Mini has revealed a new electric concept car, called the Aceman. The brand’s first step into the premium crossover segment, the Aceman will arrive in production guise in 2024, sitting between a next-generation Cooper hatchback and an upcoming, larger and also fully-electric Countryman.
A four-door EV with seating for five, Mini says the Aceman represents “a new dawn” of design for the company, but it’s still a car loaded with visual cues to trademarks of the 1959 original and 2000 BMW revival.
Such cues include a circular and centrally-mounted infotainment display, which for the Aceman concept features an OLED screen. Mini says the minimalist dashboard is designed to look like a sound bar, extended across the width of the cabin and covered in a soft knitted textile for a homely feel. A Union Jack pattern is featured in the dashboard support structure, as well as on the prominent roof rack, which is finished in an iridescent coating that entirely replaces chrome in and out the vehicle.
The dashboard support structure sits in open space between the dash’ and the windshield, creating a void of negative space that reminds me of the similarly open-plan Lotus Eletre electric SUV. It’s a reductive space that appears to have drawn inspiration from the Mini Strip, a concept produced by fashion designer Paul Smith in 2021. On the new model, head of Mini design Oliver Heilmer said: “In the interior…we focus on a reduced appearance combined with high-quality materials and friendly colors…The entire design is completely geared towards providing occupants with a holistic experience in the interior.”
Mini says it is the first car manufacturer to create a circular OLED display for the dashboard, and that the production version of the Aceman will use the latest Mini operating system, which will for the fist time be built on Android Open Source Project software. Below the display is a row of physical toggle switches, as found in just about every Mini ever made. They switch between driving modes, adjust music volume, and act as gear selectors. Remembering that not every driver wants a Tesla-style, touchscreen-only cabin, Mini says each toggle is designed “for the most intuitive operation”.
As is increasingly common among car manufactures – and desired by drivers – the cabin is entirely leather-free, featuring a knitted textile made from recycled polyester. The steering wheel rim and door pulls are laminated with dark green velvet velour. Multifunction buttons are integrated into the spokes of the wheel, under backlit textile surfaces. Chrome is also banished from the Aceman, both inside and out, in a bid to cut down on the car’s use of plastic.
A key interior detail is the use of lighting and digital imagery to create a mood in the cabin. Mini says how “moving image projections can transfer the control system content to the entire dashboard, creating a unique digital experience extending right into the door panels.” This imagery can include detailed maps, or digitised scattered clouds, and the colour scheme and lighting moods are accompanied by “appropriate sound sequences,” the manufacturer says.
What all this means in reality – or at least in terms of the concept car – is how a pair of projectors located at the leading edge of the headlining beam down onto the fabric dashboard. A demonstration given to journalists showed how this projected interface can show mapping imagery, or an animation that makes the dashboard look like the rippling water of a swimming pool. The projectors are neatly installed, so not to be visible by the driver or passenger, but for now it isn’t clear if Mini intends to homologate the system for mass production, or if this is mere concept car tinsel.
A close-up inspection of the Aceman concept also reveals how much wider the body of the car is compared to its interior. The rear seats seem to offer only a little more space than those of the regular Mini hatchback. Head of Mini design Oliver Heilmer said how the production car will be just as long as the concept, at 14 feet, but narrower than the 6.5 feet seen here, in a bid to deliver on its urban EV promise.
Outside, stylish frameless mirrors will hopefully make it to the production version, while the relatively low and raked roof gives the Aceman a sporty stance accentuated by the wide arches.
Taking Mini into a new sector of the EV market, the Aceman is to slot between the next generation of three-door hatchback and a new, larger and fully-electric Countryman, which will grow into a segment of the SUV market as-yet unexplored by Mini.
Paving the way for how future generations of Mini will look, the Aceman’s front remains iconically Mini, but the hexagonal radiator grille outline of old has been refined into an octagonal shape, and the grille graphic is now simply that, as it is fully closed and not required for airflow and cooling of the electric drivetrain.
Speaking of which, Mini is being tightlipped on what will power the Aceman. It isn’t even saying whether it will be two- or four-wheel-drive, at least for now. It can at least be speculated, however, that the Aceman will use the same platform as the next-generation three-door hatchback, which is expected to have a range of between 200 and 250 miles. This isn’t quite where I’d hoped the Aceman would land, especially given it isn’t due out until 2024, so I’m hoping some efficiency improvements are made between now and then.