• Heavily disguised MINI prototype revealed
  • May be next-generation MINI Cooper Hardtop
  • Subtle design changes visible

British automaker MINI is known for being a little outside the mainstream. All seven of its models are relatively compact but upscale, each with a unique design that clearly follows the style of the tiny, iconic MINI of the 1960s. So it's no surprise when MINI teases us with a spy shot of a heavily disguised new model along with a clever story about paparazzi catching the "British celebrity" in a private moment.

We think the photo shows the next-generation MINI Cooper Hardtop, though we can't be sure. Fabric and black tape hide most of the details. The overall shape certainly suggests it's that most popular of MINI models. And the timeline works, too; the Hardtop should be the next MINI in line for a redesign.

Several design differences from the current-generation are apparent through the camouflaging. Most obvious is curvier sheet metal in the visible slice of the door. While the current MINI Cooper Hardtop has a mostly flat door skin, the new car shows a body-side contour similar to that of the MINI Paceman or Countryman. Also visible is a new line that follows the wheel arch, which remains clad in dark plastic.

Headlights on the new car are heavily taped, so it's not clear if this new model will retain the oval styling of the current Hardtop or adopt the more squared-off look of the Paceman and Countryman headlights. But the visible chrome surround suggests an oval shape -- another indication this may be the next-gen Hardtop.

The last tiny visible detail that differs from the current-generation Hardtop is seen at the bottom edge of the front apron. A small section there is body-colored rather than clad in dark plastic.

Like human celebrities and the paparazzi that chase them, automakers have a love/hate relationship with spying automotive media. Being hounded by prying photographers can be annoying or even dangerous, but everyone loves attention. MINI plays up the paparazzi angle in its press release, having fun with the comparison.

"Absolutely unaware and without make-up, the youngest member of our family was caught by sensationalist photographers in a highly private moment," the press release reads. "The young one was yellow and completely defenseless."

Sure, it's a little silly. But it's also fun and exciting, and MINI is keen to suggest that its next new model will be, too.

What it means to you: It appears from MINI's own spy shots that the next-generation MINI Cooper Hardtop is coming soon. We expect it to debut during the upcoming auto show season.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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