Mini reaches into its past to imagine the autonomous, nomadic future.
The automobile has long been a home away from home, a personal and private space detached from the noise and frustrations of the world around us – and that’s the theme Mini is leaning on with its new Urbanaut concept.
There’s history in the design, though. While the German-owned British brand has worked to develop a concept that make the most of a hands- and attention-free driving future, the result is both predictably van-like – and a subtle nod to the Spiritual Too concept revealed in 1997.
Like the Urbanaut, the Spiritual Too and its shorter three-door Spiritual companion were conceived as a rebirth opportunity and a revolutionary leap in style and position – but, unlike today’s big reveal, those earlier ’90s show cars were much closer to the original Mini concept in proportion, packaging and purpose.
Today, Mini describes the Urbanaut as a concept that carries “the Mini spirit in a brand-new form”.
It’s a liberal application of that philosophy, however, with the brand claiming it’s the ‘grille’ area and headlights that evoke the iconic Mini look.
Essentially a small minivan, the Urbanaut offers more interior space than any other model in the increasingly maxi Mini range, intended to optimise space for occupants in the self-driven vehicle.
Technical details are light-on, with the Urbanaut described only as “unusually tall for a Mini” and 4.46 metres in length – making it longer than the 4.31m Countryman and 4.28m Clubman.
Mini’s designers – led by BMW Group design boss Adrian van Hooydonk, Chris Bangle’s successor – had envisioned the Urbanaut as a vehicle with three “curated Mini moments”.
The “Chill” mode is a personal space for relaxing alone or working on the go, “Vibe” turns the Urbanaut into a more social space for additional passengers, while “Wanderlust” returns driving control to the occupant.
The default interior is a four-seat layout with swivelling front seats and flat-reclining rear seats.
The dashboard can also lower to create a “daybed” space – although this is described as an option only when stationary, making the Urbanaut more of a mobile home.
In that same mode, the windscreen can open upwards “to create a kind of Street Balcony” for more space and airiness.
Revealed largely as a design study, the Urbanaut comes with no specific powertrain details beyond confirming – as expected – an electric drive system.
Observers might expect the usual spread of figures: a driving range of hundreds of kilometres, a single-motor rear-wheel or dual-motor all-wheel drive setup, et cetera.
Likewise, Mini offers no indication that the Urbanaut is destined for production. But, with autonomous driving likely a lot further away from our daily experience than many had expected, we shouldn’t expect to see the Urbanaut appear in showrooms anytime soon.
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Mini Vision Urbanaut concept revealed as a maxi personal space