Your eyes don’t deceive you. This is indeed MINI’s highly anticipated concept car intended to point towards the future of the brand. So why is there a plant in it? And why does it look like a van? We spoke to the Head of MINI Design Oliver Heilmer and the Head of MINI Bernd Koerber about the Urbanaut and what it tells us about the future of the brand (and if a MINI-van is coming).

The first thing you need to know about the MINI Urbanaut is that it’s a “Vision” car. That’s BMW speak for future-forward concept that doesn’t specifically point towards a production car. Rather it’s intended to show-off themes and design elements that are heading towards production. The Urbanaut gives us glimpses of the front of the next generation MINI (at a high-level mind you) and an early look at a much simplified design language we’ll be seeing.

MINI Urbanaut

That design language has its origins in the 1959 Mini. More specifically the simplicity and minimalism we see here was inspired by the brand’s past. To us it feels both more modern and inline with where the brand started over 60 years ago.

Yet many of you are likely struggling to get past the fact that this is basically a small van. Or in other terms of modern version of a VW Bus. That’s not by accident. MINI sees trends and data pointing to the potential resurgence of MPVs (as their called in Europe) having a comeback towards the end of the decade. And while the concept of a MINI MPV hasn’t been officially approved, it was an idea the design team wanted to explore as a way to test new ideas and stretch the MINI design DNA.

MINI Urbanaut

But Oliver Heilmer was quick to point out that the Urbanaut is dramatically different than the classic MVP. He wanted to create something that was entirely variable depending on the situation and environment. A concept that could seamlessly blend into the owners life far more than a car (which is parked the majority of the time) could ever integrate.

This is a room concept so it’s dramatically different from that. We’re talking about a multi-functional Swiss knife with the Urbanaut. You’re able to use it in different moments and transform it. So the approach is entirely different. 

Oliver Heilmer
Head of MINI Design

But it’s hard to get past how uncool the MVP or classic minivan has become in most corners of the world. To that, MINI’s head Bernd Koerber had a very straightforward answer; “We won’t make a practical MPV if it’s not cool.” And he expects to see more concepts like this from other brands in the near future – which could in itself start to sway public towards the idea.

MINI Urbanaut

Design is all important to MINI. Sometimes it only takes second to review design. We ask ourselves; is it cool or not cool? So there will be that question. We won’t make a practical MVP if it’s not cool. 

Bernd Koerber
Head of MINI

Is the MINI Urbanaut successful? As an object of lust perhaps not. But has a concept that tests new ideas and breaks ground for the brand, yes. And those ideas are particularly relevant in a post COVID world. As the idea of work and living space blend, the MINI has envisioned a new space that offers more than just mobility but also safety and community.

MINI Urbanaut

Perhaps Head of MINI Bernd Koerber said it best when he described COVID’s impact on the MINI team: The last ten months has changed our minds on mobility. For all of us there was this feeling of, where can we find space where we feel safe in an urban environment. The Urbanaut is a concept informed by both these recent global events and trends that have been in the making for years.

is it a MINI? Is the broad definition of how the original came to be, of course. It leverages it’s 4.46 meters in smart ways to create the maximum possible interior volume. It’s also an answer to a world in crisis not unlike the 1959 oil crisis. And it’s a radical departure from what came before it.

MINI Urbanaut


The MINI brand is using #NEXTGen to present, in a world exclusive, the MINI Vision Urbanaut – an all-new interpretation of a vision of space. This digital vision vehicle offers more interior space and versatility than ever before, but still on a minimal footprint.

“The MINI brand has always stood for ‘Clever Use of Space’. In the MINI Vision Urbanaut, we extend private space far into the public realm, creating completely new and enriching experiences,” explains Adrian van Hooydonk, Head of BMW Group Design.

MINI Urbanaut

The MINI moments.

“MINI sees its future self primarily as an enabler of and companion for unforgettable times – what we might call ‘MINI moments’. The MINI Vision Urbanaut uses three curated MINI moments – “Chill”, “Wanderlust” and “Vibe” – to present a wide range of possible usage scenarios. The Chill moment invites you to catch a breath and pause in the here and now. The car becomes a kind of retreat, a haven where you can relax – or work with full concentration – during a journey. Wanderlust is the only MINI moment where the MINI Vision Urbanaut is being driven or driving with automated driving functions. The moment Vibe puts time with other people at centre stage – in every way”, adds Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design.

The exterior and interior change to reflect the MINI moment at hand and give the experience the best possible stage. An all-encompassing user experience design, sustainable materials and a purely electric drive system are additional ingredients of the overall concept.

MINI Urbanaut

The interior design – More Creative Use of Space.

As an innovative space concept, the MINI Vision Urbanaut was designed from the inside out. The designers created the spacious interior experience before developing the exterior, using floor plans, pieces of furniture plus wooden scale models to provide an indication of size. Over the course of the project, augmented reality was employed to create a digital model, which was then systematically optimised. Unusually tall for a MINI, but only 4.46 m in length, the MINI Vision Urbanaut provides an interior space that can be used in many different ways and offers a whole new ease of movement inside the car.

