A full quarter of a century and three generations of BMW’s new Mini later, it was clearly time for another deep rethink.
When Oliver Heilmer took the Mini design hot seat in autumn 2017, there were already plans to give the current Mini models a serious makeover. The shift to sharing a BMW front-drive platform and the need to share the same dashboard between the three-door hatch and larger Mini Countryman had rather compromised the final products in some eyes, from long front overhangs to rather cartoonish exterior detailing. The awkward five-door hatch – itself necessarily spun off the Mini Clubman – was not well liked internally, either.
The 2017 Mini Electric concept and the John Cooper Works GP concept gave big clues to a planned major overhaul of the cars, pencilled in for around 2019. But the automotive world was changing fast and BMW had to both make sense of the relatively small-sized Mini brand and deal with demand for electric vehicles, especially in China.
Such a huge reorientation – requiring a partner for a bespoke electric platform, the establishment of a factory in China and the drawing up of a new roadmap for Mini – will have taken over five years since BMW hit the pause button.
But the splitting of Mini into ICE and pure-EV families – combined with Heilmer’s back-to-basics design, embracing the spartan approach of the original Mini – is a compelling and intelligent change of direction. The proof will be in the market, but it makes for an encouraging third reinvention of Mini as it heads for a seventh decade.