Autocar's Hilton Holloway caught up with Mini's head designer Gert Hildebrand for an insight into the firm's design future.
When did you start work on the concept of a five-door Mini?
I began work with Mini on 7 January 2001, at the Detroit auto show. I had a small team of just four designers but we asked ourselves where we could take the Mini from being a one-model brand. We put together a wish list of five or six future models, which included the Clubman and the Speedster. Between 2001 and 2007 we proposed a number of four-door Mini concepts, some of which were over four metres long.
Is this as big as any Mini will get?
We had a lot of discussions about the length and we decided that four metres was the biggest any Mini could be. We also found that a lot of Mini owners had dogs and wanted extra space. The ‘dog factor’ with buyers was amazing.
The three-door Mini is 3720mm long and the Clubman is 3920mm long, which gave us an extra 80mm in the wheelbase and 120mm in the load bay. The new concept is just over four metres long – 4007mm or so. The 2.6m wheelbase also offers great rear legroom compared with similar-sized cars.
In fact, the height of the production car was fixed by the height of a standardized Japanese garage door. The number four was key for this project. We called it a four metre-long, four-door, four-seater with the ALL4 four-wheel drive system.
Is the car based on a Clubman?
It’s not based directly on the Clubman because it’s wider, so the passengers have better shoulder room. The platform also has to accommodate the four-wheel drive system. Although we used a lot of existing Mini ‘architecture parts’, this is effectively a new platform.
How close is the concept to the production car?
The Mini Moke influences the whole vehicle, which is why we took the doors and B-pillar out and inserted a side-impact bar at hip level. We also removed the roof panel to give the full open-air effect. As part of the concept treatment, we also designed a new A-pillar and header rail.
The series production car will be revealed at the Geneva show [in February] and it will have a conventional doors. But the front end of the Beachcomber is very close to production, as are the rear three quarter areas. It won’t sit quite as high as the concept, which has got very tall off-road tyres.
You seem to have finally moved away from the current Mini’s round headlamp ‘face’?
The face is the first impression you get from a car, but with the Beachcomber, we have convinced the [BMW] board that we could reserve the circular light for the Mini and introduce this five-edge style on the Crossover.
The upright nose – which has a Mini Moke influenced grille - is designed to meet the new pedestrian impact regulations, so it’s quite tall and flat, almost like a shark-nose effect.
Will the production car be a strict four seater?
The interior of the Beachcomber is the message of the car. We wanted to show how we maximised interior space and the cleverness of the interior. Four individual seats will be an option, as well as bench seat. You can also slide the rear seats by 13cm forward and back. We think this is an amazing package, with the kind of interior space that you wouldn’t associate with a four metre-long car.
The production car will also get the centre console storage rack. We have designed a number of storage containers that will clip onto it, but it only runs the full length of the interior with the four-seat option.
When will the real thing appear?
After the production car is unveiled in Geneva, series production will begin in the autumn.
What about a future Cooper road car version?
We have genuinely not decided to do any more variations on this car as yet, but we have plenty of ideas were we could take it.