Nine nuggets we learned when we drove the Mini Superleggera

Published: 24 June 2014

The Mini Superleggera Vision concept car caused a storm at the 2014 Villa d’Este concours d’elegance. Traditionalists complained it was a further assault on Alec Issigonis’s bijou beauty, the original Mini, while more progressive types raved about the fresh aesthetic on tap in this collaboration with the Italian design house Touring.

As usual, CAR magazine scooped a world exclusive by being first behind the wheel. Our European editor Georg Kacher enjoyed a brief drive in the Mini Superleggera Vision concept car at Villa d’Este and you can read his full review in the new July 2014 issue of CAR on sale now. Click here for a digital preview.

We’ve scooped the extra, unused photographs from the cutting room floor and put them in our online gallery here – alongside more background from Georg on the Mini Superleggera project. Will it go on sale? What’s it like to drive? And what on earth are those Union Flag rear lamp graphics doing on a German-designed car? Here are nine nuggets we learned when we drove the Mini Superleggera concept car.

1) The Mini Superleggera ain’t no mini

The Superleggera challenges what we think a Mini should be. And that’s quite deliberate. Mini wants to move into new space; just check out the new five-door Mini hatch which will out-sell the three-door once launched. The Superleggera is 4162mm long, 1964mm wide (1825mm without mirrors) and 1209mm low. Yep, it’s footprint dwarfs that of a Mazda MX-5.

2) The Mini Superleggera drives like a Mini should

The Mini Superleggera feels like a fully paid-up member of the Mini family: during Georg’s drive at Villa d’Este, he found the steering quick, the brakes a touch grabby, the ride firm. It’s like a Mini that’s been chopped and stretched and squeezed into an entirely new, Italian-tailored wardrobe. Mini has successfully spread its DNA from hatch to cabrio, through a six-door estate and into coupes. It seems that a fully fledged roadster could segue the brand’s famously responsive DNA further afield still.

3) The Mini Superleggera was inspired by Riva speed boats

Mini chief designer Anders Warming is a Chris Bangle scholar and a BMW veteran. Previous creations of the 42 year-old Belgian include the X-Coupé, Gina and Mille Miglia concepts, so he’s done some landmark BMWs. ‘We first started discussing the Superleggera almost six years ago,’ he tells CAR. ‘Immediately after the 2013 Concorso, [BMW design chief] Adrian van Hooydonk gave us the thumbs up. The idea was to conceive a modern Riva power boat for the road, a proper Italian barchetta with a British soul. While Minis typically have short stubby noses, the Superleggera musters a relaxed cab backward design with a self-conscious and relatively long front end. We did not want to end up with a retro-look car, but tapping the tradition of the great English roadster was perfectly okay – think MGA, Triumph TR2, Austin Healey.’

4) The Superleggera feels surprisingly big inside

The new Mini roadster feels remarkably spacious, thanks to those engorged dimensions. When Georg slips behind the wheel he reports a spacious cabin, body-hugging seats and ergonomics that will scare precisely nobody. Note also how there are no conventional door handles; instead, pushing a flush-fitting button next to the waistline finisher makes the door pop open.

5) The Superleggera was nearly painted bright red – but was deemed too outré for Villa d’Este

‘We started off with a series of bright red proposals, but in the end a more subtle hue like Como blue seemed better suited for this event,’ design chief Warming reveals. ‘To underline the fact that this is a battery-driven vehicle, we chose matte violet as a secondary accent colour for the brake calipers, the start-stop switch, the steering-wheel spokes and the in-dash air vents.’

6) The BMW board is keen to launch the Mini Superleggera

Peter Schwarzenbauer, board member in charge of Mini, Rolls-Royce and motorcycles, is fond of the Superleggera. ‘I don’t think it should be our goal to keep adding new bodystyles, to create even more variety,’ he tells CAR. ‘Instead, I would rather focus on a relatively small batch of “superheroes”. What are these superheroes? For sure the Mini hatch, the Clubman and the Countryman, at least one open-top model and perhaps one or two more variants. Does the Superleggera have superhero potential? Absolutely. It’s still early days, but this car and the underlying engineering concept are significant in more ways than one.’

7) The dashboard was crafted from a single piece of aluminium

Piero Mancardi, CEO of Touring, tells CAR: ‘The Superleggera packages modern technology in a body handmade of aluminium and carbonfibre. At Touring, we still practise the art of panelbeating, fine leatherwork and bespoke fabrication of lightweight materials. Take for instance the brushed alloy dashboard, the inner door skins and the centre console all of which were shaped from a single sheet of metal.’

8) There will be an electric Mini soon

It’s no coincidence that the Superleggera is electric: a Mini EV is coming ‘in the not too distant future’, says Schwarzenbauer. However, the UKL architecture isn’t being prepared for a pure battery electric vehicle; instead a plug-in hybrid is coming in 2017. Yes – a baby i8 is on the cards, wearing a Mini badge.

9) Those Union flag details

Peer closely at the rear lights and you’ll see Union Flag motifs, a sign that the Germans have lost none of their love of British design details. Britishness is a difficult beast to handle and it’s not yet clear if such overt national symbolism will make it to production.

For the full Mini Superleggera concept car review, check out Georg Kacher’s feature in the new July 2014 issue of CAR magazine. Click here for a digital preview.

CAR magazine's review of the Mini Superleggera, July 2014 issue of the mag

By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, motoring news magnet