Mini Electric Car Fun But Quirky During My Short Test Drive

 

At the LA Auto Show today, I had the privilege of testing the 2009 Mini E electric car on a short drive downtown. It’s zippy off the line and maintains the Mini’s sense of fun and performance, yet it also has a few quirks that may make driving it a bit of a hassle — at least during an initial “mental adjustment” phase.

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The new-for-2009 Mini E electric car is undoubtedly one of the most highly-anticipated cars being released next year. Initially the car will only be offered to a select group of 500 people in the Los Angeles, New York and New Jersey metro areas who will be chosen by Mini to provide the exact set of testing conditions Mini engineers want to evaluate.





If you live in one of those metro areas, the Mini E application to become part of the elite 500 test fleet is now open. Beware though, it’ll cost you $850 a month for the privilege and they had 10,000 people sign up on their email list to be notified when the application opened.

While the Mini E was certainly fun to drive and provided the responsive performance Minis are known for, it also left me wondering if people could get past some of its quirks. For starters, the batteries take up the entire rear of the car, making the mini E strictly a two-seater and leaving essentially no room for anything but a couple of the world’s skinniest bags. No golf outings for two in this baby.

“So what?” you say, “I can handle no storage space.” And I agree with you, but only a small group of us would feel the same way — potentially limiting mass-market appeal.

Really the biggest quirk — one that could even create a safety hazard — has to do with the Mini E’s regenerative braking system. It was a quirk that all the test drivers I talked to complained about.

As part of a choice to try and squeeze every last bit of driving range out of their new E, Mini’s engineers have designed a braking system that does an excellent job of providing extra charging power to the lithium ion batteries. The car has a listed range of 156 miles, but Peter Krams, the BMW Group engineer in charge of the Mini E project confided to me that under real world conditions he sees about 130 miles per charge (a charge  only takes about 2 and half hours using a 240V power source).

However, the result of such an aggressive regenerative braking system is that the Mini E slows down so harshly when you take your foot off the accelerator, that it feels like you’ve just pressed down sharply on the brake pedal and somebody slapped you on the back of the head. It’s pretty disconcerting and left me wondering if the car has more control than I do. I could imagine some situations in heavy traffic where this feature would become a true safety hazard.

No really, after thinking it over, this feels like a big issue to me. Mr. Krams said that he’s been driving the car in Munich for quite some time now and that eventually “you just get used to it.” But why do we all have to just get used to it? Perhaps Mini could include a way to switch between an “economy mode” where the regen system works as it did for me today, and a “normal mode” where the range is less but you have more control over your vehicle’s braking capability.

Anyway, the Mini E is certainly an exciting car and worthy of the hype that’s been attributed to it. Some of the quirks are certainly unfixable in the short term (e.g. no room in the back), but the major regenerative braking issue could potentially be dealt with by a simple software upgrade. Once they’ve got their elite 500 in place, Mini can start working these issues out.

My guess is that the final production version, with an author-assumed release date sometime in 2010, will do away with the always-on harsh regenerative braking system during testing next year due to popular demand.

Photo Credit: The author standing in front of his Mini E test car.





About the Author

Not your traditional car guy.

  • Jeff

    the Mitsubishi i miev has a an eco mode that allows you to compare the level of regenerative braking

  • Jeff

    the Mitsubishi i miev has a an eco mode that allows you to compare the level of regenerative braking

  • Jeff

    the Mitsubishi i miev has a an eco mode that allows you to compare the level of regenerative braking

  • Tim Cleland

    So I guess they do that with the “brakes” to minimize the need to actually step on the brake pedal. Anytime you take your foot of the accelerator, it decelerates quickly before you get any ideas in your head about converting that kinetic energy to heat and brake dust.

  • Tim Cleland

    So I guess they do that with the “brakes” to minimize the need to actually step on the brake pedal. Anytime you take your foot of the accelerator, it decelerates quickly before you get any ideas in your head about converting that kinetic energy to heat and brake dust.

  • Wow – what I would not do to get my hands on one of these.. but the entry requirements to get in on the lease are pretty steep. $850 a month is not cheap, and you have to give it back at the end of the year. Oh, and you have to have stellar credit, and a garage with 220 volts available. And did I mention the $850 a month?

  • Wow – what I would not do to get my hands on one of these.. but the entry requirements to get in on the lease are pretty steep. $850 a month is not cheap, and you have to give it back at the end of the year. Oh, and you have to have stellar credit, and a garage with 220 volts available. And did I mention the $850 a month?

  • Wow – what I would not do to get my hands on one of these.. but the entry requirements to get in on the lease are pretty steep. $850 a month is not cheap, and you have to give it back at the end of the year. Oh, and you have to have stellar credit, and a garage with 220 volts available. And did I mention the $850 a month?

  • Buzzzer

    Quote: “you just get used to it.” But why do we all have to just get used to it?

    But, isn’t that exactly how you originally learned to drive? All three of my children, on their first braking experience (parking lot, Sunday morning), just about put me through the windshield! It didn’t take too long for each of them to “Just get used to it”.

