the next MINI hatch (the replacement for the R56) will be the same size (give or take a centimeter here or there) than the current car. In other words the same size as the R50 and the R56. And while the Rocketman features a bespoke carbon fiber chassis, that is not what MINI has in store for any production car in the near term. If you want that BMW will happily sell you a very premium all electric three and five door hatch in the form of the BMW i3.

But the Rocketman has many stylistic clues for us when it comes to the next generation hatch (debuting in late 2012 as a 2013 model). Lets start with the front grille where MINI has carried on a theme first seen in the Traveller concepts from 2007. We believe this will form the basis of a new MINI face. As we like it. Take away the carbon trim and just focus on the shape and we believe this could work rather well.

Moving up to the LED rimmed headlights we see what will likely be the eyes in MINI’s new family face. They’re a more modern yet elegant interpretation of the classic MINI design and closer to the original R50 design.

Another feature that harkens back to the original 2001 MINI is the shapely hood and fenders. The proposed MINI City car (as well as the production 3rd generation MINI) will receive the smaller and lighter 1.5L three cylinder turbo engine range. This will likely allow for better packaging upfront and potentially more general curvature. Could MINI actually create this look with all the current pedestrian impact standards? We certainly hope so as it’s the cleanest looking front end this side of an R50.

The fenders see the biggest departure from the recent MINI design language. Where before there were nothing but gentle curves we now see a pronounced and aggressive crease emphasizing even further the tires and wheels being on the corners of the car.

Moving to the back there’s likely less here that will make production. But the key take-away (from our sources) is that MINI is going to push the boundaries more than the R56 and create something decidedly modern. Will it mean a reinterpretation of the rear taillights? We’re guessing not, as the MINI hatch is the most iconic of all the models and likely the place where MINI wants to keep the most heritage. But we can’t help but think that we’ll see a big departure in other areas on the boot.

Inside the cabin MINI Design was even more progressive with a very light and airy cabin that completely changes the interior aesthetic found on the R56. MINI Design knows that competitors (Fiat’s 500 for one) have pushed the needle on interior quality and design and that the next MINI has to regain it’s position it had in the early 2000’s as a segment leader.

Based on what we see here we can make a good guess that MINI will be updating the central speedo area to make better use of space for a larger information/entertainment screen. Based on this and our sources, we believe we could see a small screen standard across the line with a larger screen saved for the optional navigation (much like the new BMW X3). And what of the speedometer moving? We’ve heard conflicting reports but one thing is clear, MINI will increasingly rely on more sophisticated displays when it comes to getting information to the driver.

Elsewhere inside it’s hard to not notice the work MINI Design did on the lighting within the Rocketman. If you thought MINI had reached new heights with the integration of interior lights in the Countryman, wait until you see the Rocketman in person. There are three light themes that completely change the mood of the cabin and are even visible from outside the car.

And based on what we see here (and some well placed sources) HVAC will also be improved with a more intuitive interface that uses high-grade materials for a more premium feel. In fact across the board MINI will be using better materials and more texture in the cabin. The result should be dramatic.

Getting back to the Rocketman, we believe the concept succeeds in moving the needle of MINI design language into a new generation. The feel is more athletic yet curvaceous and (dare we say it) MINI-like. We also believe it’s a little closer to the original R50 MINI design language than the R5X generation of cars. Are there some details we could do without? Abolsutely. We’re not fans of the rear lights or the shape of the front air dam. But taken as a whole, we can’t help but look at this new concept and think the name ‘MINI Pure’ is right-on.

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  • Nice overview Gabe, cheers.

  • b4mmy

    i absolutely LOVE this its AMAZING!!!! Ok, critical feedback … never been keen on alcantara dash stuff… it gets too dirty with family stuff. Also, I like complicated looking centre consoles with loads of lighting up buttons… its the future…

    That’s it!

    The rest is brilliant. I love that glazed roof, hopefully with customizable graphics naturally. I love it… I just would really love to own one of these. I can’t imagine how proud I would be starting this up on the company car park after dark… Can you Mini designer guys time the start up, so that the exterior lights come on in an offset sequence as well… you know… front bits 1, 2, 3, then the rear…. 1, 2…. etc…. how cool would that be!

