With the number of MINI concept vehicles that have been rolled out in recent times, you'd be forgiven for thinking the company is overcompensating for the Mini's diminutive size. But MINI says the concept vehicles, many of which – such as the Paceman – have made the transition from concept to production, are one of the keys to the brand's success, with their creative use of space one of the driving principles of the vehicles. This principle is evident in the latest MINI Rocketman Concept that will be unveiled to the public at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, which kicks off next week.
With its length of 3.4 m (11 ft. 3 in.), which is just a few centimeters more than the original 1959 Mini, width of 1.9 m (6 ft. 3 in) including the exterior mirrors, and height of 1.4 m (4 ft. 7 in.), the 3+1-seater, 3-door Rocketman Concept's exterior dimensions hark back to the classic Mini. Unlike the original Mini though, the concept vehicle features a weight-minimizing carbon spaceframe construction, which is exposed at the front end of the car, around its doors and in the interior.
Double-hinged side doors
The carbon spaceframe construction also plays a part in one of the Rocketman's most obvious design features – its two side doors, which pivot outwards on a double-hinged joint along with their sills to provide a large opening angle even in tight spaces. When the doors are closed, the carbon hinges visibly stand out from the rest of the body in what MINI says is a nod to the classic Mini, whose exterior-mounted door hinges were a highly identifiable characteristic.
The other most obvious outward design feature is the Rocketman Concept's full-surface glass roof that is segmented by illuminated braces to recreate the look of Britain's Union Jack flag. When not illuminated, the longitudinal, horizontal and diagonal braces glow a bright Porcelain White, while in darkness integrated optical fibers provide the interior of the vehicle with an indirect illumination. The light show continues with trim strips backlit by LED-powered fiber optics on the armrests and wrapping around the interior at waistline height.
Room for junk in the trunk
To enhance the versatility of the limited interior space the vehicle features a split two-part tailgate with one section attached to the roof that opens extremely high and a lower section that extends out 350 mm (13.7 in.) from the body in the form of a drawer unit. A folding mechanism makes it possible to lock the cargo drawer either higher up or further in towards the passenger compartment.
Items can also be loaded through into the passenger compartment and the open-top cargo drawer can also serve as a rear luggage carrier with purpose-built inserts designed for transporting snowboards and other bulky sports equipment. The glass tailgate, which extends well into the roof, is connected with the body via a centrally positioned hinge with integrated gas strut system that also allows it to be opened when the rear carrier is loaded with gear.
The versatility extends to the arrangement of the instrument cluster and seats, which allows the amount of space for the driver and passengers to be varied as required. Three individual seats and instrument cluster slide forward and back, while an additional seat in the rear has a backrest that can be folded down fully to serve as a stowage surface. This layout allows the seats and instrument cluster to be positioned in various ways to best accommodate between one and four people.
Within hand's reach
Whereas the current Mini has a joystick on the center console for operating navigation, entertainment and communications functions, in addition to multifunction buttons on the steering wheel, the Rocketman Concept concentrates all the control elements on the steering wheel to allow the driver to operate as many function as possible while keeping both hands on the wheel. This includes a trackball integrated into the right-hand steering wheel spoke that allows the driver to navigate through menus, scroll up and down lists and move the cursor around the display for functions such as the in-car internet.
Additionally, a mobile control unit for controlling comfort and connectivity functions that is integrated into the center speedo can be removed so it can be configured on a computer – transferring music files, adding a navigation destination and contact details, for example – before setting out on a journey. The unit can also be used outside the car.
MINI hasn't revealed many details of what the Rocketman Concept sports under the hood, but says the vehicle is designed to allow the "integration of a drive system which combines further enhanced sprinting ability with average fuel consumption of just three liters per 100 kilometers (94 mpg imp)."
Further details will no doubt be forthcoming when MINI reveals its Rocketman Concept to the public for the first time at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, which runs from March 3 to 13.