Electric drive system and automated driving functions also create new ways to use the interior.

Having been conceived from the outset as an electrically powered vehicle with automated driving functions, the MINI Vision Urbanaut has afforded the designers a greater level of freedom when creating both the exterior and interior.

“In 1959, the very first Mini ushered in a small-scale revolution in vehicle construction with its transversely mounted engine,” recalls Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design. “With the MINI Vision Urbanaut we have been able to rethink and increase the usable surface area inside the car even further in relation to its footprint.”

MINI Urbanaut

One space, a multitude of possibilities.

The interior of the MINI Vision Urbanaut provides the ideal environment in which to go on a journey, but is also the aim of the journey. Having arrived at the chosen destination, it can transform into a living room in just a few simple steps. Occupants enter the innovative cabin through a large sliding door in the side of the car. The cutting-edge slide and swivel mechanism is the ideal design for urban driving conditions where space is at a premium. There are no other doors on the driver’s side or front passenger side.

The interior of the MINI Vision Urbanaut provides the ideal environment in which to go on a journey, but is also the aim of the journey. Having arrived at the chosen destination, it can transform into a living room in just a few simple steps. Occupants enter the innovative cabin through a large sliding door in the side of the car. The cutting-edge slide and swivel mechanism is the ideal design for urban driving conditions where space is at a premium. There are no other doors on the driver’s side or front passenger side.

MINI Urbanaut

Driver’s area with Daybed” and Street Balcony”; “Cosy Corner” in the rear.

An extremely flexible four-seat layout provides the basis for the bright interior. The two front seats are designed to rotate, while the backrests for the generously sized seat surface in the rear can be folded manually (left rear seat) and turned around (right rear seat). When the car is stationary, the dashboard lowers and the driver’s area becomes a comfortable seating corner – the “daybed”. Added to which, the windscreen can be opened upwards when stationary to create a kind of Street Balcony. This enhances interaction with the car’s surroundings and creates an even more generous spatial experience.

The darker environs of the cabin’s rear section provide a quieter space – the Cosy Corner. This area invites passengers to enjoy some time to themselves. A textile- covered “Loop” extends over the seat bench and features the option of LED backlighting. Between Cosy Corner and the driver’s area is the open and airy central section of the car, which offers quick access to all seating areas. With the door open, it is even possible to sit on the floor. On the side of the car opposite the entry door, a small integrated table with a plant adds a finishing touch to the interior fittings. The

table signifies the car’s new centre point – the place where passengers meet, face and engage with one another.

MINI Urbanaut

User interface and interaction design – “Analogue love, digital connection” as a guiding principle.
Intuitive, discreet user interface solutions allow conventional controls such as switches or buttons to be omitted. This creates a minimalist, cosy spatial experience while maintaining full connectivity. The principle of making things as simple as possible to use (“natural interaction”) is highlighted by the “analogue”, tactile, haptic experience of initiating a feature, e.g. the direct touch operation option in the Loop over the rear seat bench. The circular instrument is now positioned in the middle of the car – the new centre of the action – and brings information to the place where people meet.

The “MINI Token” – the digital-analogue interface for MINI moments.

The MINI Token is the centrepiece of the MINI Vision Urbanaut’s experience worlds. It is roughly the same size as a worry stone and activates the three preconfigured MINI moments – Chill, Wanderlust and Vibe – when placed in purpose-designed slots in the table at the centre of the car. Other MINI moments are conceivable, such as “My MINI moment”. Here, the MINI Token can be programmed to provide another kind of personalised experience, in which the user can configure their own preferred scenario of fragrance, ambient lighting, music, etc. and call it up directly at a later time.

MINI Urbanaut

The exterior design – the spirit of the brand in a new form.

The purist mono-volume design of the MINI Vision Urbanaut gives new meaning to the “Creative Use of Space” approach. The flush, virtually seamless surface creates a modern baseline mood, with high-quality details adding carefully judged stylistic flourishes. In signature MINI fashion, the wheels are positioned at the outer corners of the body, with short overhangs rounding off a compact and agile appearance.

A new MINI face.

The front end of the MINI Vision Urbanaut represents a clear evolution of two time- honoured MINI design icons – the headlights and radiator grille. Positioned under a milled aluminium structure with slotted openings, the headlights are only visible when switched on. Thanks to their multicolour dynamic matrix design they can display different multi-coloured graphics, which creates a new form of communication between the car and the outside world to suit each moment. The

lights on the MINI Vision Urbanaut complement the front “grille” with the attractive look distinctive to every MINI. The enclosed grille itself is now octagonal in shape, representing an evolution of the traditional hexagonal form. Since the MINI Vision Urbanaut does not have a combustion engine requiring cooling air, the grille assumes a new function: it now serves as an intelligence panel for automated driving.

As with the headlights, mulitcolour dynamic matrix rear lights behind milled aluminium covers deliver a fresh aesthetic and present different looks in the various driving modes and MINI moments. On closer inspection, the distinctive, convex surfaces also pay homage to previous MINIs and the classic Mini. One small detail – the contour of the rear windows – references the form of the front grille and underscores the car’s stylistic consistency.

