The Mini Vision Urbanaut Concept Is an Airy Bubble-Shaped Lounge for the Distant Autonomous Future
Freed from the real-world constraints of crash-absorbing crumple zones, this is how Mini would make the roomiest small car ever.
Minis have always been about making clever use of a small footprint, and their latest concept car carries on that theme, even if it is a bit divorced from reality. It's called the Mini Vision Urbanaut, and it's a fun, glassy egg-shaped lounge on wheels.
If you hadn't gathered yet from the unconventional in-car seating layout, the Vision Urbanaut is designed around autonomous driving even though Mini's main draw for me has been how much fun they are to drive. This far-future concept is all around Mini's reputation for using space wisely, although it does feel like it's cheating a bit to bubble out the car from its wheelbase. Maybe we won't need seat belts or crumple zones in the future.
It is electric, though, which means that it's a lot easier to hide the drivetrain underneath the cabin and maximize usable interior space. You can drive it, too, as it can transform from a lounge-on-wheels into a regular driveable car. The two front seats of the four-seat car rotate to the front and back, and the dashboard raises up for drivers to use.
There aren't buttons or switches, though, and Mini says that the circular orb next to the table in the middle of the car is the car's main control interface, not unlike the circular infotainment screen housing that Minis have today. The car itself can be opened using a smartphone.
When the car is shut off, however, the dashboard lowers to become an in-car daybed that can incorporate the sideways front passenger seat. The windshield above the dashboard also tilts upwards to let the fresh air in and add a little extra space above the daybed.
Meanwhile, the backrests for the big rear bench fold and turn around into different configurations to allow occupants to get comfortable. The rear is a darker area of the car, which Mini refers to as its "Cozy Corner." There's a textile-covered "Loop" that shades the rear bench and has optional LED backlighting. Mini says that rear occupants will also be able to control some of the car's functions through touch controls in the Loop.
There's only one large sliding door in the side to enter and exit the car, which allows the interior furniture area to curve around that door. This configuration also allows enough space for someone to sit in the middle of the floor when it's parked, just to drive home that they're the fifth wheel in this party, I guess.
Mini opted not to use leather or chrome to make the Vision Urbanaut more environmentally-friendly, meaning that knitted textiles are the predominant interior material. The car also uses cork on parts of the steering wheel and and floor.
Mini also says that the Vision Urbanaut's one curb-side door makes it ideal for tight city spaces—i.e. not dinging any cars parked next to you with your doors. Overall, the Mini Vision Urbanaut isn't too huge, but isn't too terribly mini—it's roughly as long as a 2021 Mini Countryman at 14' 8", but is unusually tall to make moving around in the cabin easier than ever.
Mini says that they have three "Moments" programmed into the Vision Urbanaut to capture different vibes: "Chill," "Wanderlust" and of course, "Vibe." Each moment transforms the look of the interior and exterior to match it and is selectable by placing a special "Mini Token" into one of three slots on the table. In the future, I guess we won't mistake these slots for cupholders.
Chill transforms the Vision Urbanaut into the ultimate relaxation machine, even if the car is in motion. The Loop above the rear seats takes on a dimmable green forest canopy design, ambient music and nature sounds play, and the lighting outside even resembles forest leaves. The round central control instrument folds away to become a table lamp and to put reminders that this is a car out of sight and out of mind.
Wanderlust is all about driving, regardless of whether you're doing it or the car is. The central control instrument takes on a midcentury travel poster theme. Animations of the route, information on attractions and estimated arrival times are on display for everyone in the car. The rear-seat canopy Loop projects an orange and turquoise blur that conveys motion. Tap the Mini logo to drive the car yourself, which brings up the pedals, steering wheel and the only display: a minimalist parallax display. These fold back away for autonomous driving. Exterior lights convey whether the car is being driven autonomously or not.
Lastly, Vibe is centered upon making the car a space to hang out with other people. Remember other people? I miss other people. The car's lighting shifts to magenta and black with turquoise highlights, the door and windshield pop open and the center control instrument becomes a media control unit, first and foremost. Graphic equalizer displays take over the Loop and exterior lighting surfaces.
You can even program a "My Mini Moment" to cue a custom combination of ambient lighting, interior fragrance, music and other options. Feeling like Green Apple Little Trees, Gwar and magenta lighting? You got it, chief.
You see, part of the Vision Urbanaut's goal isn't just to go places, but rather, to become a little living room on wheels. Chill vibes are where you park it, man. Mini even included a panel of "Mini Charms" that are reminders of where the Vision Urbanaut has traveled.
The exterior is just as quirky as the interior, featuring a futuristic milled aluminum front end that only shows the Mini's headlights appear when they're on. Both the front and rear lights have a multicolor dynamic matrix that shines through to allow different colors for different Moments and driving modes. The octagonal front grille—which is now a panel for autonomous driving functions—is echoed in the shape of the rear window.
The blue-green Zero Gravity paint fades out into the windows in a gradient. The turquoise Ocean Wave-hued wheels feature an abstract nod to the Union Jack (because Mini). They're illuminated from the inside and transparent, and their lighting color and design changes with the selected Mini Moment. It's all about the Moments here.
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