The fifth model in Mini’s new-look range is likely to be a saloon as part of its global push upmarket, Autocar understands.
The new model could even, in theory, result in a return of the Riley name, for which BMW owns the trademark.
Although there’s no official confirmation of the addition of a saloon to the Mini range, sources have revealed that it is on the cards as part of Mini’s new look and ethos and the brand’s next logical evolution.
In its third generation of models under BMW ownership, Mini has pledged to focus on making five distinct model lines.
These will be more rounded and mature models, moving the brand away from its more cartoon-like recent past.
This approach started with the new three-door and five-door hatchbacks as one model line and continued with the Clubman and Convertible as the second and third. These models have brought in a more grown-up identity for Mini as a whole.
The fourth new model, a larger and more spacious second generation of the Countryman, will be seen later this year.
Mystery has previously surrounded the fifth model line since BMW’s board member with responsibility for Mini, Peter Schwarzenbauer, first spoke of the five ‘superheroes’ plan in 2014.
But Autocar now understands it will be a saloon, targeted mainly at the North American and Chinese markets but available globally.
Speaking to Autocar at the recent New York motor show, vice-president of Mini product management Ralph Mahler didn’t confirm plans for a saloon directly but did reveal that Mini had undertaken all sorts of analysis on different market trends and segments.
He said: “For example, in Asia and the US, the sedan [saloon] segment is very big. This is very interesting to us, of course.”
He said heritage was important for Mini and noted the firm had a history of making saloons with Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet models, although he admitted most modern Mini buyers would not know this.
“The sedan concept is in our history,” he said. “So we have roots there. We have to look at it in a factual way. Customers may know of the strong heritage of the sedan concept, but it was never [sold in] big volumes. Most customers would hardly know that, so would they link to heritage?”
Mahler said history was very important to Mini as a whole. “Heritage is our core,” he said. “It will play a huge role and it’s a question our customers will always ask.”
In reference to saloon models being more popular in eastern Europe, China and North America than in western Europe, Mahler said it was “always more appealing if you can sell a model worldwide”.
But he added: “You can have 150,000 global sales or 200,000 in a region, so that’s an easy one to answer.”
This implies the saloon would be targeted at those named markets, but the desire to grow the brand globally should also mean the saloon will be offered in all markets, including the UK.
It also hints at the sales growth potential for Mini by entering completely new segments rather than making niche and often compromised derivatives of the same model, as it has done previously.
It sold a record 338,466 units worldwide in 2015 — an impressive number given that the more mainstream Clubman only went on sale in October.