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Super-charged electric MINI. Image by MINI.

Super-charged electric MINI
At last MINI builds an innovative, forward-looking car that's worthy of the badge - the electric MINI E.


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| First Drive | Munich, Germany | MINI E |

When the original Mini was introduced it was a revelation; a marvel of packaging, efficiency and fun to drive dynamics. The modern MINI is a relatively poor relation in the innovation and space stakes, but the MINI E might just change that. The E is a MINI that's powered by electricity: a plug-in-and-play wonder that shows that the future of motoring needn't necessarily be boring.

In the Metal

It's a MINI right? So you'll have seen it before. Only this is no ordinary MINI; all those 'E' logos and the numbers on the front wings make sure you know this is something a bit special. Open the fuel filler cap and there's a plug socket while under the rear bumper there's no exhaust. Open the boot and where the rear seats should be there's a big carpeted hump. That'll be the batteries then.

Up front, inside, it's all familiar MINI. The instruments look much the same, except for the rev counter being replaced by a charge indicator. The speedo is the same, but the fuel lights that would show the level of petrol or diesel in the conventional MINIs is now an economy gauge. Some questionable yellow detailing and the lack of rear seats aside it all feels much like any other MINI.

What you get for your Money

MINI is remaining tight-lipped about how much the MINI E costs. Officially it's only being built in a production run of 500 for trials in the USA. There, customers will pay $850 a month to lease a MINI E over one year. Some are coming to Europe too, Berlin getting 50, while there's also talk of bringing over a handful to test in London. The MINI E is a field trial, an experiment to ascertain exactly how people will use their electric cars. So MINI is looking for real people to run them, not just image-obsessed celebrities wanting to project a caring-sharing green side.

Data will be gathered on usage, charging cycles and the likes, allowing MINI to better tune any future electric production cars. The BMW Group is keen to understand how people will use their electric cars, as the word is that it'll be selling production electric models within the first half of the next decade, electrically-powered cars just one of a number of forward-looking solutions BMW is looking at via its 'project i' ideal - a group of engineers looking into future propulsion and powertrain technologies.

Driving it

The figures for the MINI E read very well indeed. With a 0-62mph time of 8.5 seconds, 201bhp and peak torque of 162lb.ft. As the chinking of bottles from the milkman's float in the morning highlights, with electric motors the peak torque is delivered to the wheels immediately. Press the accelerator on the MINI E and the response is lightning fast, the acceleration instantaneous. There are no gears, just pop the 'gear' sector into drive, prod the accelerator and you're off. Quickly. It's hugely addictive and makes the MINI E feel more rapid than even its supercharged petrol relatives.

It's pretty silent too. There's a rush of wind noise and some whirring from the motors but other than that you're just pinned back in your seat as the MINI rockets down the road. That's doubly impressive when you consider that the MINI E weighs 1,465kg, or around 265kg more than its petrol equivalent. You feel that slightly in the firm ride and leaden steering, but otherwise it's all pure MINI. What's not is what happens when you lift off the accelerator. The retardation is astonishing, as the MINI E greedily scavenges back power as soon as you lift off by turning those electric motors into generators. It does so to maximise its range, and though it takes a while to get used to it's so effective you don't need to use the brakes. The effect is so strong that the MINI E's brake lights actually glow to avoid cars behind running into you.

The MINI E is not just fast, it's also fun, MINI re-tuning the stability and traction systems to accommodate the E's different performance and weight characteristics. No amount of tweaking can eliminate the effect of 162lb.ft of torque being driven through the front wheels in an instant though, the MINI E's steering wheel writhing in your hands as you accelerate hard. It's not unwelcome; instead it's more of a reminder that you're driving something that's potent and fun rather than puritan and fun-free.

Worth Noting

With electric cars the question of range and charging always makes an appearance and it's no different with the E. MINI claims around 150 miles is possible on a charge, which - depending on the outlet rating - takes as long as ten hours. If you're one of the lucky few who gets to lease a MINI E you'll get a plug-in unit installed in your home or workplace. If your power is rated at 48 amps you could charge up your E in just two hours. And the cost? Figure on 5.4 miles per kilowatt hour - which costs around 13p on average in the UK. That's academic though, as the MINI E is only offered in the USA and Germany. Watch this space though...


One of the problem areas for electric cars has long been the need to provide the sort of performance and range people have come to expect from conventional cars. The MINI E underlines that the performance is there, even if there are some question marks over the range - 150 miles being a best case scenario. As battery technology improves even further that will improve, as will their size. But as a signal of intent the MINI E is remarkable, and demonstrates that an electric future for motoring should be a very bright one indeed.

Kyle Fortune - 2 Dec 2008    - MINI road tests
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- E images

2009 MINI E specifications:
Price: $850 per month on lease in US. Limited numbers for now.
0-62mph: 8.5 seconds
Top speed: 95mph
Kerb weight: 1465kg

2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.2009 MINI E. Image by United Pictures.2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.

2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.

2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.

2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.

2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.

2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.

2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.

2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.

2009 MINI E. Image by MINI.


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