  • MINIBro

    Oh you all hit this right on the head. R56 replacement is seen for me most clearly.

  • Jamesn

    R56 could be downscaled to this, and i dont think anyone would even blink at the transition, its been coming for a long time! The hatch has never been truly ‘MINI’ and for a car company with that name, the central car in the range needs to be the smallest! I think a clubman and cabrio version of this would look awesome! You wamt MINI, let them give us MINI!

  • Jay

    Change the grill and tailights and you have a winner on your hands. I’m still not 100% satisfied with the fenders yet as it looks a little busy when you’ve got the arches right below. I’d also like to see the black arches continue along the bottom of the door like the current models as it helps frame the side of the vehicle a little nicer.

  • Gabe, do you have any thoughts on the implied nationality of this concept? Aside from the LED UJ built into the plastic roof, this particular car feels rather Japanese to me, rather than british. More than anything, it has a bit of an anime face. Does it feel british to you?

  • Gak… in my humble opinion. I’m sorry, all I seem to see is a silly looking lump! I’m still totally amazed that so many think 1. that this follows Mini bloodline or 2. that it has any redeeming quality, at all. Not slamming anyone who likes this but for me…GAK!

    But maybe it will get better as I really didn’t like the Clubman when proposed now I sort of think it’s OK but there are times when I see it on the street and it just looks clumsy.

  • jeff

    interesting note on the center speedo vs center display. i’m curious to see what a small screen looks like in place of a big nav unit. i’m not a fan of factory nav as they seem more cumbersome and obviously less portable than a standard issue garmin. plus the obvious price difference between a $1000 option and a $200 product.

    i think these headlights will make a great evolution to the design, but what i’m really smitten with is the rear lights, especially the turn signals. there’s something that’s visually striking about the lights being pass through instead of solid that i really like. i also think it’s really innovative to have the turn signals light up the body panels instead of shine directly at the car behind you.

  • lavardera

    If this is the new design language for Mini, well, I love it. Like others I’m not crazy about some of the details, but I think these are things that will never make it to production, and are typical of concept car showmanship. The trick tail lights, the complicated wheels, etc, all concept bling so nothing to get worked up about.

    I like the new front end, head lights, but like others not absolutely crazy about the shape of the chin. But what I think is the most important thing about the new design language at the front and rear end is the elimination of the vestige of a bumper. A body color bumper is like the last remnant of the days of a separate chrome bumper. Its not needed today, and I love that the front of the car is all shape, and no bumper. Of course the form of the concept leaves no way to have interchangeable body kits, and frankly I would not be sad to see that whole fetish go, though I doubt it will.

    Elsewhere I think the rake of the windshield on the concept is a little too sloped. I think a bit more vertical would have lengthened the roof a bit and helped the overall proportion of the car. It looks a little long in the nose, and the sloped back windshield shrinks the roof and compounds that mis-proportion.

    But I’m nit-picking. I can’t wait to see the next models based on this language. I’m much more excited about this than the coupe’ and roadster.

  • lavardera

    forgot to say that the curvy shape is reminding me of that old Mini ACV concept – the old one that predated the R50 with the bug-eye headlights.

  • JonPD

    Have to agree Nathaniel about a MINI design looking more Japanese, however for me its another model completely (R60).

    Great write up Gabe, pretty much what I had presumed looking at the model. Still would love to see this concept get some traction to move towards a production vehicle. I think a small city car and MINI would go perfectly together and are very likely to bring new people to the brand. Timing wise I think MINI could score more than a few disillusioned Smart drivers if MINI got the model out before long. I also think MINI can keep an iconic interior design while drastically producing a better quality of a interior design. I have driven a good number of R56 and other small cars and still rank the R56 interior design as pretty much sub-standard in a premium vehicle.

  • MM

    I hope the next Gen Coupe follows this model. The two seater barely escapes the R56 look of “too big to be a Mini” and still disapoints.

    This looks so R53 with some new twists (love the grill and lights). Bring this geral shape in at 2400 lbs and a JCW with 220+ HP and you have a total winner. I’ll be the first buyer.