  • Buzzzer

    Quote: “you just get used to it.” But why do we all have to just get used to it?

    But, isn’t that exactly how you originally learned to drive? All three of my children, on their first braking experience (parking lot, Sunday morning), just about put me through the windshield! It didn’t take too long for each of them to “Just get used to it”.

  • Buzzzer

    Quote: “you just get used to it.” But why do we all have to just get used to it?

    But, isn’t that exactly how you originally learned to drive? All three of my children, on their first braking experience (parking lot, Sunday morning), just about put me through the windshield! It didn’t take too long for each of them to “Just get used to it”.

  • Bob

    The first part of brake pedal depression could be re-generative, while further depression could be mechanical braking.

  • Bob

    The first part of brake pedal depression could be re-generative, while further depression could be mechanical braking.

  • Bob

    The first part of brake pedal depression could be re-generative, while further depression could be mechanical braking.

  • ChuckL

    It would seem that the regenerative braking could be tied to the brakes rather than to the accelerator pedal. Set it for primary braking with regeneration and if more is needed then bring in the hydraulics.

    Since the BMW engineers are not stupid, they must have some other reason for this setup. Anyone want to make a guess?

  • ChuckL

    It would seem that the regenerative braking could be tied to the brakes rather than to the accelerator pedal. Set it for primary braking with regeneration and if more is needed then bring in the hydraulics.

    Since the BMW engineers are not stupid, they must have some other reason for this setup. Anyone want to make a guess?

  • ChuckL

    It would seem that the regenerative braking could be tied to the brakes rather than to the accelerator pedal. Set it for primary braking with regeneration and if more is needed then bring in the hydraulics.

    Since the BMW engineers are not stupid, they must have some other reason for this setup. Anyone want to make a guess?

  • Alphaman

    I take it you’ve never driven an electric vehicle before, Mr. Chambers. You are obviously thinking of the right peddle in terms of a gas peddle, which is about as disconnected from the drive wheels as you can get. This is an electric throttle, and directly controls the “force” going to the drive wheels.

    Yes, get used to it. It’s not a bad thing, as you make it out to be — it’s actually quite a good thing, in that it teaches you not to jam your foot down to accelerate, then lift to coast. You learn to apply just the amount of energy that is required for the situation at hand.

  • Alphaman

    I take it you’ve never driven an electric vehicle before, Mr. Chambers. You are obviously thinking of the right peddle in terms of a gas peddle, which is about as disconnected from the drive wheels as you can get. This is an electric throttle, and directly controls the “force” going to the drive wheels.

    Yes, get used to it. It’s not a bad thing, as you make it out to be — it’s actually quite a good thing, in that it teaches you not to jam your foot down to accelerate, then lift to coast. You learn to apply just the amount of energy that is required for the situation at hand.

  • Alphaman

    I take it you’ve never driven an electric vehicle before, Mr. Chambers. You are obviously thinking of the right peddle in terms of a gas peddle, which is about as disconnected from the drive wheels as you can get. This is an electric throttle, and directly controls the “force” going to the drive wheels.

    Yes, get used to it. It’s not a bad thing, as you make it out to be — it’s actually quite a good thing, in that it teaches you not to jam your foot down to accelerate, then lift to coast. You learn to apply just the amount of energy that is required for the situation at hand.

  • Nick Chambers

    Alpha,

    In fact, I drove three yesterday. And I’ve driven a few before that. None of them have had anywhere near the same amount of disconcerting deceleration.

    In fact, the Mitsubishi i MiEV (which I also drove yesterday, topic for another post) has a switch that can take the car from performance mode to economy mode and allows the driver to make the choice as to how much regenerative braking they want.

    So Mitsubishi obviously got the clue that drivers would want the choice and not “get used to it” unless they wanted to.

    I’m sure there’ll be some people, like yourself, who tell everybody else to just shut up and take it. But that’s not gonna to sell cars.

  • Allen

    The problem can be easily solved with programmable regenerative braking. Electric forklifts have such a thing for many years now, seems many real world applications could be taken from them.

  • Allen

    The problem can be easily solved with programmable regenerative braking. Electric forklifts have such a thing for many years now, seems many real world applications could be taken from them.

  • Allen

    The problem can be easily solved with programmable regenerative braking. Electric forklifts have such a thing for many years now, seems many real world applications could be taken from them.

  • Paul Gracey

    Long ago I took a ride in a car set up like that by Alan Cocconi who I believe provided the electric innards for this car as well. He favors that amount of regen for its efficiency and brakes saving ability. Mini should give the driver a choice of the extra range or less with good driving “feel”. The Mini drivers are known for their agressive driving style but the iMiEV looks set up to appeal to a whole different group of buyers with its higher center of gravity and space for four large people, from what I could see today of it at the same show.

  • Paul Gracey

    Long ago I took a ride in a car set up like that by Alan Cocconi who I believe provided the electric innards for this car as well. He favors that amount of regen for its efficiency and brakes saving ability. Mini should give the driver a choice of the extra range or less with good driving “feel”. The Mini drivers are known for their agressive driving style but the iMiEV looks set up to appeal to a whole different group of buyers with its higher center of gravity and space for four large people, from what I could see today of it at the same show.

