Like a rock from a slingshot, the MINI E electric car shoots up the onramp and into the traffic flow. Press the accelerator (don’t call it the gas) and the 150 KW motor delivers its 204 horsepower in a burst.
You’ll hardly need the brakes. The regenerative braking system kicks in like the flaps on a landing 727. It’s like someone dropped the anchor or popped the ‘chutes. It takes some getting used to. Just lift your right foot as you approach a red light and cruise to a stop.
The MINI E is an experiment. 500 units, split between California and New York/New Jersey, wear their number proudly on their flanks (I drove number 251). All wear Metallic Dark Silver with a Pure Silver top. Electric plug logos and body trim glow in Interchange Yellow.
Inside, the rear seats are sacrificed to accommodate the lithium-ion battery pack, leaving room for one small suitcase. The E gains 600 pounds over a standard Cooper Coupe, but still handles tautly and sportily, thanks to carefully planned suspension changes.
Look closely at the gauges. A percent-of-charge-remaining gauge replaces the tach behind the steering wheel. A small LED numeral tells miles-remaining instead of distance-to-empty. In the massive central speedometer area, the graphical fuel gauge now serves as a consumption meter. You can monitor your behavior to extend your driving range.
To charge your MINI E, insert the heavy, knurled plug into a jack behind the former gas filler door and the other end of the cord into any outlet. My tester sipped from a Coulomb Technologies Level 2 bollard.
“At 110 volts, it takes 20 hours to charge an empty battery,” says Mike DiNucci, Coulomb’s V.P, Strategic Accounts. “At 220 the time drops to 5 hours.” Range is about 100 miles—plenty for most trips.
Sorry—you can’t buy one yet. Carefully selected one-year leases at $850 a month include all service and maintenance. At the end of this grand experiment, MINI’s techs will call in their charges and see how well they fared. Then maybe we’ll get our chance.
It’s all the fun but none of the CO2.