Mini looks to add size to the next-gen estate to help it appeal more to US buyers, and will shrink 3dr hatchback to improve its styling
Richard Bremner Autocar
16 December 2019

Mini is considering an increase in the size of the Clubman for its next generation, turning it into an SUV, while at the same time working on ways to reduce the external bulkiness of its three-door hatchback model.

In the US, Mini is losing sales because it has only one SUV – the Countryman – which many Americans perceive to be too small to justify its purchase price. The shift towards SUVs has triggered a steep decline in hatchback and saloon sales, necessitating a dealer retrenchment.

Chief designer Oliver Heilmer hinted to Autocar that the next Clubman could move towards an SUV format. Currently, the six-door estate is only slightly shorter (4.26m) and wider (1.82m) than its Countryman sibling, and both occupy the same market pricing level.

It’s unclear at this stage whether the Clubman will become substantially bigger to differentiate it from the Countryman, or whether the latter will grow to provide two SUVs of distinctly different sizes. Heilmer refused to comment on Autocar’s report on the return of the Traveller name as an electric MPV sharing parts with the BMW i3.

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He did talk about the efforts being made to improve the space efficiency of Mini’s next three-door hatchback. Heilmer said: “For future architecture, we’re having weekly discussions to improve interior space and reduce the car’s footprint. But it’s not solved yet. Maybe next year.” He also noted that the “development cost is also an issue”.

“It’s not necessarily the internal combustion engine that needs the space – even with an EV (which has a smaller motor) you still need a crash box,” Heilmer continued, referring to the progressively deformable and substantial structure around the powertrain. “Crash performance is the bigger issue.”

Another challenge is dealing with “an electric motor that might keep running”. This is a post-crash circumstance that does not usually affect cars with internal combustion engines.

Heilmer was able to provide a bit of detail on how the next hatchback’s space efficiency – and proportions – might improve, with the news that Mini is considering a new type of energy-absorbent foam between the front bumper skin and the crash bar that could potentially reduce the hatch’s much criticised and excessive front overhang.

That the foam is more expensive is an issue, but Heilmer said “everyone is pushing to improve space efficiency”. Of the five-door hatch, which is the bigger seller of the pair, he says that the design team is working to improve its aesthetics “quite a lot”.

“The footprint is most crucial with the hatch,” he said. “Size is less of a problem with the other models.”

“I want each model to be the smallest in the segment, or visually the smallest. But small may not be helpful for sales,” he admitted – hence the possibility of a larger Clubman.

Heilmer said that the design team has also been reconsidering the Mini’s “iconic features”, adding: “The face recognition is very important, but the tail-lights may not stay iconic. We’ve got to be proactive, not reactive.”

The clamshell bonnet is not necessarily a must-have and, inside, the toggle switches are being re-evaluated. “They’re good on the hatch, less so on the others perhaps,” Heilmer said, suggesting that future larger models could ditch the retro cabin touches.

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Comments
13

16 December 2019

So the next Mini may just end up as a British A1. How sad and tragic.

16 December 2019
Please don't do it mini, the world does not need more SUVs. It needs practical, small, space efficient cars and a touch of character does not go amiss.
For me, the format of the clubman should stay but it should grow to 4.4m and become a genuine family estate with a 450l boot.
I wonder if the tail light comment is an acknowledgement that the union jack lamps are putting people off in these brexity times.

MrJ

16 December 2019

I'd like to see a new Mini that is not uglier than earlier versions.

16 December 2019
MrJ wrote:

I'd like to see a new Mini that is not uglier than earlier versions.

I d like to see a Mini that actually deserves to wear the badge. I m not holding out much hope though, instead I m sure they ll stick with the current and ever getting bigger (and uglier) pastiche formula, sadly.

16 December 2019
@jameshobiecat I wondered that too.

Problem with the clubman is that no one sees it as a rival to a Golf sized car.

16 December 2019

 Well, as if that's a surprise!, the Mini, and correct me if I'm wrong, is the only brand that hasn't morphed into an SUV....?

16 December 2019

SUV, oh dear, well that's my Clubman not being replaced with another. 

So that's me off to another brand for the next car.   Shame, as I like the cheerful styling, I like the engine, the way it drives, and so on.  There's enough load space.  Its economical on fuel.  I'm that rare person who did buy it instead of a Golf or AudiA3: about the same load space with the "does my bike fit in the back" test.

16 December 2019

Aye, I have to agree, I own a MINI Cooper Clubvan, and was looking forward to replacing it with the current MINI Clubman, I don't want an SUV, I certainly don't need one, I owned 3 Nissan X-Trails before the SUV became so fashionable.

16 December 2019

...and by saying "that rare person" you sum up the need for MINI to change to something with a broader appeal.

I too would like the range to remain compact, but I understand they need to be relevant in the market. Otherwise is an uphill business case. 

The Mk 1 Countryman or the Paceman were perfect for me, but that train passed years ago.

16 December 2019

If the Countryman is too small for the market, why not just make it bigger and leave the Clubman as it is, and was conceived as - an alternative to a Golf/A3/Focus/308, etc.? 

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