The Mini Aceman concept will evolve into a new compact electric crossover at the end of 2024 to fill the gap between the flagship Mini hatch and the mid-sized Mini Countryman.
It uses a stretched version of the all-new Spotlight architecture that is being developed jointly by BMW and Chinese partner firm Great Wall and will form the basis for the next-generation electric Mini hatchback.
Although Mini says it is a pure concept, it isn’t very far from the car that will arrive in dealerships in two years’ time.
Mini has not given any clues to the likely battery sizes or potential range of the final production version of the Aceman. However, the Spotlight-based EV hatchback will come as a 181bhp Cooper with an approximately 40kWh battery and a 221bhp Cooper S with a 50kWh pack, giving a range of around 250 miles, so the production Aceman will be broadly similar.
Sources emphasise that this concept is not intended as a Countryman replacement. That model will be reborn in a third generation as a larger car with a bigger boot and be twinned with the next-generation BMW X1. The Aceman is shorter than today’s Countryman, at 4050mm long, 1990mm wide and 1590mm tall.
However, the Aceman could be seen as an indirect replacement for the Mini Clubman, which, Autocar understands, will be phased out in the middle of 2023. Sources say the departure of the Clubman will be marked by at least one special edition, recalling the original Clubman estate’s trademark side graphics. The five-door Mini hatch is also not set to get an electric successor.
The Aceman concept is the result “of a lot of research and feedback”, Mini design chief Oliver Heilmer told Autocar.
“The owners of the Mini hatch and Countryman are very happy, but they are very different people,” he said, hinting that the Aceman will target a demographic that has never owned a Mini.
“This is classic Mini in the sense of the very short front and rear overhangs, but we have a very different side elevation. There is much more muscle in the sides.”
The clean, almost fuselage-like sides have been replaced by surfaces that are more clearly stamped and industrial. BMW said: “This ‘edginess’ signifies a progressive interpretation of the robustness and versatility characteristic of a crossover model.”
Also gone are the prominent chrome door handles and the triangular panel between the front wheel arch and front door.
Heilmer’s team has reduced the Aceman’s front-end design to a bare minimum. The Mini’s large, chrome-rimmed headlights have been greatly reduced visually and the brand’s traditional ‘face’ is now defined by an LED outline. The Mini grille has donated its outside edge as a very minimalist reminder of the brand’s roots.
“This car feels robust, but it is not huge. The new Countryman will have more boot space,” said Heilmer. “The shoulder on the car is a result of the aerodynamic performance needed for an electric vehicle.
“The tailgate spoiler and the way the rear of the glasshouse narrows was also driven by aerodynamics, as was the wheel design.”
The car also has a glazed roof with no strengthening bars, something that might be made possible on the production car by using the battery pack as a structural part of the chassis.
This glass roof also gives a clear view of an especially neat feature on the concept: a roof rack whose structure, when mounted on the Aceman’s diagonal roof bars, references the Union Jack. Heilmer said the BMW board was interested in making this conceptual flourish a production reality.
The Union Jack theme appears throughout the car: as a brace behind the minimalist dashboard, stamped into the wheel-arch mouldings and designed into the Aceman’s rear light clusters. Heilmer said this graphic is “popular all around the world”.
While the Aceman exterior is a big departure from the Mini norm, the interior is a complete break from what has come before but, Heilmer argues, it is much more philosophically in tune with the austere Sir Alec Issigonis-designed original.
“This is pretty much the [production] interior,” Heilmer said of the Aceman’s spacey and bare cabin. The dashboard has been reduced to a single circular OLED touchscreen with a small toggle bar beneath it.
“This is the same user interface as the  three-door. There’s no controller and the display is much cleaner. It’s a touchscreen with pop-up support. You have to swipe to change the temperature,” Heilmer told Autocar.
“The toggle bar has five elements, like in the original Mini,” he added. One of the toggles acts as the transmission shifter and one switches between drive modes. Another is the parking brake.
Because the Aceman uses a bespoke EV platform, the interior is far more open and spacious than today’s five-door hatch and Clubman. The dashboard volume especially has been greatly reduced, as has the steering wheel’s bulk.
“There’s more cabin space, especially in the front, as we have been able to push the HVAC [heating and ventilation pack] forward because there’s no conventional engine under the bonnet,” said Heilmer. The dash is covered in knitted textiles, but it’s not yet known if this will make it to the final production model.
On the subject of more ecologically sound materials in production, Heilmer said leather is likely to be replaced by the latest incarnation of leatherette, which, he explained, is now pretty much indistinguishable from the real leather used in today’s cars. “Leatherette is the future. It is better quality and customers cannot tell,” he said.
The move to declutter and pare back interior volumes has resulted in more useful door pockets and a centre console area that is now nearly completely empty. The centre console storage has been dropped and the central armrest swapped for one sited on the side of the seat.
“We’ve had so many requests for somewhere to store a bag, so now it can fit between the front seats. And having the armrest in the seat is more flexible for the customer,” said Heilmer.
“Chrome is not good [ecologically],” he said, so it has been eliminated entirely in the cabin and the exterior. As brightwork was such a major part of the aesthetic of the original and BMW Minis, it is perhaps this change that will have the greatest impact on the way people will view the new Mini family.
Heilmer acknowledged this: “The Aceman is not retro or cute and we can’t stand still, in design terms. But I also think that this car keeps our roots.”
Q&A: Oliver Heilmer, head of design, Mini
Would you agree that the Aceman concept is quite a departure from the Mini as BMW has defined the brand over the past 21 years?
“The design target was to give this concept some edge, not try to make it too cute. I wanted something fresh and bold, within certain boundaries.”
What does the Aceman tell us about the future Mini family?
“Each member of the Mini family will have its own character. There will be a new [design] step for the hatchback and the Countryman will be remade for the third generation. I wanted to extend the [design] bandwidth of the Mini brand.
“There’s no grille on this EV and other traditional details such as the standout door handles have gone. There will be new iconic elements [for the future Mini family] and existing design elements will be treated differently. We want to expand beyond the British Racing Green and whiteroof classic Mini look.”
What about the traditional buyer customisation that Mini has become known for?
“There’ll be less customisation and less complex speccing for the future Mini family and more emphasis on different interior curations and optimal trim packages for technical upgrades, such as headlamps or driver assist packages and even dealer-purchased accessories.”