Unofficial Rendering: Former BMW Designer Pens MINI Zero Concept

Soon we’ll start to see test mules and leaked photos of the F56, the third generation of the new MINI. These will lead up to an official online debut of the car before we see it make the auto show circuit. The F56 will signal a major sea change for MINI. Not only will it feature three and four cylinder versions of the next generation Prince engine, the F56 will share its underpinnings with BMW’s upcoming FWD 1-series. This has everyone interested in the brand scratching their heads wondering just what MINI has up their sleeve for the next generation. Will it be the Rocketman scaled up? Will it push back toward the venerable and well-loved R53? These are the burning questions many are asking, and the possibilities have inspired former BMW designer Sonny Lim to venture his own guess at what the next generation MINI could look like.

Size-wise, Lim’s concept comes in at somewhere between the diminutive Rocketman concept and the current Hardtop. Throughout, Lim says his motivation was to take the car back to its roots, while giving it the modern presence. The term “Zero” is also significant to his thinking:

The design of the MINI Zero is modern, sophisticated and athletic. It evolves the current design language but still stays true to the main iconic MINI characteristics. These iconic elements have helped shape the identity of the brand and its cars. However, the concept also challenges other aspects of the brand which have overshadowed the original intent of Sir Alec Issigonis’ classic MINI.

The MINI Zero presses the reset button and goes back to the humble roots of the classic MINI. In short this concept embodies:
  • Zero “schnickschnack” (gimmicks) – it is the most basic, entry-level car in the range and is positioned under the Mini ONE.
  • Zero compromise – it is a pure & tailored design and does not rely on chrome exterior trim & other plastic bits.
  • Zero “schicki-micki” (trendy-fancy) – it is authentic and the spiritual successor of the classic MINI.
  • Zero fat – all the above results in an ultra-lightweight MINI (840 kg) and a very good power-to-weight ratio without a large carbon footprint.

It’s an imaginative concept to say the least. How well it compares to the real F56 is a question only a few people can answer right now. Here’s some of what we do know, however.

  1. The design is finalized. Key people inside MINI and BMW have previewed the final designs for both the F56 MINI and the BMW 1-series.
  2. The BMW and the MINI are very different. Sources who’ve been in the room with cars have told MF that only the shrewdest eye would be able to perceive the two cars’ common underpinnings.
  3. The exterior design of the F56 will be very different from what’s come before it, yet be instantly recognizable as a MINI. Look for elements of the Rocketman concept, and familiar MINI design elements interpreted in new ways.
  4. The interior will also be a complete redesign from the ground up reinterpreting the MINI design language into something fresh and more user friendly. So far, the response from both internal MINI people as well as test audiences has been overwhelmingly positive.

Whatever the final product, one thing we can guarantee is that the F56 will be a turning point for MINI. For better or worse, the F56 will embody the full mechanical departure from MINI’s Rover roots into the haus of BMW. We can also guarantee it’ll be controversial. For some, the F56 will be a revelation. For others, it will quite literally ruin the brand. What do you hope to see in the F56? Sound off in the comments.

[Source: Behance]
  • lavardera

    that works for me – my only crit would be that the windshield is too raked back. I love the steep windshield on the hardtop and I hope that carries over.

    • Kev50027

      I dislike the near vertical windshield, it means far more bugs on the windshield than most cars.  Over an hour long highway drive, it gets almost impossible to see out the windshield in the summer, and it’s not as aerodynamic as a raked windshield.

    • lavardera

      The steep windshield gives you much more headroom at the front of the car, and it keeps a lot of sun out of the interior as well. Plus its just part of the heritage of the Mini.

    • I agree, my R56 is in the body shop and I’m driving a Honda Civic rental.  With the raked windshield It’s like being in the cockpit of a X-Wing fighter.  A sleepy, quiet, body-rolling, boring X-Wing fighter.  

    • I’ve found that the raked windshields don’t allow for great visibility.  That is one thing that I miss about my MINI; I had the ability to see out of the vehicle extremely well.  

      • lavardera

        That’s it – the closer the A-pillar gets to your face the more view it blocks. With the highly raked windshields you see on some cars today, the top of the glass is nearly right above your head. It feels cramped to me now.

  • ulrichd

    I like the overall shape, especially the rear, but find it hard to believe that Mini would drop the black fender flares. But then again maybe it’s time to move on from the retro bits.

  • les

    Me likey.

  • that.guy

    “Will it push back toward the venerable and well-loved R53”

    Please explain.

