Now well into its third generation, Mini's retro-styled Hardtop has been around since BMW rebooted the brand 20 years ago. Stylists and engineers are working on the fourth-generation model, and the company revealed the cheeky hatchback is in line to receive its most significant makeover to date.
Mini boss Bernd Körber told Autocar that the project's motto was "don't screw with an icon," which means the fourth-generation Hardtop will keep the heritage-inspired design that has characterized it for the past two decades. And yet, it will be drastically different than the model that's currently in showrooms. It will be smaller, though it likely won't be as tiny as the original Mini from 1959, and it will showcase a purer approach to design. The idea of a smaller, lighter Mini has us wondering if the new Hardtop could take some inspiration from the 2011 Rocketman concept.
"What you'll see in 2023 is that we've clearly modernized it by taking a big step -- the biggest step in the last 20 years -- but it will be unmistakably a Mini," Körber affirmed. He said the Hardtop is to the Mini brand what the 911 is to Porsche; it's the stylistic cornerstone of the range, the model that sets the beat that other models dance to.
Balancing the need to move the Hardtop forward with the desire to honor tradition is a challenging task, according to the brand. We don't know where its stylists drew the line yet, or whether the next-generation Hardtop will borrow styling cues from other cars in the company's past, like the square-front Clubman launched in 1969. Mini told Autocar it's defined by more than design; it cited proportions, a compact feel, and a friendly personality as key ingredients in the Hardtop's recipe, which hints at what to expect -- and, significantly, what not to expect.
Mini shifted the Hardtop's evolution into high gear several years ago.
"Mini started out as a brand that was very clean in terms of design. There were only four switches and one dial [inside]. We somehow moved away from that, because so many more functionalities have entered the vehicle. Let's say that would be our goal, to arrive back at something that would be as clean and simple as the original but offers the modern technology and safety features of today's cars," BMW Group design director Adrian van Hooydonk told us in 2018. "Bigger changes are around the corner, but it will still be a little bit retro," he added.
While it's still too early to provide technical specifications, we know the next-generation Hardtop will again be powered either by gasoline or by electricity. Front-wheel-drive will come standard, like it always has, and we're hoping the six-speed manual transmission returns, at the very least on the sportier variants.
Mini will introduce the fourth-generation Hardtop in 2023, meaning it might not arrive on American shores until the 2024 model year. It will be followed by an armada of new models, including two additional crossovers.