BMW certainly sprang this one on us. An all-electric MINI, that’s not only a fully-working, driveable vehicle – but one which is being pressed into public service as we speak! It was certainly a shock…
Trials are underway in America with 500 buyers able to lease a MINI E for £550 a month. They’ll last a year, as BMW investigates the viability of all-electric motoring.
That’s something Car Dealer did too, by grabbing an exclusive first-drive of the engine-less motor over in Germany.
So what exactly has BMW done? Well it has junked the old 1.6-litre petrol engine and replaced it with a 204bhp electric motor.
Powering this are lithium ion batteries, which take up the space where the rear seats normally are. It’s thus a very heavy two-seater; as battery technology improves (and it is, rapidly), the seats will come back and the weight will go down.
The experts promised us a 155-mile range, 60mph in 8.5 seconds and a limited top speed of 95mph. Like the Tesla Roadster we drove a few months back, this is produced in a unique way (no coincidence; Tesla’s supplier for the electric bits is also used here).
In short, there’s no vibration, no noise (apart from the battery cooling fans); it is literally press and go. The controls are identical to an automatic MINI, so just slot it into ‘D’ and press the throttle.
With a real snap, the MINI surges forward. The famed electric car torque means it’s even more throttle-responsive than the turbocharged Cooper S. If it wasn’t for the weight (some 350kg more than standard), it would almost be as fast – that’s how punchy the electric motor is.
Seriously, anyone who says electric cars are still decades off needs only to drive this ‘performance’ MINI. The way it delivers power in its city centre heartland is massively compelling.
Amusingly, lifting the throttle is as if you’ve pressed the brake pedal. That’s how strong the ‘regeneration’ effect is. It’s useful though – engineers reckon you could extend the range by 20 per cent from regeneration alone.
Of course, handling is upset by all that weight. MINI has tried here (the ride is actually a bit better, as it’s more weighed down), but the car still lacks the agility of a lighter petrol model. It’s easy to get the nose pushing wide in corners.
Even so, this is a fascinating car which, as it feels and looks just like a standard MINI, is in many ways ‘production ready’. The range won’t be a problem if you’re sensible (monitor it from a meter where the rev counter normally sits), although recharging it still requires an infrastructure that’s simply not here.
It does cost a lot less to ‘fuel’, though. Even with electricity prices the way they are, a MINI E would cost 2p per mile.
BMW has recruited special MINI dealers in the US to handle the project. They’ll liaise closely with customers, and service any problems the cars have. But, none are expected – mechanically, these cars are even more straightforward than petrol models.
Therefore expect feedback on how dealers will make money from electric cars, too.
It seems increasingly certain the car of the future will be electric. And, it looks to us that this future is nothing to be feared. The fun MINI E is something we’d happily drive today. Just imagine what they’ll be like when they do reach production…
by RICHARD AUCOCK