    • A lot of MINI fans think the R53 was a much better looking car than the R56. So it would be an option for MINI to push the new car visually back in that direction. They’re not going to, but they could have. I’m sure we’ll get interviews and other insights into the MINI design process once the F56 debuts, and I’m very interested to hear what their thought processes were.

      • DavidT

        I am an R53 fan and still like it better than all current offerings except for the fuel mileage.  That said, I would love to replace it with this concept.  I hope the F56 is at least as nice, though I doubt it will be as small. Oh well.

      • that.guy

         They cannot move back toward R53 proportions given Euro ped safety regulations. 

    • ulrichd

      The R50/R53 is becoming to some Mini fans what the E30 M3 is to BMW fans. Simpler, less refined, less gimmicky. Certainly the design was a huge hit when it hit the market. I don’t envy the task of the designers working on the third gen car.

      • walk0080

         Interesting. I do prefer the E30 over current gen M3s, but I am not so polarized about the differences between the R50 and R56.

        • ulrichd

          Well it was a kind of tongue in cheek comment. The current M3 is four generations (I think) removed form the E30 so lot’s of things have changed including technology and regulations.

        • walk0080

           Agreed. I wasn’t taking the comment too seriously. Although the E30 is a great car, I just don’t want any older car because of the lack of new tech and safety features.

      • JonPD

         I would say the R50/53 family will likely be like the E30 family. However not the E30 M3 – I believe the only analog to the E30 M3 is the GP.

  • MaxMCS

    The only thing that will be key here, above all else, is that MINI must hang onto the degree of owner customization they’ve established. MINI “Youification” is at the heart of the brand, allowing people to build and tailor a car that is uniquely perfect for them while supporting a healthy aftermarket at the same time. With the F56 I’d expect (and hope) that MINI will only increase the possible configurations and “fun bits” people can add on to their cars to make them truly one-of-a-kind. IMHO there’s nothing cooler than knowing that you’ll never see another MINI quite like yours on the road- keeping it different equals keeping it fun!

  • Gil-galad

    No head-on view, but from what I can see the front has the look of a frightened guppy.  The side crease in the body near the bottom of the doors is puzzling as well.  Love the RV mirrors. 

  • Nick Dawson

    We already know that BMW want the next generation MINI to look more expensive and upmarket than today’s car, and to look and feel more sophisticated and more ‘jewel-like’ according to insiders. The five-door version, F54, is seen as an important addition to meet increasing competition in the small premium segment. The signed off interior is also said to be more luxurious with the centre dial much smaller and less upright than in the current model. 

    • ulrichd

      Stop it, you are frightening me. More refined and more upmarket usually spells doom for the enthusiast. May I point to the evolution of the VW GTI, starting with the awesome MKI Rabbit GTI followed by ever more porky versions. VW has been telling us for 20 years that each version will embrace the original but I don’t see it.

      • Nick Dawson

        I hear what you say, and I agree that the seventh generation GTI is a very different animal compared to the MK 1. It is, however, dynamically massively more capable, and your chances of survival, should you be hit by a full size SUV, are almost unbelievably high compared to a MK 1. The latest Golf GTI was described by Autocar as “all the car you will ever need in the real world”.

        MINI 2 is also a safer place to be in compared to MINI 1, The clever bit for MINI is that MINI 3 will be safer than MINI 2 but will be virtually the same size, unlike the VW which grew bigger with each generation. The bottom line is that car makers have to respond to ever stricter legislation, or go out of business.

        • DavidT

          I don’t buy the legislation argument for why cars get larger each generation.  If the Smart car can pass crash tests, a car the size of the Mini should be easy in comparison.

        • Ballandchain410

          Yeah,  a Smart car really has a lot going for it doesn’t it?

  • Scamper

    I agree that the R53 had a cuter, less “bloated” look than the later (current) models. But for me to buy back in (I still drive my 2003 Mini presently), I’m going to need just one thing: an electric motor. It’s hard to believe people are still purchasing petrol burners, cars that they may still be driving in 2024. So, any word on whether we’ll get a modern power plant to go with our modern Mini?

  • So much charm missing. Really not interesting and would lack a staying power from a design perspective.

  • Modernized version of the current shape for sure but too Fiat and not enough bulldog for me. Three wheel nuts? hmmmmm

  • Gerarddm

    I like the rear lights.

    All the redesign in the world won’t help unless they improve their reliability to Honda-like levels. Why is that so hard?

