My best of chance of a moderately white Christmas happened yesterday in freezing Graz.
The small Austrian town is home to Magna, a highly respected contract engineering and manufacturing specialist. Until recently it built the Saab 9-3 cabrio, it currently builds the BMW X3 and is about to start building the Aston Martin Rapide.
Magna has won the contract to build the new Mini Crossover, which has just been revealed in its final ‘Beachcomber’ concept guise. I travelled to the factory to talk to Mini design boss Gert Hildebrand and see the car in the flesh.
Despite the extravagant doorless and roofless homage to the Mini Moke, it’s clear in an instant which bits of the concept are real.
The whole nose (save for the vent in the bonnet) is virtually showroom-ready, as is the car’s rear three-quarter area.
What was most impressive, though, is the way that Hildebrand’s team has managed to both advance the Mini aesthetic and wrap it convincingly around a longer, taller five-door body.
The new ‘four-corner’ headlamps and upright (and ever so slightly reverse-raked) grille are a long way from today’s car, but look so perfectly Mini.
The Beachcomber has a significant presence (even taking into account the over-stated ride height) in the metal, so it’s a surprise to realise that it is shorter than a Grand Punto.
Hildebrand promises that the Mini Crossover’s interior is properly spacious, so it’s not a fantasy to think that they can tap into the lucrative Golf market. (Hildebrand, incidentally, just happened to be the lead designer on the Mk3 Golf).
The Mini five-door may be smaller than the VW on the outside, but BMW think that the prestige of the Mini brand will ensure it demands a premium price.
However, BMW sources are saying that they really can’t be sure how the market will react to the Crossover. They have sales estimates, but seem genuinely unsure whether it will be a significant showroom hit.
Maybe that’s why the company still hasn’t given the green light to a more road-orientated Cooper five-door version.
Then again, the marketing department has a Mini ‘all-road’ heritage that other carmakers can only dream about. Just think of all those historic Mini rally car images and the car’s legendary Monte Carlo exploits.
Magna will also be praying that the Mini five-door becomes a multi-model success. In the last few weeks, Magna has been denied its audacious takeover of Opel/Vauxhall and has just unexpectedly lost the contract to build the next-generation Porsche Boxster and Cayman.
For my money, though, I don’t think it can miss. This Mini oozes class. It looks expensive and sophisticated, but its modest dimensions are in tune with the times. BMW has moved the Mini story decisively into the future.