MotoringFile Review: The MINI E

The MINI E is really nothing more than a test bed for BMW. But it’s a rolling test bed that performs at a level above almost any electric car on the road. Yes it’s no Tesla. I can personally verify that the insanity of putting your foot down in the Tesla is nowhere to be found in the MINI E. Neither is the range with only 100 miles full topped up with electricity (vs almost 200 for the Tesla). But what the MINI E does do is bring electricity to the masses.

It may be hard to see that now since they are simply leased vehicles ($850 a month) but if you look at the cost of the Tesla it’s apparent that the MINI E is coming to market at a lower price-point while offering a similar zero emissions experience.

Driving the MINI is a combination of strangely familiar and strangely futuristic. Yes it still feels like a MINI. However there’s this odd combination of Cooper S torque mated with Cooper performance and an extra 500 lbs of batter whirring away behind you. Then there’s the sound or lack there of. I had the same feeling while driving the Tesla. It all just felt like a part of some utopian future. It’s amazing how a lack of sound completely changes your driving experience.

The one area that was the most foreign has to be the abrupt and aggressive brake regeneration. In fact the MINI E is the most aggressive electric car out there in terms of regeneration. And some of that has to do with BMW wanting to get a certain amount of range out of the car and dealing with a chassis and overall design that wasn’t intended to be electrified. What does all this mean? The moment you take your foot off the accelerator regenerative braking starts. That translates into the feeling that someone is moderately putting their foot on the brake and thus sending more electricity back into the system. It’s so abrupt that MINI designed to activate brake lights when you lift just so other drivers are aware of the slow-down. I get the feeling few particularly like the level of braking but BMW seemed to see it as a necessary evil to achieve the 100 mile range. We’re guessing that BMW’s next electric product, the 1 Series based Active E will either be adjustable or a little less aggressive.

It’s also important to note that the MINI E doesn’t handle like a Cooper or Cooper S. The weight of the batteries in the center of the car make sure of that. But the experience isn’t entirely different. For starters the weight distribution is a little more 50/50 but the weight penalty takes away any performance advantage. Torque is also in abundance o the MINI E. In fact BMW employs some special engine management that seems to build torque as you stomp on the accelerator. I’m guessing this is to help with the huge torque steer that car would have. But try as they might, the torque steer is still readily apparent. If you thought it was bad on the Cooper S, don’t even think about ever getting behind the wheel of a MINI E.

At the end of the day the MINI E is a remarkably polished product for being a “field study”. The fact that BMW is basing their upcoming “megacity” vehicle on MINI E learnings (primarily from the US market) tells you how important this vehicle is for the company. The result may not be perfect but it more than serves the purpose of a glimpse into the future.

  • I noticed that there was no multi function steering wheel. I am curious behind the logic about that. Gabe, can you see people actually buying this car?

  • It’s good that BMW/MINI are looking at electric, but I wonder if they got much good out of this experiment – there were various snafus with costs (“giving away” to government while charging enthusiasts) and lease extensions – and it appeared there were too many failures. I guess failures – and the UL approval chaos – was a good learning experience; and maybe there were really so few MINI E’s out there that bad stories never spread to general knowledge.

    It will be very interesting to see what electric options are available five years from now.

  • GregPo

    I like the black background on the instrument gauges. Does anyone sell aftermarket backgrounds for 2nd Gen Minis?

  • Dave Z

    Is that a R60 trying to hide in the background of the first picture?

  • No one ever makes money on a roll out of 500 cars, even with the high lease prices. Those just lessened the pain. But I bet MINI goet more than the program cost in “free” marketing and knowledge. The MINI-e is just one step down a path to electrification of cars that is coming, to some degree or another. I’m betting that the 1 series electric will be better than the MINI-e in terms of engineering and the like. Not so long ago BMW was a “screw the hybrid, screw the electrics, we’re happy with gas and diesel” car company. They’ve come a long way fast.


  • vee wee kid

    BEHOLD THE FUTURE ! Gas guzzlers good-bye

  • hahaha as if our cars were gas guzzlers to begin with… i’m getting 41.2 mpg highway… considering how much better my mini is in terms of fun compared to say a prius or insight this car is an absolute win in ever term!

  • lavardera

    Speaking of things in the background of the top photo – those Clubman 17″ wheels, 5 out of 5 – best wheels Mini has ever offered on their standard range.

    Want more like that.

  • MatthewW

    @vee wee kid, amen, brother. I am totally baffled at the resistance to this FIELD TEST (read: not a production vehicle).

  • Greg W

    The photo says it all in answer to my question of “how many people can the car carry”. Obviously there is no room in behind the front seats. So the car is strictly a two-seater. Until someone invents a power source smaller than the current need for bulky batteries, electric cars are a dream. But in 1980s I laughed when someone said I would have a computer on my desk!