    • Evan

      My dad’s 2009 MC has never needed anything more than regular maintenance for 89k miles. My 2004 MC has needed a little more, but still is a solid drive with a tight chassis and powertrain after 86k miles. We sold my wife’s 2004 Civic a few years ago- it needed a new a/c controller at 54k miles, had a fuel gauge that never registered appropriately under 1/2 and was horrific in the snow. And it was not that much fun to drive. Same mileage as my Cooper and no where near what my dad gets (40+ in mixed driving).

      So I don’t know about that reliability stuff… there were early teething issues (2002-03 and 2007) and the R60 has had its issues, but Hondas and Toyotas are not the impeccable panaceas of reliability that people believe them to be.

      • Dr Obnxs

        Your conclusions are based on way to small a sampling of the various cars you mentioned. Looking and the health and repair history of large amounts of cars, MINIs have a pretty high amount of problems. And I’m a big fan of the brand. But the numbers don’t lie….

        • twistyguy

          I’d have to agree. Though my current 2004 R53 has been great, now with 86,000, my 2002 was crap. My daughters 2003 MC has some 145,000 and finally has died, trans, but was a nitemare for all those miles. My 2004 had a replacement motor at 20,000 but that was shrapnel through the radiator.

  • walk0080

    Although I am very happy with my 2012 R56 JCW hatch, MINI needs to do something pretty significant to keep me from looking elsewhere for my next purchase (should I be so lucky to be able to afford it!). Like others have mentioned, I really don’t want further refinement from a MINI… The current gen JCW is just about perfect and I wonder if the planned changes will remove too much of the R5x character. Even just changing the JCW engine to full Valvetronic might take away too much character by making it too refined.

    • ulrichd

      Totally agree, but about 90% of the car buying public would think we are nuts for wanting a less refined car and thinks that character has to do with the number of cupholders.

  • b-

    Looks like he missed some of the MINI design icons that were discussed in the article.

    From the belt line down this is not a MINI when observing the profile shots. I see this as designed by a former BMW designer and not on the MINI design team. If this were the final design for the F56 I would never buy it! Sure, the R56 looks a little bloated compared to the R50/53 cars but this has lost LOADS of personality. Like gabe said, not charming or interesting, I see it as making a concept to show that one can make a concept, not design for the brand.

    • Indeed, there’s that “twist” you see in the sides of BMWs, and edges.  Push it a bit further and you’re in  Nissan Juke territory.

  • Aurel

    “For some, the F56 will be a revelation.” … I think/hope that I will be in this group. The last decade has been awesome, but I am ready for something completely new and exciting.

  • My F56 wishlist: a little more aggressive styling, a little bit lighter, a little bit quicker (even if it’s just some cutting weight), 40 MPG highway from a Cooper S…and a healthy dose of Rocketman. 🙂

    This concept looks, for lack of a better word, fat.  Like an R56 with the mumps.

  • Herr26

    The F56 takes MINI on a modernized adventure but allows itself to stand alongside and not on the toes of the BMW City Compact.  Both cars are completely distinguishable in appearance and driving characteristics but both carry that premium edge.

    The BMW looks every much the entry BMW with many of the design elements influenced by early entry BMW models. The MINI continues the MINI design language but seeks a different interpretation of some classic mini details with its highly modern persona.

    In the driving the engineers know what makes a MINI and its characteristic filled personality , just as they know what a BMW customer expects. Whilst the concept of FWD is new to BMW it has been successfully applied to the MINI , so BMW can make a FWD Concept. The BMW FWD concept aims to offer a new interpretation of FWD inheriting the key BMW driving characteristics.  With internal testing already underway some say that the BMW FWD drivetrain is proving to be more adapt than a similar Audi FWD drivetrain in terms of giving what a driver expects from a BMW. 

    • DavidT

      Thanks Herr26.  Premium is great but only if it does not add weight. It will be interesting to see the BMW also.  I think a number of us would like to see a small BMW that has some 2002tii looks.  Small, simple and a blast to drive, though it would not be a true 2002 successor without rear wheel drive.

  • ulrichd

    “So far, the response from both internal MINI people as well as test audiences has been overwhelmingly positive.”

    How does one get invited to be in the test audience?

    • I’d like to know that myself.

    • Hoover

      I think we have also heard that is it polarizing…but then again, what new MINI hasn’t been? This is interesting, but the side profile doesn’t excite me at all.

  • William Cannell

    I like the design, although it does remind me of the Ford Start concept. I don’t think it would be right for a straight replacement for the current MINI, more of a ‘Rocketman’ car. I do worry about the new MINI just not being quite right, like the Countryman and Coupe (I like the Roadster), they just don’t quite do it for me.

