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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

MINI Rocketman Concept Finally Gets It Right


This new concept finally points BMW's mis-led sub-brand in the light direction.

I must admit, I have a huge rant about BMW MINI saved on my computer, going on about how they've completely missed the point of the original Mini and focussed on making an overpriced retro fashion item that isn't light or space-efficient enough to be a proper Mini, and how the Countryman and terribly-named upcoming 3-Door "Paceman" SUV are an absolute insult to the original car, not deserving in any way of the winged badge and merely the equivalent of Apple making a massive iPod Touch (or the "iPad", as it's known, presumably because it's more suppourtive and absorbant than an iPod), in that they only exist because fashion sheep will buy them. Totally unsentimental and a cynical marketing ploy. Alas, said rant will never see the light of day, partly because I just summed it up in one paragraph, but also because MINI just released images and info about this baby-faced concept for the Geneva Motor Show next week, called the Rocketman.

Quite why it's called that, I don't know. Maybe it's because Elton John is British. More importantly though, it's smaller than the current MINI hatchback (or BMW 0-Series, as I call it). In fact, its exterior dimensions fit neatly inbetween the 0-Series and the original Mini of 1959, being as it is around 3.5 metres long. It's also less of a porker, partly due to its diminutive footprint, but also because - as you may have spotted - carbon fibre is involved. In fact the mini MINI is built on a carbon fibre spaceframe and has low-drag carbon fibre wheels, meaning it weighs... well, BMW haven't told us that yet. But not very many kilograms. In fact, I'd wager that this weighs well under a tonne. Weather the (unconfirmed but inevitable) production version will have a 3-digit weight figure, we'll just have to wait and see, as Carbon Fibre is too expensive for mass production. I would imagine its structure will be aluminium instead. That said, BMW are making a different city car out of Carbon Fibre, so it might not be entirely out of the question...

At this point you might be thinking "That's all very well and good, but where do how many people go?". Technically the answer is "Two go in the front, one goes in the back and a very small person sits behind the driver", because much like the Toyota iQ, this is dubbed a "3+1 seater", meaning that because the driver sits further back than the passenger (due to the 'wheel and pedals being in the way), there is only space behind for a temporary seat for someone's child or dog. In reality though, the Rocketman is designed primarily for two people to use. A trendy couple, perhaps, with a friend called Dave who gets a lift to a cool pub in Piccadilly in Fridays, or something. To aid with ingress and egress into this tiny car, the doors are on a Renault Avantime-style double hinge, meaning that there is plenty of space to fit through without opening the door really wide and hitting the enormous Countryman that's parked next to you. It also has a clever two-piece boot in which the bottom half slides out like a drawer (in two pieces so you can have it slightly open without all your stuff flying out - like so), and the top half is a glassy hatch for when you need a bigger hole to fill.

Power will come from a mystery powerplant (I'd guess a 800-1000cc 3-cylinder petrol engine with Start-Stop technology) that magically gets 94mpg and emits bugger-all CO2. Most of the gimmicks, like the interior light show, the entirely glass roof with fibre-optic Union Flag pattern, those peculiar tail lights and maybe the trick tailgate, won't make the production car. Speaking of which, according to TopGear Magazine, a MINI official says a production Rocketman would not be released until after the new 0-Series generation comes out 2 years from now. That gives them plenty of time to work out how to make a Carbon Fibre spaceframe cheap enough to mass-produce. And 2 years to rethink the name...

More pictures and the official Press Release here.

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