Mini’s entry-level model is under construction as a concept in preparation for a debut at the Geneva motor show next March, can reveal.

The new car - plans for which were exposed by Autocar in May - will be based on a modified version of the existing hatchback’s front-engined/front-wheel-drive platform, but will have a shorter wheelbase among other detailed architectural changes.

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The car has been conceived as part of BMW’s broad-based Project i mobility initiative, which has also spawned the more hi-tech, carbonfibre-intensive Mega City Vehicle – a car with which the new Mini shares very little, according to Autocar sources.

Little else is known about the new Mini’s exact layout at this stage. But engineers involved in the development of current Mini models concede it would be very difficult to create a front-engined, front-wheel-drive, four-seat city car shorter than today’s 3700mm-long hatch while adhering to all relevant crash test criteria, both in Europe and North America.

This tends to indicate the new Mini will receive a two-seat interior in a move mirroring that of the Smart Fortwo – just one of a number of possible rivals.

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Another possibility is a three-seat configuration like that of the Toyota iQ. Warning that the urban concept’s future production is anything but secure, Mini officials say they will monitor reaction to the car shown in Geneva before making any hard and fast decisions on a production future.

“The idea to create a highly compact Mini model is one that has been on the agenda for quite a while,” said one source.

“On the outside it would appear a natural fit for the brand but profitability is a major concern at this end of the market. It’s one thing making a good looking small car but it’s another thing making money on it.”

Although the new Mini and Megacity vehicle aim at a similar market segments, the concept of the former planned for Geneva is expected to showcase a new small-capacity petrol engine, while the latter is being developed primarily as plug-in electric vehicle.

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As well as hinting at Mini’s plans for a new urban based small car, the new concept car planned for Geneva is set to feature the company’s future design lineage, which BMW Group design boss, Adrian Von Hooydonk, describes as being an evolution of the existing retro-infused theme, as seen on today’s hatch, Clubman and Countryman.

Mini’s plans for a Smart Fortwo-rivalling city car hark back to the company’s earlier rear-engined/rear-wheel drive Spirtual concepts, revealed at the Geneva show shortly after BMW’s purchase of the Rover Group in 1994.

Greg Kable

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