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.