Official release: The Silicon Valley, synonymous with digital giants like Google, Apple and Facebook, is an innovation hub and considered the innovation factory of the world. If the first premium electric small car hasn’t been invented in Munich it would have been invented here.
We set out with the MINI Cooper SE from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and cross the famous bridge with the trunk loaded with our weekender bags, and the high-voltage-battery fully charged. The all-electric MINI Cooper SE has the exact same loading capacity as the conventionally powered MINI Hardtop 2 door (211 – 731 liters). This is the most striking difference from the first electrified MINI E of 2008: That was a two-seater. Now the battery pack is located under the passengers, lowering the center of gravity even further towards that legendary go-kart feeling all MINIs are famous for.
The cable cars of San Francisco remind us of the electric mobility that was invented centuries ago while we appreciate the steep downhill roads for recuperation purposes. This is where the one-pedal-feeling of the MINI Cooper SE is so compelling – without even thinking to touch the brakes we decelerate with ease while the generator recharges the battery.
Only blocks from Highway #1 is Lombard Street, easily the most crooked road in the world with its eight sharp hairpins. The steep one way downhill single lane street has an inclination of 27 percent and a recommended speed of only 5 miles per hour (8 km/h). Bullitt (Steve McQueen, 1968) did not fly down this road in one of the most epic car chase scenes in movie history but we are only minutes away from Brisbane where that hot pursuit ended badly in a gas station.
San Francisco – Monterey.
Heading south the ridges of the Coast Ranges separate us from Palo Alto, Cupertino and the rest of the Silicon Valley. We switch the MINI Cooper SE to Green+ mode and windows down we welcome the Pacific Ocean breeze. With the famous Redwood forest to our left we set the cruise control to an appropriate speed well below the limited top speed of 150 km/h. The rather comfortable outside temperature of 22° Celsius fills the cabin as we enjoy the silent cruising mode of the 21st century.
As we are closing in on Santa Cruz for some sandwiches at famous “The Picnic Basket” (125 Beach St.) we have still plenty of electricity on board. We will only recharge in Monterey – after 188 km and out of pure convenience – where we will have used only two third of the battery’s capacity. Overnight charging is easy since the MINI Cooper SE allows for standard household currents as well as wall boxes and fast charging with direct current and up to 50 kW.
Monterey – Cambria.
Only a few miles south of Monterey we reach Big Sur and its Bixby Creek Bridge. As we follow one of the most isolated stretches of road along the undisturbed coastline the unobtrusiveness of the small and silent MINI Cooper SE is quite suitable – the steep and rugged Santa Lucia mountains, home of the rare california condor, rise abruptly from the wild ocean surge. The Pacific Highway shrinks to a narrow two-laner that cuts its way through dramatic rock formations while the last of the frequent landslides reclaimed the road for more than one year.
The change could not be more dramatic as we reach Cambria, a literal retreat with its old english architecture (with castle), lovely pine woods and the moonstone beach. Also known as Canaima, Cambria was the perfect location for the movie “Arachnophobia” (1990). Rangephobia though is nonexistent with 40 percent range still available when we recharge.
The MINI Cooper SE reconciles the history of mobility with its future. It is as quick, agile and fun to drive as the nonconformist original classic Mini from 60 years ago. Yet it is more convenient for our coastal road trip and snugs itself neatly into urban areas or hushes silently through our natural beauties.
Cambria – Santa Barbara.
Heading south to Santa Barbara we enter the American Riviera where the pine trees make way for palmtrees. Reactivating the cruise control, it is time to open the windows once more and hook the playlist from our smartphone to the stereo as we steer towards Moro Bay for some surfing impressions and a coffee stop at the “Top Dog” (857 Main Street).
Caffeine-affected we enjoy the instant torque delivery of the 135 kW/184 hp engine and its continuous power delivery. Even compared to the conventional slightly stronger MINI Cooper S (combined fuel consumption: 6.4 – 6.1 l/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 147 – 139 g/km) the electric version offers an energetic driving experience of the new kind: There is no noticeable engine vibration and the 270 Nm of maximum torque allow for rapid acceleration (0–100 km/h in 7.3 seconds). The stronger recuperation setting (activated on start-up), lowered center of gravity, refined suspension and drive slip control system add up to some very spirited driving, especially when heading into and accelerating out of the tighter bends in Sport mode towards Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara – Venice Beach.
Only minutes south of Santa Barbara is Rincon Point (Spanish for “corner”), easily one of California’s most famous surf spots and it could not be more conveniently located: The car park is literally right next to the Pacific Highway exit and it also offers a charging station. We leave it for others in need since we will only use some 60 percent of the battery’s capacity to our final destination Venice Beach, home of the fit and beautiful. To make ends meet, L.A. was the proper film location for “The Italian Job” (2003).
Closing in on L.A. we are reminded that the cities’ smog problem in the 1970’s initiated California’s strict emission standards. Now that we enjoy the clean air, surf, fusion food and emission free mobility that level of air pollution seems generations away.
In California, electric mobility is part of everyday life – sure. But the MINI Cooper SE will minify electric mobility.