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Marcus Syring has been in the MINI design studio since the project moved from England to Germany. He’s been there 10 years. He’s one of the first three of the new era for design of the iconic car. The car that essentially all other vehicle manufacturers hope they can duplicate in their own ways. And Syring notes that during this decade, they’ve come out with an array of products all of which evidentially come from the same place. Syring uses the oft-used genetic metaphor, but in a slightly different way. He suggests that if you have a brother or a sister, you have distinct similarities (not only DNA, but perhaps attitudes), but you also have distinct differences, say in abilities and character. And it is the same with the vehicles.
There are the MINI Hardtop and Convertible. Clubman. Countryman. John Cooper Works. There are the Coupe Concept and the Paceman Concept. And while some are more similar than others—the Hardtop and the Convertible, say—some are more different than the others—like the four-door Countryman.
Yet Syring emphasizes that to be a MINI, there are fundamentals that must be followed, as in vehicles that have go-kart-like handling, uniqueness, and the ability for individualization. But there is something else, something that is more fundamental: every MINI has the same basic architecture: Roof, greenhouse, body. Most of the lines are parallel. “All of the masses are related to the wheels.” The designs are all planted. The cars appear stable. There are a mixture of materials and contrasting colors. Simple sections with tension. Complexity in detail.
He says, perhaps not entirely seriously, but perhaps not joking, either, “With the MINI design language, I could design you a coffee machine.” You could read it as being a MINI.
But what of that “go-kart” handling? What does that have to do with design—isn’t that just a matter of the setting of the powertrain and chassis? Syring cites the Countryman (and the Paceman concept, which is based on the Countryman platform). It has a four-wheel-drive system. “We thought that we could do a little blister, or muscle, on the top of the rear wheel to emphasize that. This is authentic.” So they’re cueing on how the vehicle can perform. And there are short front and rear overhangs. The Paceman Concept is sportier (and it will become the basis of the seventh model in the MINI showroom, according to Ian Robertson, BMW board member for Sales and Marketing) than the Countryman, they’ve developed a more horizontal design than the progenitor.
In some regards, it seems exceedingly simple. And Syring agrees—to a point. “The Countryman looks so logical and easy. But this is the most difficult thing to achieve. Something that looks right to the point.” He says that sometimes—he cites the design of the Clubman, for example—they get to the design very quickly. Other times—“Loads of the work we are doing no one will ever see.” It stays in the studio.