Now that the Frankfurt IAA is over and we’ve all had week or two to take in the new MINI Concept, I thought it might be appropriate to write a short design analysis on it. However I’d like to look beyond the initial impressions most of us have had and dive into what makes the concept a successful design study.

The MINI Frankfurt Concept is a tour de force of design and styling that pushes the envelope of what we expect in the MINI. There’s so much to take in that it’s frankly hard to be cohesive in an initial opinion (other than perhaps the very elemental feeling of shock and dislike when seeing something so familiar re-interpreted). However, like most well-executed automotive concept design, it’s a car that shocks and challenges initially, only to subtly impress with it’s form, design details and engineering upon further inspection. For me, the MINI Concept seems to make sense the more you see it.

But everyone seems to be asking… why light silver and white? Surely the MINI is all about cheekiness, passion and even color? As designers in any field know, taking away color from a concept will focus attention (and critique) on it’s basic form, styling and included technology. While it’s certainly easier for most to attach themselves to a design that contains color, (bringing the design language into more accessible vernacular) without it, the MINI Design Team are seemingly asking us to look beyond the superficial and directly at the form and function of the car.

The initial result can be a bit jarring. It’s a foreign idea, a MINI that looks as if it was dropped off on its way to a cloud city. While some of the shapes and ideas are similar to what we see in today’s car, the textures and colors make them look strangely unfamiliar. The polished aluminum, suede headliner, and the white floating seats make for a cockpit that forces us to reevaluate what we expect to see in a small, inexpensive automobile. And while much of the finished colors and textures of the interior won’t see production, the overall shape surely is a pre-cursor to the 2007 MINI.

The same goes for the exterior. While the extravagant lighting may work for creating a bold statement, one would think that it simply strays a little too far from MINI’s well cultivated design language of the current car to see production. Other details that would seemingly fall into this category are rear logo and outlandish 20″ wheels

For me personally, it’s the headlight treatment that is the most jarring portion of the overall design. First MINI Design have created a flatter and taller front grille area. This in itself is quite a departure from the current sloped design. However they then accentuated this rather important design change by the shape, angle and placement of the uncomfortably large headlight housing. All this adds up to a face that’s hard to come to grips with initially.

It would seem that the change in shape we see in the front of the car was most likely precipitated by the new European pedestrian safety standards implemented for all new cars in 2005. But the MINI Design Team seem to have taken this opportunity to push the design language back into a direction closer to the original upright design of the classic Mini. In some ways I see it as a successful move as it certainly creates a stronger signature face.

I’d expect the grille and it’s shape to move over to the final version of the R56 relatively unchanged in it’s general form. However I can’t help but think the final production headlight treatment will be much more inline with what we’d visually expect, meaning that we should see a more humbly proportioned headlight housing.

What’s you get beyond the lack of color and the new face, your focus moves to the extended length. And that extra space translates into increased rear passenger room and a larger, more versatile boot. And speaking of the boot, MINI have done a masterful job of opening it up with the complex hinged rear doors and hatch. Only with close up photos can you really appreciate all the time that was spent to create a very unique and functional rear opening. We can only hope the production version of this car retains half the functionality seen here.

With this new concept, the MINI Design team seem to be prepping the public (and especially current MINI owners) for the new interpretations of classic MINI themes that are coming with the R56. While there’s undoubtedly quite a bit of pure concept that won’t make it beyond the auto-show circuit, expect a good portion of the basic concept (especially the interior) to subtly turn into what is in dealer showrooms late next year.

We’ll have more on what parts of the MINI Frankfurt Concept will and won’t make it to production tomorrow.


[ MINI Concept Steals Show at Frankfurt ] MotoringFile

[ MINI Wagon Concept – In Depth ] MotoringFile

[ MINI Concept Gallery: From Sketch to Prototype ] MotoringFile