BBC Autos

Mini reinvents the Clubman with a ‘cool uncle’ concept

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On the narrow streets of cities like Geneva, amid a sea of microcars, scooters and bicycles, a Mini Cooper can look, well, downright large.

And the upsized Mini Clubman Concept, unveiled here on 4 March, would look positively enormous in this environment. Indeed, this concept is notably bigger – some 10in longer and 7in wider – than the current production Clubman. It owes its more generous dimensions to the stiff steel chassis it shares with the third-generation Cooper hatchback (as well as the front-wheel-drive BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, also unveiled in Geneva).

The Clubman concept enjoys better proportions than the current production model, with greater length giving the shape a surprising sleekness. Designers toiled to smooth the flow of air around the Clubman while retaining Mini's signature styling cues. The concept ditches the current car’s rear-hinged passenger-side rear door in favor of four front-hinged doors, but retains the current model's barn-style doors out back. "We believe those are very Mini", said Christopher Weil, Mini’s head of exterior design. He points to a specific detail on the new car's rear, the beveled rear corners that manage the airflow around the back of the car, as an example of how the Mini is moving toward a crisper, more tailored design aesthetic. This sharp edge, like the creased flares surrounding the wheel wells of the new Mini, gives the Clubman a fresh stance while retaining the familiar feel customers expect.

One of the more distinctive features of the Clubman Concept are its whitewall tires, a choice that, says Weil, is meant to convey a metaphorical twinkle in the Clubman's eye. The design team imagined the Clubman as the "cool uncle" car in the Mini family, with the whitewalls serving as pneumatic equivalent of a hipster’s thrift-store fedora.

Inside, wood trim features a blue wash, a look that Weil said was inspired by the distressed finish found on some new electric guitars, intended to suggest years of gigs at seedy clubs. In the Mini, the hip look neatly coordinated with the seats’ blue suede inserts.

The company provided no word on when the Clubman concept could reappear as a production model, but did acknowledge that the concept looked very production-ready.