  • Paul Gracey

    Long ago I took a ride in a car set up like that by Alan Cocconi who I believe provided the electric innards for this car as well. He favors that amount of regen for its efficiency and brakes saving ability. Mini should give the driver a choice of the extra range or less with good driving “feel”. The Mini drivers are known for their agressive driving style but the iMiEV looks set up to appeal to a whole different group of buyers with its higher center of gravity and space for four large people, from what I could see today of it at the same show.

  • Paul

    Unreal!!!

    Regen is THE best feature of an EV and you want less of it and are actually COMPLAINING about it!!

    If you knew anything about EVs you’d know that the BMW Mini-E is basically a re-shelled tzero made by AC Propulsion.

    In the tzero Regen is adjustable but the car is famous for being able to be driven without using the friction brakes at all with max regen. When you consider every application of friction brakes is converting energy you paid for into useless heat you will soon come to WANT to drive with maximum regen as it can DOUBLE the range of an EV.

    Next you’ll be complaining that you miss changing gears manually and all the friggin noise an ICE makes! LOL

  • Paul

    Unreal!!!

    Regen is THE best feature of an EV and you want less of it and are actually COMPLAINING about it!!

    If you knew anything about EVs you’d know that the BMW Mini-E is basically a re-shelled tzero made by AC Propulsion.

    In the tzero Regen is adjustable but the car is famous for being able to be driven without using the friction brakes at all with max regen. When you consider every application of friction brakes is converting energy you paid for into useless heat you will soon come to WANT to drive with maximum regen as it can DOUBLE the range of an EV.

    Next you’ll be complaining that you miss changing gears manually and all the friggin noise an ICE makes! LOL

  • Paul

    Unreal!!!

    Regen is THE best feature of an EV and you want less of it and are actually COMPLAINING about it!!

    If you knew anything about EVs you’d know that the BMW Mini-E is basically a re-shelled tzero made by AC Propulsion.

    In the tzero Regen is adjustable but the car is famous for being able to be driven without using the friction brakes at all with max regen. When you consider every application of friction brakes is converting energy you paid for into useless heat you will soon come to WANT to drive with maximum regen as it can DOUBLE the range of an EV.

    Next you’ll be complaining that you miss changing gears manually and all the friggin noise an ICE makes! LOL

  • Mohsen

    >> Since the BMW engineers are not stupid, they must have some other reason for this setup. Anyone want to make a guess?Since the BMW engineers are not stupid, they must have some other reason for this setup. Anyone want to make a guess?

    They are actually rather stupid. Its their bullying attitude and that “we know best”. Just like early software devlopers never understood man-machine interaction and took about 10 years for easy to use and sensible UI software to get established.

    You will be amazed how stupid most engineers are – and I know cause I am one.

    Your solution is the right one. First 1/3 of braking is regenerative and then becomes mechanical. But even Toyota on the Prius got this wrong.

  • Mohsen

    >> Since the BMW engineers are not stupid, they must have some other reason for this setup. Anyone want to make a guess?Since the BMW engineers are not stupid, they must have some other reason for this setup. Anyone want to make a guess?

    They are actually rather stupid. Its their bullying attitude and that “we know best”. Just like early software devlopers never understood man-machine interaction and took about 10 years for easy to use and sensible UI software to get established.

    You will be amazed how stupid most engineers are – and I know cause I am one.

    Your solution is the right one. First 1/3 of braking is regenerative and then becomes mechanical. But even Toyota on the Prius got this wrong.

  • anon

    hello, it’s electric… you cant drive it like a gas car, if you want to drive it like a gas car…BUY YOUR SELF A GAS CAR! and quite complaining about regenerative braking that actually works!

  • anon

    hello, it’s electric… you cant drive it like a gas car, if you want to drive it like a gas car…BUY YOUR SELF A GAS CAR! and quite complaining about regenerative braking that actually works!

  • Nick, I had to look this post up to see if you had the kind of experience with the regenerative brake system that I had during my Tesla test drive – and it sounds like you did. The Tesla wasn’t quite as bad as you describe the Mini-e to be, but it was definitely very noticeable and would take some getting used to. I guess it’s OK on a test platform like the Mini-e or the Tesla, but I wouldn’t want to have that kind of daily experience driving an electric sedan. It’s kind of a pain in the butt…

  • Nick, I had to look this post up to see if you had the kind of experience with the regenerative brake system that I had during my Tesla test drive – and it sounds like you did. The Tesla wasn’t quite as bad as you describe the Mini-e to be, but it was definitely very noticeable and would take some getting used to. I guess it’s OK on a test platform like the Mini-e or the Tesla, but I wouldn’t want to have that kind of daily experience driving an electric sedan. It’s kind of a pain in the butt…

  • Doug

    The point is moot anyway since BMW is not going to make the MiniE anyway.

  • Doug

    The point is moot anyway since BMW is not going to make the MiniE anyway.