Mini-E plugs into growing electric car market

The race to electrified motoring continues unabated and so high are the stakes that no car company can afford to be left behind.

Most of the best electric cars were big-buck SUVs, but in recent weeks the voltage has been ramped up into almost every car segment and pure electrics are now not alone more commonplace, but growing in efficiency and cleverness.

Such has been the speed of development of pure electric cars that it’s reasonable to speculate that the era of the hybrid and the plug-in hybrid is now in the rearview mirror.

What with the new Volkswagen I.D. 3 (and their I.D. 4 is in the starting blocks),  Peugeot’s e-208, Opel’s semi-sibling e-Corsa, the soon-to-arrive Honda E, and this week’s tester, the Mini-E, the number of electric cars that merit consideration as workable everyday drives is expanding rapidly.

Manufacturers have finally started to get to grips with consumer concerns about electric cars, such as their limited driving range,  and are now making vehicles that no longer merit scorn for their lack of performance abilities.

Sure, there are electric cars that cater for city dwellers and are built for them,  and have a driving range suitable for that environment and little else (the Renault Zoe being a case in point), but many others (including the original of the species,  the Nissan Leaf) are stretching their legs and are now capable of the distances required by someone who lives in the country and who works in the city.

Living as I do, some 120km from the nearest certifiable city, such issues come into sharp focus when you have to navigate a workable way to and from home. 

Early electrics singularly failed to impress as commuting vehicles and complicated pre-planning was necessary to ensure you made it. As such, even contemplating such a journey was depressingly fraught.

But that’s all changing and the prospect now of driving an electric car from home to the city (or vice versa) is not the challenge it once was. 

In the case of the electric Mini, however, not all was quite as straightforward as it  appeared.

The manufacturer (BMW, in reality) says that the car has a range of 233km. After it arrived from Dublin (which took a couple of recharging stops, because these things really do not like motorway driving) and was recharged overnight via a household plug socket, it had a capability of only 165km.

Given that the journey was 120km, it appeared that there would be no worries. But after a mere 22km, some of which was motorway and some national primary route, some 60km had been drained from the batteries, according to the car itself.

Fretting about its ability to make the complete trip, I resorted to freewheeling on downhill stretches, just to conserve power. In the end, all the worrying was for nothing, as I arrived safely at my destination with some 30km still left in the bank.

But then  — and thanks to a wall-charger — the Mini-E told me it was fully charged after just four hours. Thing was, though, that the information the car was providing estimated that a full charge would provide only 200km of range, which didn’t tally with the manufacturers’ claims.

What was noticeable here — especially when driving — was that the Mini has early electric cars. The Mini engineers have obviously learned many lessons from the i3 (and even from the ‘supercar’ i8) and the energy management on offer here is such that there is little apparent wastage.

That said, you can chew through electricity if you choose to think this is a hot hatch rather than a modern eco-warrior. And the electric Mini is indeed quite quick, what with a 0-100kph time of just 7.3 seconds, although the top speed is limited at 149kph.

With the battery providing the equivalent of 184bhp (135kW),  people might get over-excited by the optics,  and while the car is quick off the line and boasts a decent mid-range punch,  the top speed could be a little more generous.

On the other hand, because of clever engineering,  the Mini-E sits 18mm higher than regular Minis (and this is because of the layout of the batteries), but the added height is disguised by modified sills and wheel arches, so the look is in keeping with the rest of the range.

It is quite hard to distinguish between this and regular Minis, the only giveaways being the yellow colour band across the grille (which is blanked off because no air is needed to cool the mechanicals), subtle ‘E’ badging here and there, and the 17″ alloy wheels, which have a ‘three-pin plug’ motif that hints at the car’s power source.

So, the looks and the power meet with considered approval; other bits of the car do not, however. Those bits would include the all-but worthless back seats, the tiny boot, a decidedly crashy ride, and the whooshy noise that this otherwise soundless car makes thanks to the eDrive exterior system to alert pedestrians (which is both eerie and alarming at the same time).

The Mini-E has lost a considerable amount of the driving elan so evident among its siblings. I am not sure if it is  that the brand’s obsession with its cars having a sporty character has obliterated the ride quality, but this does not truly feel like the majority of cars the company produces.

Oh, and another thing. I don’t know how well versed the BMW/Mini people are on Irish history, but I do not think that the Union Jack branding throughout this car is particularly appropriate for the Irish market. 

The rear-light graphics alone make you look like you’re flying the flag for Britain.

The Mini-E is a good illustration of how far the electric car has come in a short period of time and how much further it is likely to develop in a commensurately brief period.

The most interesting thing will be to see how the Mini-E compares with so many others of the new breed and I suspect that I will know as soon as  I get my hands on the new e-208, from Peugeot, which has all the signs of a class leader.

Watch this space.

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