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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Mini’s Aceman EV Is Built for Urban Adventures

Before the last BMW i3 to roll off the production line in Leipzig, Germany, is barely even cold, sister brand Mini is launching what looks set to be the BMW Group's new entry-level EVs. The company is starting with this, the Mini Aceman, which also reveals a new design direction for the brand.

Not only is the Aceman the first all-electric crossover model from the brand, it is also the first Mini to be built on a dedicated electric architecture. This means it isn't compromised by having to try and shoehorn electric motors and copious wiring into spaces originally designed to house internal combustion machinery. That makes it wholly unlike 2020's Mini Electric (called the Cooper SE in the US), which was constructed on an adapted form of the internal combustion engine model. This new electric architecture, as well as the car itself, will be made not in Germany or the UK, but in China by Great Wall Motor for Mini, another first for the brand.

Mini says this concept Aceman car revealed today in Dusseldorf, a crossover SUV, is 80 percent true to the final production design that will land on the road in 2024. The car will sit between the brand's Cooper and Countryman models, even though at just over 13 feet long and just under 6.5 feet wide, it is practically the same size as the current Countryman (which strongly suggests the Countryman will be getting larger in a coming revamp). Interestingly, the Aceman's rugged, boxy aesthetic makes the car appear bigger than it actually is when you see it in person.

Mini, which sold 302,000 cars worldwide in 2021, expects half of its sales by 2027 to be EVs, and it plans to introduce its last-ever internal combustion model in 2025.

The Aceman's “two-box” design with short overhangs gives the car more space for passengers and luggage without giving it an overly large footprint—despite being a four-door with a reasonable trunk (but no frunk) and seating for five. Glass flush-fitted with the body panels improves aerodynamics, while the dated chrome trim has wisely been ditched in favor of a more minimalist look. Wide surrounds on the lower body, chunky wheel arches, larger wheels, and custom roof rack round out the concept's crossover feel.

As with many other EVs, the central grille of the Aceman is closed off, as the cooling is not required for the electric motors. Instead, here Mini has added matrix LED units integrated into the upper section that can be animated for seemingly no other reason than that it is physically possible and can be used to “welcome occupants.” In truth, the light design is one of the striking departures for the car, as Mini has dropped its iconic round lamps for a more contoured shape that follows the lines of the body.

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The front lamps and the rear lights on the Aceman are also matrix LED units, which means that, on the concept at least, this allows for the lighting pattern to be switched to other designs if needed or just desired. This, however, is one element of the concept that is not confirmed for the final production model, but Mini is apparently keen to keep the feature.

Inside, as is becoming more common in car design, Mini's new concept EV make use of eco materials, in this case with surfaces covered in knitted recycled textiles initially developed as part of last year's Paul Smith Strip concept model, which was never intended for production. The dark green velvet velour steering wheel is a particular success. The dashboard has apparently been styled like a soundbar, extending across the width of the leather-free interior, but the supposed star of the Aceman interior is a new circular OLED display as the central screen.

The user interface in the production vehicle will be based on a new version of the Mini OS, which for the first time is built on the Android Open Source Project software. Mini wants to use this new Android-powered system to drive “experience modes” such as “Pop-Up,” which suggests landmarks and destinations based on what you set the car to prioritize, like “adventures,” restaurants, or places that are “trending.” We'll see if this context-aware navigation makes it to the final vehicle, as such an offering needs to be reliable and genuinely useful if it's not to become almost immediately annoying.

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It also seems unlikely that a built-in interior projection system, set to run moving images such as a sharply outlined map or images of clouds scattered over the entire dashboard, will make it to the final production model.

This second EV from Mini will run on the same platform as that of the coming “classic” three-door Mini, set to hit roads next year, also with a complete design refresh. Mini has said that the new three-door will come in two models, a Cooper E and SE, where the E will likely have 135 kW of power and 186 miles (300 km) of range, while the SE will potentially be 160 kW with 248 miles (400 km) of range. As the Aceman will be built on the same platform, we can guess these performance stats will be at least similar to this model too. 

As for self-driving tech, Mini wouldn't reveal the level of autonomous driving capability planned for the Aceman, or the final production model price, or even if the car will be four-wheel drive or not. 

Considering that the Mini Electric had a range between 124 and 144 miles on a full charge, this is a reasonable increase, but sadly it falls short of the yardstick of 300-plus miles of EV range many buyers are looking for, especially while charging infrastructure remains inadequate in most countries. Also, considering that this car won't launch until 2024, a sub-300-mile-range EV may look like an even stranger prospect in the market by then. After all, Kia's Soul EV has a 400-mile urban range and 280 miles mixed range, and that came out in 2020.

Even though the Countryman is Mini's next-best seller after its three-door hatchback, if the Aceman turns out to be all-wheel drive, it would seem it is being brought in to effectively replace the job the Countryman has never quite managed to do: be a deliberately urban SUV. If the Aceman succeeds, it leaves Mini free to morph the Countryman's design into something finally more appropriate to its name, a full-on all-electric SUV more at home out of town.

“This concept is previewing everything that will come after it. Whatever model follows will take a few leaves out of this new book of design,” says Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW Group's design director. “Was the Countryman successful or not? We think so. It's selling the world over. But we're getting interesting feedback. Some markets say the car is too big. Others, it's too small. So now we are aiming to go in with two crossover SUVs: this Aceman and the future Countryman. It's hard to please all the markets worldwide with one car.”

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