  • Dzynguy

    sleek,minimal,and cool. as a modernist,i find the lack of knick-knacks quite calming,although truth be told the very modern rocketman got my juices pumping. this would work if the interior was as sleekly minmal. mini,imho,has the coolest interior of any vehicle currently on cdn. roads, it is gloriously industrial and modern,all the glowing orange lights match without reverting to 6 different colours inside,much more pleasing to the eye. the third brake light is USELESS. it needs to be high-mounted to serve it’s purpose. on the bumper is pretty much a waste for the job it’s supposed to be conveying.

    all in all a nice,clean design. i would go for this,or the rocketman as both are modern and suit my tastes. except for the useless back seats for stick-figure legs to fit only. actually,maybe i’ll put my pennies towards the roadster with a useable trunk space instead. oh well, never mind.

  • jason

    I understand that the F56 will not do this, but…why can’t MINI go back to the original Mini design? I know that it wont sell if it is as small as the original, but the steep windshield, boxy design, and what now has become, an Audi-sized(Aston-shaped) grill on the front could make for a great looking car.  For an aggressive look, extend the wheel flares to make the wheels look even more pushed out to the corners.  That is all I want out of the F56.  To me, this design looks as though it could be any other small car.  Without the black molding to break up the body, it looks heavy, and with the grill so high on the front it looks like a MINI/mini snowplow.         

    • Papafoxtrot69

      Agreed. I think this design looks like a Mini Ford Edge.

      • hfred


  • I guess I am old fashioned or a stick in the mud.  Anyway, I don’t like it.  I didn’t like the rocketman concept either.  I liked the original Mini’s from the original Italian Job movie.  I liked the R53 better than the R56 but as I wanted to buy my MINI new I got the R56.  I hope they do a better job at BMW/MINI.  Well I won’t have to worry about it for 5 or 6 years.  I figure if they screw up the new design the value of mine will go up.  Even if the design is ok some die hards will hate it and make my R56 more valuable.  So sounds like a win-win for me. 

    Oh yes add me as a plus one to the old MINI design. 

  • Ballandchain410

    Everyone step back, take a deep breath and unbunch your panties. It’s only a rendering and nothing official as to what it’s really going to look like…..

    • hfred

      True: just a cheap way to keep the faithful interested, while telling nothing.

  • Bob Hayhurst

    Is interesting concept. I’m not at all sure that it has any real soul, but thats me.

    Understanding this is nothing more then a styling exercise, it does pose the question as to how far MINI is willing to stray (stylistically) from not only the original Mini but the R53/R56.

    When I see an original Mini, I can see it for what it is; an old small British car that is fun to drive. Here comes the hard part; when I see an R53, (I loved my 03’S, I loved my 03’S) I just see old. I think this is partly from the fact that the R53 hasn’t quite reached the age where it has become vintage.  I’ve had 2 R56’s and both have been and each are exceptional cars.  What I’m looking to see from MINI in the F56 is that it will be forward of where we are in the R56.  Like anything else, while you want to remember your past; you don’t want to cling to it.  If the F56 doesn’t look like an original Mini or an R53 or R56 thats just fine with me…

  • Jerry

    I think its just too early to tell with these drawings; there’s still so much more to add. I like what I see so far–as long as it keeps the spirit of the current car while being a rational evolution it will probably work for me.

  • One of the image tags gives away what someone thinks about it — the Ford Start Concept. 

  • For some reason this didn’t sit well with me.  It turns out (as discovered at that this design is a chop based off of the Ford Start concept; Look through the gallery.  This is the most telling of the images:

  • Bmwsofla

    Bring it on. An entry level MINI would be a home run! With the idea that less is more it cannot miss. Keep it cool, MINI style, don’t offer it in 10,000,000 combinations and keep the standard content basic leaving room to upgrade to the current hardtop for more bells add whistles. Price point would be the key to success so it would have to be competitive with the 500 and all of the Asian Econo Boxes but still maintain the MIMI character .

  • Stew

    If the F56 looks like this then I’ll be buying one of the last R56 or R59 as it looks more like a baby Toyota or Skoda. Silly I know but there is a certain meanness in a car that attracts me to it and even if the JCW is off the cards for most of us I like knowing it’s in my corner. This looks so soft from the outset I just don’t know how you progress I have to hold my hand up as I’ve always been a Mini fan first and foremost and yes my R56 is a million miles from the old classic but still it reminds me of it and harks back to it in little touches like the Speedo, the lights etc. Every step I see BMW gently move us, persuade us to come along for the ride while also moving step by step away from the thing that some of us cherished the most that it was a throw back and modern spin on a classic we all loved.

  • feidler

    id buy that