Mini Rocketman – that's more like it

At next week's Geneva Motor Show, BMW will unveil a new concept car, the tiny Mini Rocketman, a “3+1” (passenger) design that is just three metres in length.

There's no indication yet whether the Rocketman, or something like it, will eventually make it into production, but the very fact that BMW is clearly thinking about vehicles to carry the Mini badge that are smaller than today's models is highly significant. The 2001 BMW Mini, which replaced the 1959 model, has been highly successful but subsequent developments such as the Clubman estate and in particular the big Mini Countryman crossover, have taken the Mini badge further and further away from its traditional association with small cars for mainly urban use.

Now, the Rocketman concept suggests a return to the Mini's roots – it is scarcely any longer than the 1959 car – but with new features such as extra-large side doors and a split tailgate. The 3+1 seating layout seems to be similar to that featured in Toyota's iQ, with generous space for the driver and front seat passenger when they are the only occupants, with the possibility for the front passenger to give up a little legroom in order to accommodate a rear seat passenger comfortably, and the “+1” referring to the rear seat behind the driver that offers less leg-room.

The styling is familiar post-2001 Mini, so BMW hasn't used the Rocketman to explore the difficult and increasingly pressing task of how to advance an essentially retro design idiom, but the shift to a smaller package and a lot of detail innovation has kept things looking fresh.