The new Mini Electric is built about 100 miles away from where I'm sitting, in Oxfordshire UK.
This is where the Mini was born and built since 1959. Thrust into a world of political chaos amidst the Suez Crisis, Mini was the answer to an energy crisis. History is repeating. Of course these days Mini is owned by BMW. Since they rebooted the brand 20 years ago with the Mini One it has continued to attract buyers who love everything the original mini stood for. Small, darty, fun to drive. Does the new electric version of the MINI stay true to the heritage? Let's find out.
It's always the same Mini
Rewind just over 10 years and MINI had a small-scale electric prototype program of 600 electric MINIs. I know someone in that trial and he absolutely loved the car. But he feels MINI blew an early lead and, if only they had developed that car, we wouldn't be talking about the first electric MINI in 2020.
This is the first mass-produced electric MINI. And their philosophy at the factory which makes a new car every 67 seconds, is to build both this and the piston versions in the same place. Then as more buyers shift to electric over the new next few years, MINI can dial up and dial down the versions they're making.
Of course, that means this is a car designed for fossils, and they've made it into an EV by stuffing batteries in the central tunnel and under the back seats, in a t-shape. Does that make it a compromise car or does make up for it.
And MINI says that's the point. If you want an EV that makes you stand out as driving a green car, there are plenty of those. This looks just like the MINI Cooper. In fact, it has the Cooper badge, and shares many components with the petrol versions in order to save costs. This is just another MINI that just happens to be electric. But we think it's better than a fossil car, the motors on the front axle are lighter than an engine, and so this has perfect 50/50 weight distribution. Plus the battery puts all the weight down low, in fact, a lower center of gravity than the hot-hatch Cooper S by 30mm, this is a car you have a lot of fun with on a quiet twisty road or maybe even on a track day.
Talking of sharing parts
Talking of sharing parts, owners BMW have helped out with the powertrain. So a slightly revised version of what you'll find in the latest BMW i3 but basically very similar. And that's a potential Achilles heel - with only 50kW charging because the i3 is not a new car anymore. But if you're driving this during the week or out with the kids at the weekend, chances are you'll be charging this slowly overnight anyway.
And also borrowed from the i3 is the One Pedal Driving that will save a lot of foot-swapping when you're in urban traffic jams.
Known either as the MINI Electric or Mini SE, it comes as a three-door variant. Maybe not practical but it does look great. The battery is 32.6 kWh hours which is significantly less than some of it's competitors. But fans of the car say it's not about the distance or road-tripping. This is about having some fun.
So what's this competing with? The Honda e is heavier but has that styling to die for.
Europe's most popular EV the Renault Zoe - it has a much bigger boot, 335 liters compared to the MINI’s 211. And over 100 miles more range.
The MINI is the fastest of all its rivals. 7.3 seconds 0-62MPH (100kmh). 182 horsepower from the 136kW motor, that’s the same power as a 2.0litre petrol Cooper S. 93mph top speed but that's not the party trick of any EV really.
Price-wise MINI tell us that half of those who pre-ordered the car went for the top-spec, out of the three levels of luxury on offer. MINI might be rooted in a small urban car, but the pricing is something that attracts a more affluent buyer. The top-spec comes with a panoramic roof, leather interior, wireless phone charging,
Will the regular MINI buyers take to the Mini Electric? Could this attract new fans to the brand? The sights and sounds of young London in the 1960's included a MINI wherever you looked, the effortless star of The Italian Job.