Seat’s first electric production car may, or may not, look like the eMii.
The eMii, as you might have guessed, is a Seat version of the Volkswagen e-Up, a 3.5-star car that Autocar first drove in 2014.
It would be a fairly easy technical challenge to have a Seat version on sale now but, for multiple reasons, the eMii is still an engineering prototype with the production green light pending.
One of the issues is getting VW to release to a sister brand a technology it pioneered; another is how a loss-making electric car would impact Seat’s hard-won profitable balance sheet. “It is a matter of timing, business case and other issues,” Seat finance director Holger Kintscher told Autocar.
Another consideration is pricing. Seat’s brand position would suggest a lower price than the £25k e-Up, further spoiling the business case for the eMii.
Also to be taken into account is the £11k cost of a petrol-engined Mii and the thought of paying twice that for an electric vehicle (EV) version. Given its common underpinnings, it is not surprising that the eMii features an identical specification to the e-Up; this means a 204-cell, 18.7kWh lithium ion battery pack storing energy for a 60kW (79bhp) electric motor and a quoted range of 99 miles.
The battery pack weighs 230kg, and the motor and direct drive transmission increase the kerb weight of a 929kg, 1.0-litre, three-cylinder car by a hefty 300kg to 1229kg.
Nevertheless, the zippy electric powertrain suits a compact city car like the Mii, despite its portly mass. And in Barcelona traffic, the eMii feels like a wieldy machine.
There’s not much feeling to the steering and the body rolls in cornering, but otherwise the eMii steers faithfully and the compact dimensions with a short wheelbase bring a natural agility to the driving experience.
Acceleration is brisk off the mark and the 0-60mph time of 12.4sec makes the eMii the fastest-accelerating model in the range, eclipsing the 75bhp Mii FR by 0.8sec.
There’s no official 0-30mph figure, but at such town speeds the eMii feels quick enough.
Peak torque output of the electric motor is a hefty 154lb ft — the sort of figure a 1.4 turbo petrol engine might push out — but the power delivery characteristic is quite different. The accelerative shove builds evenly and quietly. Powertrain refinement is, of course, outstanding for a small car.
A little whine from the motor and gearbox chirps in occasionally and the regenerative braking system adds its own soundtrack.
The downside is that other noises, particularly from the tyres and suspension, are no longer masked by the combustion engine — a familiar characteristic of combustion-engined cars converted to electric power.
On our very short test, we did see the benefit of regenerative braking, adding 6km to the battery range on a longish downhill run. The braking effort is selectable and our guess is that an owner would become quite adept at maximising the recuperation and boosting range.
So what of the future for Seat’s potentially first EV? No doubt it could perform the role of city-centre zero-emissions runabout with aplomb.
But Seat has to first decide to make it available. The current plan has the eMii pencilled in for launch in 2019-2020, when it will arrive alongside Seat’s version of the VW iD, an electric hatchback designed from the outset as an EV.
There’s a very good chance that, by then, rivals will also have the latest EV models available, and this will only accentuate the six-year-old eMii as an old-technology car and put more pressure on pricing to compensate.
To us, it feels like the eMii deserves its chance now, when it could help clean up the air in British cities and raise awareness among Seat’s younger buyers that a new wave of EVs is coming. But the price will have to be much lower than £25k and somebody is going to have to cover the gap between the high cost of production and the market price of a compact city car.
We suspect that might be a decision too far for a company that only earlier this year broke back into the black after years of losses.