    You paying attention Mini? The response here is overwhelming as opposed to the uninspired R56 and it’s offspring that keep digging the hole of mass produced boredom deeper.

  • goat

    I’m late chiming in and haven’t had time to read my fellow posters comments yet… but have to say my initial and ongoing reaction is that this car captures the energy and balanced design of the R50/R53 generation but moves it forward very nicely!

    The smaller size, lighter weight, and innovative interior packaging/space utilization make it a proper advance on not just the R50/53 version but even on the classic mini, which was an innovative car in all these ways (let’s leave aside the gen2 MINIs as I don’t see them as an advance on anything with the exception of the R55 for its wagon form factor and 3-door access and – possibly – the Twins coming out soon for their potential higher performance capabilities).

    In other words… LOVE IT! Greatly looking forward to what the City Car as well as the gen3 MINI hatches will look like. Glad to see MINI designers have taken a long hard look at where the brand was going and are responding with great design and engineering work rather than retro-pastiche in a soft puffy wrapper. 🙂

  • Dr.Love

    Carbon Fiber frame, cool lighting, cool doors, imagine the Mpg or an electric to boot! The future of auto transportion is going to be great. Im in, lets do this.

  • Jon

    The doors’ opening mechanism is cool; allowing for a large door to open in tight quarters, (parking lots). The clear roof is neat, but will likely never see production because it would not insulate against road noise and would let too much light in without any way of “closing” it. Can you say “greenhouse”? The union jack design is cool and clever, but definitely would alienate most buyers who don’t care to advertise the British history of the MINI brand.

    The tail lamps, while from an aesthetic/design standpoint are really innovative, are horrible with regard to aerodynamics and would provide lots of wind drag and noise.

    The no speedo thing makes me wonder if we’ll get a heads-up display? If so, me likey, as long as there’s also a tachometer.

    Overall, I like it, and I’m excited to see the evolution of MINI design.

  • DaCrema

    Likes: the front, the light weight, interior.

    Dislikes: the wheel arch treatment (to Mazda like), the tail light treatment (at least in the photos and drawings) more front overhang (might be a visual trick)

    The Best part: I like that they are trying to push the limits while still staying true to the things Mini/MINI. My dislike list is not so strong on the scale that I would automaticly discount the car if I was in the market.

  • lavardera

    I’m thrilled to hear so many that think it looks more R50 like because I think it looks much more R56 like! The R50 was much lower, and almost sports car like. This is vertical in the front, and muscular/bulkier which to me is much more like the R56, and much more like the classic Mini.

    The R53 with its frankenstien forehead looks like none of the other designs so we wont’ go there at all. We forgive its ugliness because it brought along a supercharger. nuff said…

  • lavardera

    I’m not sure I understand the seating here – is it a legit 4 seater, or is the seat behind the driver just for short trips?

  • gokartride

    Looks aside, I think they possibly could have been more innovative under the bonnet and saved even more space. Given the same seating arrangement, they did some wild stuff on the iQ and still met crash standards.

  • Bilbo Bagginjs

    I said it before and I’ll say it again. This concept has a happy face. I like the overly large angel eyes. Reminds my of models such as Twiggy with their great big eyes with lots of makeup.

    Big reservation on the all glass roof. It would have to be photo-chromatic glass to keep the inside from becoming a bleed’n hot house.

    The dash? Is that really a dash any more? A heads-up display for the tach and speedo would be nice. I do not mind the large central display as long as it will be able to display water temperature, oil pressure, oil temperature, boost, and amps. With an LED/LCD display it should not be too difficult to allow each customer to arrange the display to his liking. Heck, if they can make it display a road map why couldn’t they have it display artificial analogue gauges.

    I like the double hinge doors. They would be much better in a parking lot.

    Now will just have to hold our breath and see what actually makes it into production.

  • Dave

    These designers need to lay off the crack… looks like a down sized version of a Detroit rocket ship concept car from 60’s.

    None of those made it off the ground either…..thank God.

  • r.burns

    At last the REAL MINI.

    Thank you.

  • Doug Buchanan

    Love it. Just when I thought my checking account was safe.