Mini Beachcomber Concept

Mini is going to the Detroit Auto Show with a doorless, roofless concept car - the Beachcomber - that previews its all-new fourth model line. This will be a compact crossover available with FWD and AWD. It is launched at the Geneva show in March and on-sale as a 2011 model.

Obviously the real car will have doors and a roof. Unlike the existing Clubman, all four side doors will be conventionally front-hinged, and the car is symmetrical left-to-right. The B-posts have been removed only for the concept.

At 160 inches, this is the longest Mini ever but will still be one of the smallest crossovers on sale. It is also wider than a hatchback or Clubman and will be available as a five seater with a rear bench, as well as the four-chair layout seen in the Beachcomber.

The platform is closely related to the standard Mini's, although wider. It has the same transverse engine layout and the same choice of 1.6-liter naturally aspirated and turbo motors as the Cooper and Cooper S. Transmission is six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. Euro models also get an economical 1.6-liter diesel.

But the crossover also has an optional add-on diff to channel power to the rear wheels when the fronts begin to slip. AWD will be optional with all engines and the FWD versions won't have any visual differences beyond badges.

This is very much a road-biased crossover, even in AWD form. Ground clearance is only about 4-in more than the existing Minis, and much of that is down to the tires - which by the way will be a lot less aggressive than in the concept.

The Concept does however show us the exterior sheet metal, and the production car's five-sided headlamp units and relatively tall hood line and vertical grille. It will likely have a conventional mesh grille though, rather than the grater pattern on the concept which is intended to evoke the classic Mini Moke. The production car will have a more vertical rear windshield than the concept.

The Beachcomber also gives strong pointers to the production car's interior. The additional circular dials either side of the speedo, and the blank circles at either end of the fascia, will of course become air vents in the real car, but otherwise we gather the fascia is pretty much as-is, bar the fancy concept colors and finishes.

The front seats are much like those on a Mini hatch, and the individual rear ones are a close match. They recline a little and have a significant fore-aft movement to expand trunk space. An aluminum rail runs the length of the centre of the cabin floor. Available accessories such as cup holders, screen and iPod mounts, storage boxes, phone holders and the like can be clipped anywhere along its length. In the five-seat version, the rail is truncated just behind the front seats.

Because of the transverse engine, space efficiency is excellent. This Mini has almost as much passenger room as the far larger RWD BMW X1, and more than the Volkswagen Golf, which is also larger. We understand the Golf will be the crossover's pricing benchmark, at least in Europe.

BMW has announced the Mini crossover (we don't yet have the actual model name) will be built not at the Oxford, UK plant that's the home of other Minis, but at Magna's plant at Graz, Austria. Graz has up to now built the BMW X3, which for its 2011 generation will move to Spartanburg, South Carolina. The X3 consistently came up in BMW's internal monitoring as the company's highest-quality model, so there are no fears for the quality of the Mini crossover.

The Oxford plant will get extra work when the Mini Coupe and Roadster hit the streets two and a half years from now. They will be almost unchanged from the concepts seen at Frankfurt last September.

The future does not look so certain for the Clubman. One very senior Mini insider told MT that though it is currently making the planned 20 percent of total Mini volumes, a direct replacement has not been signed off for the next Mini generation. The thinking is that its mission as the 'space Mini' could be effectively replaced by 2WD versions of the crossover.

First Look: Mini Beachcomber Concept, Set To Debut At The 2010 Detroit Auto Show