Can we drive the length of the UK in a Mini E? Find out inside...

Matt Saunders reckoned it would be easy to drive the length of England in an electric Mini. So we set him off with just enough rope (well, charging cord) to hang himself.

Sunday, 8.17pm at home

Tomorrow morning, we’re heading to Brighton to collect one of BMW’s all-electric Mini E development cars. And then we’ll set out on one of the most half-baked road trips conceived in 115 years of Autocar history: we’ll be turning north to find out how far you can drive an electric car before you run out of power or patience, or both.

See pics from our Brighton to Glasgow trip in a Mini E

Monday, 9.36am EDF Energy, Brighton

Our chariot’s right on time. It’s been trailered here. It’s about 75 miles from BMW UK’s Bracknell base, but if they’d driven it we’d be waiting all day to charge it up.

BMW’s delivery man gives me a two-minute briefing on how to charge the Mini. You can lock your cable into Elektromotive’s on-street charging socket, but there’s no way to secure it at the car end. Still, operations-wise, the process seems foolproof, albeit not quite tamper-proof.

Monday, 11.15pm Premier Travel Inn, Luton

Our first day ends after 132 miles. After leaving Brighton, we made it home to Surrey for a five-hour charge. That topped up the Mini’s batteries to 75 per cent, good for a 79-mile range and enough to get us to Milton Keynes.

But on the motorway – even at 50mph – the Mini E sucks current more quickly than its computer allows for. Approaching Luton on the M1, with less than 10 miles remaining, we decide that running out of power on day one wouldn’t be much of a story and plot a course for the nearest bed-and-mains-outlet.

Tuesday, 3.46pm Victoria Shopping Centre, Nottingham

Now we’re getting somewhere. The Mini promised us 118 miles this morning – enough to get us to Nottingham’s Victoria Centre. We arrive in the multi-storey to find a Mercedes C-class in one of only two charging bays. You’d think a car park operator who installed charging bays would make them available only to EVs; not this one.

10.27pm Travelodge, Leeds Colton

We’ve made it another 60-odd miles to our digs, just. The Mini played its usual game of chicken on the way by shortening its range on the dual carriageway. You have to hold your nerve, I’ve discovered; when you get off onto back roads, you get 10 to 15 miles back with regenerative braking. But doing that when you’re still miles from your bed isn’t exactly a fun way to spend a Tuesday night.

Wednesday, 1.26pm Newington Road, Newcastle

The A1 has been kind, and we’ve covered the 96 miles between Leeds and Newcastle with 14 to spare. Time for a hitch. We fire up the laptop and look up an elektrobay in nearby Gateshead: the Metrocentre shopping mecca. More coffee and bargain hunting, then. Marvellous.

11.16pm Carlisle

We left Gateshead at 9pm with 85 miles’ available range, and 75 to Dumfries. But climbing over the Dales decimated the Mini’s batteries. So we limped into Carlisle with five miles to play with.

No choice but to wait until 1am and, with 39 miles available, set out once more. Before we’ve had time to take a deep breath, however, the range predictor hits zero again. Eventually we arrive in Dumfries, as relieved as marathon runners that the day is over. Turns out EVs have reserve tanks too.

Thursday, 2.48pm Harry Fairbairn Mini, Glasgow

The end of the line. There are no more public charging points north of here. We’ve done 578 miles in a little over 74 hours, averaging less than 10mph. We’ve proven that, as slow and nerve-jangling as it is, travelling long distances in an electric car in the UK is at least possible in 2010. I wouldn’t recommend our journey, but 10 years ago I wouldn’t even have contemplated it. And as battery technology and charging infrastructure improves, it can only get easier.

And then we leave the Mini with Glasgow’s local dealer, and get a plane and a taxi back to Autocar HQ. When we arrive, our Mercedes E350 CDI long-termer is waiting to convey us the few miles home. For those few miles, for the first time in days, I can drive without worrying about how much energy I’m using, or whether we’ll get where we’re going. It’s a blissful reminder of why we buy cars: not just as a means to an end, but because we want to enjoy the journey.

Electric vehicles like the Mini E have a way to go before they can deliver on that front. But I’m sure that eventually – just as we did – they’ll get to where they’re going.

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Comments
25

20 June 2010

Pure EVs will never take off outside cities because of range limitations - short of a major revolution in battery technology. I hear that Lotus' Chief Powertrain Research Engineer is looking into turbines as range-extenders, so that when the batteries do run low, the turbine - which is light and compact - keeps them from running flat, and keeps the car running, but the cars he envisages would, apparently, retain a plug-in element, minimising the need to use the turbine.

20 June 2010

Sounds Like a bit of a nightmare to me! I can think of nothing worse than being further from your destinattion that you think the car can travel knowing that if you run out of electricity, thats it, your going nowhere, and will have to wait for a tow truck.

They clearly have a long way to go before they are viable as transport for the masses. If they ever become viable........

I'm not even sure I agree that they make good city cars, sure they work in the city, but surely people who live in the city do actually venture out of it from time to time, and then what do you do? Have to hire a car to travel anywhere moderately far away every time?

I'll stick with fossil fuels for the moment I think.

20 June 2010

If only the government would invest the money going into charging stations, into Bio-fuels instead. Then we can drive exactly the same as we do now but reduce our fossil fuel emissions near near zero. Add a small ex-changable battery pack and the picture becomes so much more pleasurable.

20 June 2010

fine, but all you're doing is reconfirming prejudices and facts that the manufacturers themselves also explain about the disadvantages of an electric car. We all know that for this sort of use a small turbodiesel is a 10x better bet. The start for ev's was always going to be urban and suburban use. Try that again.

Anecdote? Yes. Useful or informative test? New news?. No

20 June 2010

Could someone explain how the cars range improves on B roads, yet at a steady 50mph cruise the range plummets. It takes a certain amount of energy to move an object from A to B; doing so at a steady speed is surely more efficient than speeding up and slowing down - using the regenerative braking - as the system cannot be 100% efficient, and so there will be losses. I can only assume B roads are preferable as there is a lower average speed?

20 June 2010

Sorry, three days to cover 578 miles, mostly praying that you find a charging point and that your computer is telling the truth, what happens if you get geographically embarrassed and end up in the middle of nowhere, EV cars are not the future, they are just the car makers attempt at conning the public into thing they are green, much like the pious prius, a modern diesel with the appropriate filters is far more eco friendly.

20 June 2010

Even allowing for battery tech to improve, full EV does worry me a bit, you can still get a an unexpected jam in the town centre. Its not safe to have a car that will run out of power and just stop. We've all been in them jams on a long stretch of motorway where you crawl along for an hour at 2mph. Until the range is seriously extended, with say solar top ups and really good energy recovery hybrids have to be the way to go. I small turbo diesel or petrol with a good hybrid system has huge potential for the foreseable future.

20 June 2010

[quote FriendlyFisherman]We've all been in them jams on a long stretch of motorway where you crawl along for an hour at 2mph.[/quote]


you realise its electric? its not using or wasting energy when stuck in a jam.

20 June 2010

[quote beachland2]

you realise its electric? its not using or wasting energy when stuck in a jam.[/quote]

Yes it does. For lights, radio, heater, air conditioning... All of which can reduce the range dramatically.

20 June 2010

[quote beachland2]you realise its electric? its not using or wasting energy when stuck in a jam.[/quote] unless its dark and raining where your battery will only last 20 minutes.... in EV's the use of any electrical accessory will become a privilege -blind spot warning system -electric seats, mirrors etc -wipers -lights -heated windscreens and seats -aircon -stereo -parking sensors etc etc the list is endless

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