The clear form of the exterior supplies the car’s colours, materials and details with the perfect stage. The matt exterior shade Zero Gravity transitions from a metallic green with blue flip effect to a subtly toned grey. The windows show a pattern in body colour, fading in a gradient from bottom to top. This creates a harmonious transition from the vehicle body to the windows and roof. The pattern also provides a certain amount of privacy without having to darken the windows; the interior remains bright.

MINI Urbanaut

Illuminated skateboard wheels provide visual flourishes.

The visual highlight of the MINI Vision Urbanaut when viewed from the side are the wheels, finished in the colour Ocean Wave, a turquoise blue which sparks associations with the beach and the sound of the sea. The abstract Union Jack profile of the wheels is a nod to the car’s British heritage, while their shape recalls skateboards – thereby further highlighting the car’s nimbleness and non-conformist MINI twist. The wheels also represent another way in which the car communicates with its surroundings. Transparent and illuminated from the inside, their appearance changes according to the selected MINI moment.

MINI charms – tactile loveables.

Occupying an exposed position in the C-pillar on the driver’s side are the “charms”. They offer reminders of places travelled, festivals or other events in the form of pins or stickers, and are presented as graphic collector’s items behind glass, as if in adisplay cabinet. The MINI charms are also an expression of wanderlust and show what the owner has experienced with the MINI Vision Urbanaut – like the stickers on camper vans or badges on walking poles in days gone by. One charm is dedicated to

the #Next Gen platform on which the MINI Vision Urbanaut will celebrate its world premiere. Another has a QR code which, when scanned, takes you to In this way, the analogue and digital worlds come together in the car’s exterior as well.Expressing the MINI moments in the interior and exterior.

If one of the three MINI moments is activated by placing the MINI Token in the slots in the table, this is signalled on the outside of the car through the front and rear surfaces and wheel rims. In the interior, the whole geometry – including the seats, the form of the dashboard/daybed and the backrest positions – can be adjusted manually according to the MINI moment selected. The circular instrument display also changes. Fragrance, sound and ambient lighting continue to enrich the baseline mood initiated by the chosen MINI moment.

MINI moment Chill – an oasis amid the hustle and bustle of the city.

In the MINI moment Chill, the MINI Vision Urbanaut becomes a private retreat, an urban oasis. While the rear seat bench (Cosy Corner) invites various seating and lying positions, the backlit Loop above it takes on an appearance inspired by a green forest canopy and can also be dimmed. Ambient music and atmospheric sounds from nature are added to the mix. In the central area, the circular instrument folds down to become a table lamp, eliminating displays or switches that might remind the customer of their automotive surroundings. From the outside, the MINI moment Chill is revealed in the abstract representation of a forest canopy around the headlights, rear lights and wheels.

MINI moment Wanderlust – the joy of travelling together.

graphics in the LED matrix surfaces at the front and rear ends signal whether automated mode has been engaged or the customer is driving themselves.

MINI Urbanaut

MINI moment Vibe – celebrating community, sharing moments.

In the MINI moment Vibe, the MINI Vision Urbanaut opens up to people and its surroundings, and provides an experience of togetherness and interaction. Opening the side door and folding up the windscreen creates a welcoming scene that blurs the boundaries between the outside and inside. Amid a colour world of magenta and black with turquoise highlights, the MINI Vision Urbanaut provides a central meeting hub; one which can be either quiet or loud. The central circular instrument becomes a media control centre. An animation of graphic equalizers moving with the music is projected onto surfaces of the front, rear, wheels and Loop above the rear seat bench, creating a pleasant club atmosphere. If those on board so desire, the car could even begin to resemble a boombox.

Digital services connected with the MINI Vision Urbanaut

The concept behind the MINI Vision Urbanaut includes services designed to make using the car an enriching and seamless experience. For example, the MINI Vision Urbanaut can be opened using smart devices – so, in keeping with its status as a mobility option of the future, it can be accessed by anyone within a defined circle of family and friends. Playlists, audio books or podcasts to suit the route and the moment can be explored while travelling in the Wanderlust moment. A personal journey planner displays tips and points of interest (POI) tailored to the individual, as well as recommendations from the MINI Community. These can be proposed and selected as desired.

MINI Urbanaut

Sustainable materials and a responsible mindset.

The MINI Vision Urbanaut is characterised by the responsible use of resources. As well as maximum space within a small footprint and the all-electric drive system, the MINI Vision Urbanaut is committed to a responsible approach to materials. This is achieved not only by reducing the number of components in the exterior and interior design, but also by enabling dual functions such as the dashboard/daybed. In addition to the use of recyclates, this also means ensuring that the design is free of chrome and leather. Along with the use of recycled materials, this also means avoiding chrome and leather. The dominant material in the interior is knitted textile, which combines cosiness and quality with softness and comfort. The use of cork on the steering wheel and sections of the floor adds a special touch thanks to its natural feel, and ensures an authentically pleasant interior climate.

MINI Urbanaut Photo Gallery