BMW’s most famous British export brand has proven time and again over the last two decades that it can find buyers for its cars for even more than the kind of cash that it’s about to ask for the new Mini Electric – and that’s without a public mood of social responsibility driving customers towards those cars in quite the same way that is about to benefit this new one. Rather than whether it will actually sell, then, the bigger question encircling the new Mini Electric might actually concern whether it is quite the usable modern EV you may be hoping or waiting for.
The Mini Electric is, at a basic level, a three-door Mini. Its lithium-ion drive battery does nothing more serious to impact on practicality than very marginally raising the height of the car’s rear seat cushions. Even so you clearly wouldn’t call this one of the more versatile or accommodating EVs on the block.
Under the bonnet it adopts the same 181bhp, 199lb ft electric motor that powers the BMW i3S – except that it’s powering the Mini’s front axle, of course, rather than the BMW’s rear one. It's BMW's patented ‘hybrid synchronous’ motor design, which delivers greater power density than most electric motors by combining within its rotor design the effect of permanent magnets with something called the reluctance effect, which cuts down on the need for heavy ‘rare earth’ materials like Neodymium within its construction. That, in turn, means the rotor can be lighter, and so it can spin faster and produce power over a greater range than most electric motors manage.
The other mission-critical component of the car’s powertrain may well be considered to be its drive battery, which is T-shaped and fits under the back seats and along the transmission tunnel. It is as large as the space for it to be carried within the Mini’s chassis allows, and has usable capacity of 28.9kWh.
That’s not a particularly competitive figure, however, in a market in which both the Renault Zoe and Peugeot e-208 offer close to 50kWh. The Mini’s engineers claim that the need to meet global market homologation and safety regulations made it impossible to squeeze any more electrical storage into the car (both the Zoe and e-208 are predominantly European-market cars) – but they also claim that all the market research suggests a WLTP range figure of 144 miles will meet the daily motoring needs of Mini owners with room to spare. Beneath the outward insistence, though, the acceptance that this is a key vulnerability for the Mini can perhaps be inferred from the car’s pricing. It’s available from a lower start price than its opposite numbers from Peugeot, Vauxhall, Kia and Renault: undoubtedly an unfamiliar but not uninteresting position for any Mini to find itself in.
Away from the spec sheet and on roads around Miami, where Mini chose to introduce the Mini Electric to the global press, that 144-mile range claim looked more like a real-world 125 miles on a good day, mostly in heavy and slowish traffic. On a quicker, chillier UK motorway commute, I suspect you’d be pleased to get 100 miles between charges. And purely in light of the fact that you can have a similarly sized rival for similar money that’ll go 50 per cent further between charges – and also needn’t spend that much more for a genuine 250- to 300-mile electric car – that will undoubtedly be a problem for a certain kind of rationally minded buyer.
Less dispassionate customers ought to be open to persuasion by the car’s driving experience, however. Partly due to that relatively lightweight drive battery, the Mini Electric has a power-to-weight ratio of better than 130bhp per tonne, where neither the quickest Zoe or the e-208 gets much beyond 90, and the Kia Soul EV – which is itself a pretty fleet-feeling car - doesn’t top 120.