Tested: First step in Mini’s grand plan
Tesla has already colonised the brave new world of electric vehicles.
Now, Mini has aspirations to become the first automotive brand to transition completely from fossil fuel to electric power. It's a natural progression for a marketing-driven company that builds designer-label small cars for a young, affluent, city-based audience.
Its first production EV - the Mini Electric First Edition, a three-door hatch in Cooper S specification - comes here with a truly staggering price tag of $59,900 drive away. That's about $13,000 more than the 2.0-litre turbo petrol-powered Cooper S.
We should get the dollars issue sorted first. All EVs at present are lousy value for money. They are pricey because they're expensive to make in small numbers and few are willing and able to pay dearly for the satisfaction of being early adopters of tomorrow's tech.
In 10 years, EVs will be much cheaper, better and more widely available, because economies of scale will kick in, unit costs will be a fraction of what they are now and motors and batteries will be more efficient. You'll also be able to find charging stations in country towns, and you won't have to waste 45 minutes of your life every time you stop to recharge the battery.
The price/efficiency curve of EVs will be similar to household solar. About 12 years ago, I installed a 2kW system on my roof. It cost $8500, and didn't put much of a dent in the monthly power bill. Today, a 6-7kW system, which generates enough solar grunt to run most households, can be had for less than $4000.
More equals cheaper equals better. It's been the classic technology trajectory since the wheel was invented, and EVs are still at the beginning of the journey.
Mini Electric inherits componentry from parent BMW's EV, the i3. This includes the 135kW electric motor, which drives the front wheels rather than the rears as in the i3.
The 32.6 kWh battery pack is good for a claimed 233km. Mini warrants the battery for eight years and claims a recharging time of 35 minutes (to 80 per cent) from a 50kW public DC fast charger.
Plugged into an 11kW wall-mounted charger in your garage ($2595, plus installation) it takes 2 ½ hours to get to 80 per cent. Using the supplied cable and a household power point will take 10 hours or more.
Mini Electric's standard equipment includes Harman Kardon audio, heated, leather upholstered seats, Apple CarPlay (but no Android Auto), navigation, digital radio, voice control, Type A and C USB sockets, adaptive LED headlights, keyless entry and starting, dual-zone air, a head-up display, semi-automatic parallel parking and wireless phone charging.
Inside, there's little to distinguish the Electric apart from a rectangular digital instrument tablet on the steering column, immediately behind the wheel (where the petrol-powered Cooper's analog dial assembly lives) bright yellow trim highlights and a few EV-specific control switches. Bespoke wheels, mirror caps and front end trim in "Energetic Yellow" distinguish the Electric's exterior; you can also option other colour and wheel combinations.
Materials, fit and finish quality is fine, the sports seats are luxurious and supportive and the Electric's cabin feels like money - as it should, given the price. Back seat and boot space are uncompromised in the EV - there's still precious little of either.
Mini owners continue to be short changed on driver assist safety tech. You get forward collision warning, low-speed autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection and speed limit information. Lane-keep assist, high-speed AEB, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control are all missing.
Mini claims to have imbued the Electric with the same nippy, go kart-style performance and dynamics as the rest of the range. That's true, and as far as EVs go, the Mini is one of the more expressive, engaging options out there.
As in petrol Minis, you feel as though you're going faster than you actually are, because you're sitting low and close to the bitumen and you get lots of feedback from the car. Although the battery and other EV hardware add 150kg, most of it is in the floor, so the Electric's centre of gravity is lower than the petrol model and its front/rear weight distribution is closer to the 50:50 ideal.
Firmer suspension effectively controls this extra mass, and with precise, direct steering the Electric goes around corners like a Mini should. It's great fun to drive.
It goes, too, with urgent, immediate thrust when you put your foot down, thanks to the electric motor's hefty 270Nm of torque being available from the moment it begins to spin. The 0-100km/h trip takes a claimed 7.3 seconds. It feels quicker. Rolling acceleration is similarly strong and the Mini overtakes effortlessly from any speed.
Range is effectively maximised by a two-setting regenerative braking function. Select "high energy recovery" and the electric motor generates serious retardation (and charge) when you lift your right foot. It's pretty abrupt, but once you get used to it you rarely need to use the left pedal at all.
I picked up the Electric with the instruments showing 140km of range remaining, and the battery at 94 per cent charge. After a 104km drive around Melbourne, including about 25km of freeway, I returned the car with a claimed 46 per cent of battery and 78km of range remaining. The regenerative braking function had actually added extra charge and range.
So around town you should have no problem getting 200km-plus from a fully-charged battery. As with any EV, though, highway driving will suck volts at a rapid rate and, based on other EV tests, you can expect a safe maximum open road range of about 150km in the Mini. Road trips will be highly problematic. Don't wander too far from home.
Mini Australia's allocation of Electrics is sold out for 2020 and it's now taking online orders for 2021. Sixty big ones is ridiculous, but who am I to argue with an obviously eager bunch of buyers? We should be thankful to those philanthropists who drop big bucks on today's EVs, because ultimately it's their money that will keep the car companies investing in high voltage motoring so that, further down the road, it will become affordable and viable for the rest of us.
The price doesn't compute, and range anxiety will be your constant companion on the open road, but the Mini Electric really works in town, and unlike most EV appliances there's joy in the way it drives.
MINI ELECTRIC VITALS
Price: $59,900 drive away
Motor: 135kW electric motor/32.6kWh battery
Warranty/servicing: 3-year/unlimited km, $800 for 5 years
Safety: Not yet ANCAP tested, 6 airbags, low-speed AEB, forward collision alert, head up display, speed sign recognition
Range: 233km (claimed)
Spare: None; runflats
Originally published as Tested: First step in Mini's grand plan