Mini's not-so-mini Urbanaut minivan concept comes to life

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BMW-owned Mini showcased one way it could branch out into new segments when it unveiled the Vision Urbanaut concept in late 2020. At the time, the design study existed merely in a series of digital renderings. It hasn't been approved for production yet, but it was recently transformed into a real concept car that people can experience.

Executives argued the idea of an electric Mini minivan isn't as far-fetched as it might sound.

"We have developed an idea of how we can take the Mini attributes — as here, with the focus on the clever use of space — into the future of mobility and interpret them in a typically Mini way," said company boss Bernd Körber.

Clever use of space was the original Mini's claim to fame thanks in part to an ingenious drivetrain layout, and the Urbanaut takes it to a new level. Longer than a Countryman and shaped like the box it came in, it offers a lounge-like cabin that can be configured in a variety of different ways depending on the number of passengers it's carrying, and whether someone is driving. Mini created three profiles called Chill, Wanderlust, and Vibe, respectively.

Chill lets the passengers relax, work, or sleep with minimal distractions while the Urbanaut drives itself. In this mode, the instruments and switches on the dashboard are hidden out of sight to make users feel like they're in a living room, not in a car. Wanderlust allows passengers to choose whether they want to drive or be driven. Vibe may as well be called Party; it configures the Urbanaut's lights and screens to make users feel like they're in a club. Alternatively, users can configure their own driving profile thanks to a feature named My Moment.

While the Urbanaut doesn't look like a traditional Mini, it will (hopefully) smell like one. For the first time, Mini is linking its brand identity to a fragrance. We can't convey a smell over the internet, there's not an app for that yet, but we're told it is refreshing and discreet. It's accompanied by a welcome sound that greets users as they enter the cabin.

Mini will present the Urbanaut concept to the public for the first time at the Digital-Life-Design (DLD) Summer Conference opening July 1 in Munich, Germany. What happens next hasn't been revealed yet. While we'd be surprised to see it land in showrooms, something like it could zig-zag across major cities in the coming years.

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