All-electric city car proves the future of motoring is still bright
17 November 2008

What is it?

It’s a Mini that looks, goes, steers and handles a lot like the normal Cooper – and has even better weight distrubution.

However, the normal petrol engine and fuel tank have been replaced by a 201bhp electric motor and a 35kW/hr lithium ion battery (delivering a range of 100 to 120 miles).

To charge this fully takes 10 hours via a normal 13-amp household socket, or around half the time if you have access to 32-amp power.

Does it sound attractive? Don’t get your hopes up about buying one. You can’t. This is one of a fleet of 600 experimental Mini Es, built as an early part of BMW’s Project i, a plan to build the perfect “megacity” car in about four years’ time.

Mini Es are being run in six-month stints in a dozen major capitals across the world to investigate exactly what the new car needs. Forty have come here – half run by fleets, half by individuals.

If you’re one of the chosen you’ll have heard about it already. You’ve been chosen from 515 applicants, you’ll have consented to pay £330 a month, to drive at least 300 miles a month, and to be interviewed by all kinds of researchers about your findings. There’s even a panel of university psychologists who will want to know whether the car (principally because of short range) has done anything to change you or your habits.

What's it like?

Delightful, actually. The interior is entirely familiar, except that the gearstick makes way for a simple PRND quadrant and a discreet meter that shows how much power you’re demanding under acceleration, and putting back through regenerative braking. There’s a big dial for “power left”, too. It’s easy to get going; you just twist the key, wait for an array of lights to flash, select D and toe the accelerator.

Several things are quite different from an internal-combustion Mini, but you’ll get used to them in minutes. The step-off torque – 162lb ft of it – is available from standstill, so performance feels very strong.

There are no gears. The electric motor doesn’t need their assistance. You just select either forward or reverse.

Watch it when you come off the power, though. There’s a regenerative braking system that dumps power back into the battery when you slow, and it causes deceleration so strong that you’ll hardly use the brakes in normal driving. The ESP has had to be tuned to accommodate it.

The drivetrain, which is very smooth, emits a pleasant whir when it's cruising or accelerating, but it’s so silent at low speeds that you have to be careful not to run over pedestrians in supermarket car parks. They just don’t hear you coming.

Performance is impressive, especially below 60mph. The car gets going really well, and can do 95mph, though higher speeds chew battery power at an alarming rate. Cruise at 65mph, restrain yourself under acceleration, and you’ll get 100 miles of range, and more as you learn.

The main drawbacks are the Mini E’s accommodation and weight; the net addition of the battery and electronic controls adds 300kg and subtracts a back seat and most of the boot.

Should I buy one?

You’re not going to get the chance; there isn’t going to be an electric Mni for sale. These 600 experimental cars will be scrapped once they’ve done their job. The end-product "megacity" car won’t be anything like this and you won’t see it before 2013. But it will be made better by the Mini E, which already does enough to show that future electric cars can be as much fun to drive as they are sensible for city dwellers to own.

Join the debate

Comments
13

19 November 2008

Why do you quote power fiqure from metric and imperial - choose bhp or KW, or at least quote both for power and capacity.

35 kwH, means a minimum life of 15mins at a 135 KW draw.

Even an 25% average power draw only gives you an hour. Not too useful

2 hour charge at domestic 110V, single phase? Doubt it, but am prepared to be proved wrong.

I have to say, I love these things. this is the future, fossil fuel burning in large scale efficient plants, providing energy to be used by cars. Battery tech has to catch up but it will.

Any more info on lightning's battery type, is anyonr else using their type?

19 November 2008

$850pm for a two seater with a limited range, still nice that they tried I guess, though they need to ditch that cheap dashboard with the dumb speedo, trying to take in the info is like sitting in the front row at an IMAX.

When are they going to bring out a 90bhp 1.6 OneD around 89CO2g/km? Think that would be a more significant move at the moment to improve sales.

19 November 2008

This thing could send fatalities soaring!!!

You won't even be able hear it to get out the way.. as an Estate Agent trying to balance his mobile and a Starbucks tries to mow you down.

19 November 2008

"Sadly, you can’t. The initial fleet of Mini Es will be leased to carefully-selected customers living in Los Angeles and New York for 12 months.

That said, it’s no secret that BMW is looking to establish a similar scheme in Europe, with London and Munich likely to be among the cities chosen to take part, and with the programme likely to lead to a dedicated electric-only Mini."

- Greg Kable

Not so Greg. BMW have just announced Berlin as the next city to get the Mini E. It's being done in cooperation with Vatenfall, electricity company.(Bild.de)

20 November 2008

I think someone already explained the logic of selling ultra-green cars to the world's most profligate wasters of energy, but I still don't understand why manufs. like BMW wouldn't want to schedule a simultaneous launch in London or on home territory as well. London has the Congestion Charge which favours such electric vehicles, and customers both in the UK and in Germany are used to making sacrifices in return for better fuel economy and big savings at our massively taxed pumps. Dunno about you guys, but for me giving the MINI-E to Americans seems like feeding strawberries to donkeys.

20 November 2008

[quote The Apprentice]

This thing could send fatalities soaring!!!

You won't even be able hear it to get out the way.. as an Estate Agent trying to balance his mobile and a Starbucks tries to mow you down.

[/quote]

Most of the noise you hear these days from cars passing by in cities, where pedestrians are found, comes from the TYRES, and not the engine.

In fact, during braking and anything but brutal acceleration by a complete twat, all the most of the noise you'll ever hear from a car approaching you is tire noises.

So I know the whole "no engine noise, blimey" stuff is somewhat frightening, but rest assure - if an electric car is about to run you over, you'll hear it coming from the same distance. I just hope you'd be listening in the first place, as pedestrians these days are too busy blabbering over their cell-phone to even notice anything around them.

20 November 2008

[quote ThwartedEfforts]Dunno about you guys, but for me giving the MINI-E to Americans seems like feeding strawberries to donkeys.[/quote] ...and most of them probably won't fit in it anyway !!


Enjoying a Fabia VRs - affordable performance

21 November 2008

[quote rtwingo]I just hope you'd be listening in the first place, as pedestrians these days are too busy blabbering over their cell-phone to even notice anything around them.[/quote]

With many drivers doing the same thing what chance does mankind have?

PaulJ

22 November 2008

[quote Paul J]

[quote rtwingo]I just hope you'd be listening in the first place, as pedestrians these days are too busy blabbering over their cell-phone to even notice anything around them.[/quote]

With many drivers doing the same thing what chance does mankind have?

[/quote]

Good point...

22 October 2009

No right hand drive I guess? Not really surprising after the Clubman fiasco though. We must be the doormat market.

Pages

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • 2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron UK review
    First Drive
    29 September 2016
    First UK drive finds the facelifted A3 Sportback e-tron remains a first-rate plug-in hybrid that is packed with tech if a little short on driver appeal
  • Citroen C11.2 Puretech 82 Furio
    First Drive
    29 September 2016
    Citroën's city car gets a new sporty-looking trim level, adding visual adornments, but no premium for the 1.2-litre Puretech triple we're driving
  • Mercedes C350e Sport
    First Drive
    28 September 2016
    Petrol-electric C-Class is a surprisingly well-priced alternative to a diesel but not the greatest example of the new ‘PHEV’ breed
  • Car review
    23 September 2016
    Aston kicks off its ‘second century plan’ with an all-new turbo V12 grand tourer
  • Ford Ka+ 1.2 Ti-VCT 85
    First Drive
    22 September 2016
    A rounded, refined and well-sorted bargain supermini – once you’re used to the confusing role redefinition imposed on the once-cheeky Ka