This is the Mini Beachcomber, which gives the best clues yet to the appearance, size, interior layout and mechanical make-up of its long-awaited junior SUV.
The concept is a preview of the new Countryman, on sale in the UK next September. It shares key elements of the four-door body and four-seat cabin, together with its turbocharged 1.6-litre engine and four-wheel drive mechanicals.
Inspired by the original Mini Moke from 1964, the Beachcomber is also being used to explore design ideas that could find their way onto future derivatives of the Countryman, which is due to get its first public outing at the Geneva motor show in early March.
“It’s an ideas car that, depending on the sort of feedback we receive, may have a bearing on a future Mini production car,” said the firm’s design boss, Gert Hildebrand. “It’s based on our upcoming SUV but we’ve injected added fun and off-road ability into it that we think could appeal to a certain type of Mini customer.”
The Beachcomber’s pillarless body and lack of doors and roof are taken from the Moke. The aim of this is to place the driver and passengers closer to the action. The new Mini also features a series of fabric and composite panels that cover the door apertures and roof, to provide occupants with protection from the elements.
But the open-body design would be difficult to make, given today’s safety regs. And while Mini is renowned for producing rigidly structured cars, it would require major modifications to the floorpan. But Mini officials have not ruled out the possibility of offering an optional full-length fabric roof like the Beachcomber’s on the Countryman.
The Beachcomber’s design hints at some off-road ability, with generous ground clearance, protective cladding, underbody skid plates and mud-terrain tyres. Short front and rear overhangs would also help, although it’s thought that the production Countryman will not be pitched as an off-roader.
Concept car flourishes aside, the Beachcomber’s exterior styling combines the retro-inspired appearance of the existing Cooper with a more technically oriented approach that, Hildebrand said, will become increasingly evident on other new Mini models due in the future.
And despite the apparent similarities with existing Minis, the car is much bolder and considerably larger than any of the firm’s models before. At 4070mm long, the Beachcomber is 135mm longer than the Clubman, currently the longest Mini ever built. It also rides on a wheelbase that is 59mm longer than the Clubman’s, at 2606mm.
The increased dimensions may force some to call into question the relevance of the Mini badge, but they have also provided scope for a roomy four-seat interior with individual sliding rear seats and a generous-sized boot.
The side-opening tailgate mirrors that of Mini’s early Cross concept, shown at last year’s Paris motor show. In keeping with the robust nature of the Beachcomber, it supports a spare wheel.
The dashboard, with its large central dial, toggle switches and oval-themed seats and pedals, mirrors the look established in other Mini models. In keeping with the Beachcomber’s rugged looks and open-air design, it has rubber floor mats and neoprene upholstery for the seats to provide some protection from the elements. Those materials will be replaced by more conventional trim on production versions of the Countryman, but apart from that the Beachcomber’s interior is an accurate rendition of the production cabin.
The Countryman will be the first of the BMW-generation Minis to be built outside of the UK. Instead of being made at Cowley, the Countryman will be manufactured by Magna at its Graz plant in Austria.