Recently Michael from BimmerFile had a chance to spend some extended time with the new MINI E. Since neither Todd, DB or myself has had an opportunity to get behind the wheel, Michael was kind enough to take a break from his BF editor duties and write a full review – Gabe
With greenhouse gas emissions on the rise and society as a whole looking for ways to combat that seemingly endless trend, lawmakers will be introducing more stringent emissions standards within the next few years. This will greatly impact auto manufacturers and the beloved internal combustion engine. We have already seen the first phases of the BMW Groupâ€™s Efficient Dynamics program, which is designed to combat emissions with the introduction of newer technologies such as direct/forced induction and Advanced Diesels. The next phase, hybrids, are coming with the recently released X6 and soon to launch 7 Series. BMWNA president Jim Oâ€™Donnell has openly stated to us that they are currently exploring turbo charged four cylinder options for BMW in the US, (6 cylinders have been the smallest BMW engines here since 1999) but that the BMW Group will not sacrifice dynamics or performance while striving to improve emissions. With that said; the basic idea is that a BMW Group product must drive well, offer performance all while being efficient.
Where does the MINI-E fit into all of this? For the past few years, BMW has been diligently working on a mega-city vehicle program under the code-name: Project-I. The goal of this program is to create a vehicle or vehicles that are designed for the urban environment and with limited emissions. The first vehicle produced as part of this program is the MINI- E.
The MINI-E is not a mass produced vehicle that is available for sale. It is currently the focus of a field trial in which approximately 450 people in NY, NJ and CA have signed up to lease the vehicle for $850 a month for one year. During the lease period the drivers are to provide feedback to BMW on certain parameters that they are keeping data on. Fifty participants in this field trial also volunteered to be members of a more in-depth study being conducted by UC Davis in collaboration with BMW on electric vehicles.
While no results have been formally released by the BMW Group in regards to the MINI-E (and we do not expect them) for the most part they report customers are pleased, minus a few initial hiccups. The program had a bumpy start secondary to the proprietary nature of the charging equipment and the fact that different communities have different electrical code/laws, while others do not even have codes written for such devices.
The MINI-E body is assembled along with the interior, as a typical MINI would be, in Oxford. It is then shipped to Munich, Germany where it receives the Frankenstein treatment. The electrification of the body with an AC Propulsion electric motor and lithium-ion battery is completed in Germany.
From first glance an on-looker will know that this is not your typical MINI Cooper. The bright yellow accents, serial number and plug decals strewn across the car make that undeniable. If it was not for these design cues and the lack of the sweet sound of an internal combustion engine there are few exterior differences between the MINI-E and its brethren.
Most of you are not reading this review for tidbits about how and why this vehicle was created or the specs. You are reading it to learn about how it drives since you canâ€™t go to your local MINI dealer and take one for a quick test spin. So, let me get to the point.
The first thing one must do with the MINI-E is throw out the notion that it is a MINI and all that you perceive that to mean. While it is a MINI in theory, it is not. A Cooper was used to package an electric drive-train and nothing more. When you add over 500 pounds to any small vehicle in one area (battery where the rear seats were), the performance and overall characteristics will dramatically change.
With that out of the way one can begin to look at this vehicle in terms of drive. The MINI-E has a range of 100-120 miles on a charge, so a driver must always look at the battery meter and think about where they will be headed before venturing out since there is no refueling. I was only heading out for a 10 mile trip and the battery was full so I was all set.
Pushing the start button yields no revving engine, no sound, nothing but a few lights on the center stack mounted speedo. Right foot down and I was off with a whirl of elctric powered propulsion- not bad at all! A Stop sign is approaching. I Let off the accelerator- Whoa! What the Hâ€¦. talk about regeneration, it felt like I had engaged a Jake brake on an 18-wheeler. The regeneration on this vehicle is aggressive, very aggressive. So aggressive in fact, I never used the normal brakes during my journey. You truly must rethink driving because as soon as you let off the accelerator it goes into braking mode and it will move you in the seat if you go from acceleration to letting up rapidly.
Once you are at a stop it is a wise decision to ease into the accelerator pedal, not only to conserve you battery power but to limit the amount of torque steer you have to battle. Keeping two hands on the wheel when accelerating is a good call with this machine as it can pull you from here to there quite rapidly. The power and torque is there almost instantly, both are also ample for the size and heft of the MINI platform.
Getting used to these new driving characteristics takes a few minutes but once you know the quirks, it is relatively straight forward. The car drives like any ordinary car once cruising. It is just not as nimble as one would expect from something sporting a MINI badge.
That gets us back to my prior statement about throwing all notions of a MINI out and starting from a clean slate, this car does not drive like a MINI and should not be expected to and it’s primarily due to the weight but also by the affects the drivetrain has on handling and braking.
The BMW Group needed a small developed platform to be the test bed for future battery powered vehicles and the MINI fit the bill. The MINI-E is a beta project for BMWs foray into the battery powered electric vehicle market and it is a great first step for Project-i.
The vehicle provides a safe reliable means of transportation and that is all it really needs to be. It does not need to have â€œgo kartâ€ handling, be fun to drive or even set records, it just needs to get people from A to B. It does this well and once you master the art of driving it. It does this well and once you master the art of electric driving, it is not all that bad and can be quite engaging. However, the MINI E should never be compared to a fully developed MINI in terms of driving
The greatest thing I took away from my time in the MINI-E is that we are at a crossroads in terms of mobility and that if we as a society go the electric route, it will take some time for us to get used to. The lack of a beautiful internal combustion soundtrack will also definitely be missed.