MINI Vision Urbanaut revealed – a lounge on wheels

2 weeks ago
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With the BMW iX and Motorrad Definition CE 04 already revealed, it’s time for the final member of the family to get its own unveiling at BMW’s NEXTGen event. Meet the new MINI Vision Urbanaut, a virtual concept (i.e., not real) that attempts to redefine space in a world of autonomous driving.

Not much can be seen on the outside, where the Urbanaut’s pebble-like one-box design looks very much like a van – and ironically reminiscent of the ill-fated 1997 Spiritual concepts. Some MINI cues remain, such as the wraparound glasshouse and the wheels that are pushed to the far corners of the car.

The front fascia has been reinterpreted with a perforated aluminium face, through which the headlights are visible when switched on. Their multicoloured matrix design allows the car to communicate with the outside world, although the traditional MINI circular graphic remains a central feature. This design is repeated at the rear of the car, while the skateboard-style wheels (with Union Jack tread) are also illuminated.

The grille is now octagonal in shape and, since the car is envisaged to be electric (and hence, doesn’t need large amounts of cooling), it houses the sensors for autonomous driving instead. The colour green seems to be the theme of this car, from the greyish blue-green Zero Gravity metallic paint to the Ocean Wave wheels. The windows are also tinted in body colour, fading towards the top.

But it’s the interior where the MINI shows its true colours. The company says that the Urbanaut was designed from the inside out, something that becomes apparent the moment the single passenger-side door swivels and slides open. Despite being just 4.46 metres long, it has space for both a couch on one end and a daybed on the other, plus a single swivelling driver’s seat. The designers have created three “curated MINI moments” that sound more like an abstract Gen Z buzzwords – “Chill”, “Wanderlust” and “Vibe”.

“Wanderlust” is where the Urbanaut functions as an actual vehicle. Here, the driver’s seat is oriented forwards, and the daybed transforms into a dashboard (incorporating a pill-shaped extendable steering wheel and hidden instruments in the fabric), pedals and a second front seat. The driver can either take the wheel – with the help of some automated functions – or hand complete control to the car.

However, MINI is also envisioning a world where the car continues to be used even after the destination is reached. To that end, both “Chill” and “Vibe” modes transform the Urbanaut into a lounge, complete with a centre table, a “circular instrument” display and even a built-in plant.

Occupants can either lay back on the daybed – where the front windscreen can even open up, creating a balcony of sorts – or sit in the sofa, ensconced in the slight privacy afforded by an illuminated loop. Users can switch between the “moments” by inserting in the MINI Token disc into slots on the table, changing the mood using the various illuminated surfaces inside and out.

Connectivity and sustainability are two more concepts being pushed by MINI. The Urbanaut has been conceived with fewer components and dual-use surfaces, along with the use of cork on the steering wheel and parts of the floor and a distinct lack of chrome or leather.

The car can also be opened by a defined circle of family and friends using smart devices and will allow users to browse playlists, audiobooks and podcasts while on the move. A personal journey planner will show personalised tips, points of interest and community recommendations.

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Paul Tan's Automotive News

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