Mini is poised to start work on a more sporting coupé version of the just-launched Countryman five-door crossover.
A Countryman coupé concept is currently on the drawing board at Mini’s design studio in Munich.
It is one of a number of new Mini niche models being considered, as work starts on merging the brand with the planned front-wheel-drive family from BMW.
Sources say this concept is partly being investigated because the BMW X6 was such a runaway success, proving that customers have a taste for the unusual ‘off-road coupé’ format.
Challenge to the Evoque
Mini’s design team is also keeping a keen eye on Land Rover’s new Range Rover Evoque, which also features a coupé-like roofline.
One suggestion is that Mini could provide a cut-price rival to the Evoque with a car that is just as dramatic looking, but with better performance and a more city-friendly package.
The car would cost around £20,000, dramatically undercutting the bigger Range Rover.
One of the options for the new coupé — which, if it gets the green light, will arrive in 2013 —is to have a four-door layout with rear suicide doors on both sides of the car and no B-pillars.
The next-generation Clubman is expected to use the same format, so the engineering work needed to eliminate the B-pillars from the Countryman platform could be shared between the two cars.
Unlike the estate car lines of the Clubman, the Countryman coupé will have a shorter rear overhang, sloping roofline and much shallower side windows.
Despite this, those pushing the new concept say leg room will be just as generous as the standard car and head room will be more than acceptable.
Two-door coupé layout
An alternative plan could see the Countryman coupé using a conventional two-door layout. Some insiders suggest this would be an ideal format for a future version of the WRC Mini, where body stiffness is all-important.
Others suggest that, stylistically, a two-door Countryman would need a much steeper roofline and more compromised rear seat space.
The Countryman coupé is just one of a number of Mini variants currently being considered by the BMW board. Next spring the company is due to show a ‘Minissimo’ city car concept, which is likely to be based on a cut-down version of today’s Mini platform.
Details are still thin on the ground, but the concept is expected to be either a two-seater or have a Toyota iQ-style 2+1 layout.
However, because the Minissimo will be built on today’s Mini platform (not the upcoming shared BMW/Mini front-drive architecture), it might be possible to profitably sell the car at a lower price than today’s £11,000 entry-level car.
The fact that the introduction of the Mini Roadster and Coupé (both also based on today’s Mini platform) has been delayed suggests that these two models and the Minissimo could all be built on the same production line at BMW Oxford.
Revival of the Riley brand
Autocar has also learnt that another, rather more unexpected version of the Mini is being considered by the design team. It’s an outright luxury model that would herald the revival of the Riley brand.
The concepts for the Riley show that it will either be a spin-off from the Mk3 Mini, due in 2013, or a new notchback body style inspired by the original Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet.
Many at BMW acknowledge that a super-luxury version of the Mini, fitted with a very high-end wood and leather interior, is likely to have appeal to affluent city dwellers.
However, others argue that a notchback Mini would attract buyers in countries that regard hatchbacks as low rent. A three-door van, based on a version of the Countryman platform, is also likely to feature in the future Mini plan.
Despite the profusion of niche models, the challenge for the Mini design team is to nail down the form of the Mini 3.
This car is based on the same all-new platform as the planned BMW range of compact front-drive cars and is expected to look more expensive and upmarket than today’s car, according to insiders.
With extra competition from the Citroën DS3 and Audi A1, BMW wants the next-generation Mini to look and feel more sophisticated and ‘jewel-like’ than the current three door.
With the Mini 3 and baby BMW ranges expected to account for as many as 800,000 sales by the second half of the decade, the mainstream Mini model needs to stand out as a polished and premium vehicle, not another mass-produced small car.