If 17-year-old environmentalist Greta Thunberg were looking for her first car, the zero-emission British-built Mini Electric could be just the job.
As one of the first on our planet to get behind the wheel of the battery-powered three-door hatchback priced from under £25,000, I can tell you the scintillating performance really is as electric as its more planet-friendly power source.
However, its thrilling go-kart like performance may be just a little too much fun for serious-minded climate-change campaigners who would prefer to see the end of private car ownership.
Yet, for those of Greta’s generation who do end up getting behind the wheel, an all-electric runaround like the Mini may end up being their ideal first car, albeit one with a hefty price tag.
Going green: Ray Massey has been to Miami, Florida, to test the new production-ready Mini Electric before it hits UK showrooms in March
The Mini Electric costs from £24,400 after £3,500 off from the Government’s plug-in car grant, whereas a standard Mini starts at £16,195. However, a more comparable Mini Cooper S automatic would cost £22,285, narrowing the price gap.
Despite being built at Mini’s UK factory in Oxford, the firm’s German bosses hosted the global launch 4,500 flying miles away in Miami, Florida.
While the decision would likely make Greta’s blood boil – as we flew there rather than sailing – the decision was made by BMW bigwigs in hope of some guaranteed sunny winter weather ahead of the first cars rolling onto customers’ driveways in March.
Ironically, despite a few hours of the area living up to its Sunshine State moniker, by mid-afternoon the heavens opened up with a deluge worthy of Noah.
But the Mini Electric coped tremendously well with the super-slippery freeway, proving sure-footed and grippy as windscreen-wipers went into overdrive – and that you can safely drive an electric car in rain, which is a genuine concern for one in ten people.
The driving route from the trendy Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in urban Miami along the upmarket South Beach seafront to Fort Lauderdale and back via the fast-flowing freeway lacked the tight corners on which MINI really excels.
But I know from driving an early pre-production model that you can throw this car around like a wrestler in a ring and it still feels glued to the road.
If 17-year-old eco-warrior Greta Thunberg were looking for her first car, the zero-emission British-built Mini Electric could be just the job, says Ray
Despite being built at Mini’s UK factory in Oxford, the firm’s German bosses hosted the global launch 4,500 flying miles away in Miami, Florida
‘It’s fun, fast and agile. You quickly forget this is an electric car. It’s just a very sporty Mini’
The driving position feels good, the stocky steering wheel firm and precise.
Near friction-free acceleration is instantaneous and rapid from rest to 37mph in 3.9 seconds and up to 62mph in 7.3 seconds.
While it might sprint with plenty of gusto, the top speed is electronically restricted to a reserved 93mph – probably to prevent speeding motorists from the draining the battery at an alarming rate.
It’s fun, fast and agile. You quickly forget this is an electric car. It’s just a very sporty Mini.
But the real revelation was just how easy it is to drive this car with your right foot planted mainly on the accelerator – and rarely touching the brakes.
Just lifting your foot off the throttle creates its own braking effect and the resistance generated recharges the battery, boosting its range. There are two levels of resistance regeneration – low or intense.
Near friction-free acceleration is instantaneous and rapid from rest to 37mph in 3.9 seconds and up to 62mph in 7.3 seconds
While it might sprint with plenty of gusto, the top speed is electronically restricted to a reserved 93mph
Riding on 16-inch or 17-inch wheels, it has a claimed range of up to 145 miles. Most customers will commute for an average 26 miles a day, says Mini, mindful that drivers worry about running out of juice.
Driven just days before Brexit, the new car has Union Flag red brake-lights, wheel hub-caps that resemble a British-style three-pin electric plug, and will be called ‘Mini Electric’ only in the UK after bosses argued it sounded better than ‘MINI Cooper SE’ as it will be known elsewhere.
For balance, small embossed logos on side of car, tailgate and sealed front grille resemble Continental two-pin electric plugs.
It is powered by a 184 horsepower (135kW) electric motor charged from a 32.6kWh high-voltage lithium ion battery.
It retains the standard Mini’s full 211 litres of boot-space, expanding to 731 litres when the rear backrests are folded down.
A smart digital dashboard shows current flow between battery and motor, available range, and tips on how to conserve energy
The Electric version retains the standard Mini’s full 211 litres of boot-space, expanding to 731 litres when the rear backrests are folded down
There are four driving modes. Sport is perfect for spirited driving but ‘Mid’ – for less aggressive steering – is still very lively around town.
To save power there’s Green mode for gentler acceleration and Green+ which switches off power consuming functions such as air-conditioning.
A smart digital dashboard shows current flow between battery and motor, available range, and tips on how to conserve energy. Its sat-nav can work out shortest, fastest and greenest route to a destination.
Prices start at £24,400 for the entry Level 1 Mini Electric, after the £3,500 government plug-in car grant. Monthly leasing is from £299, after a £4,000 down payment.
Level 2 trim from £26,400 includes cloth and leather-look upholstery, more body colour and wheel options and technology including rear park distance control, rear camera, and seat heating.
The top premium Level 3 trim from £30,400 adds parking assist, a Harmon Kardon sound system and head-up display, panoramic sun roof, matrix LED lights, an upgraded infotainment touch-screen, wireless phone charging, leather upholstery, a choice of five alloy wheels and six exterior body colours.
On a public fast charger (50KW direct current) the electric Mini can achieve 80 per cent charge in just 35 minutes
The Mini Electric is powered by a 184 horsepower (135kW) electric motor charged from a 32.6kWh high-voltage lithium ion battery
The Mini Electric stands out from a standard Mini thanks to a unique wheel design that resembles a British-style 3-pin electric plug and plenty of plug motifs dotted around the exterior trim
Is the Mini Electric expensive?
Mini Electric: Will it fit in my garage?
Price: From £24,400 (after £3,500 car plug-in grant)
Leasing cost: £299 per month (plus £4,000 initial down-payment)
Built: Oxford, UK
First deliveries: March 2020
Style: 3-door hatchback
Width including mirrors: 1932mm
Weight: 1,365kg (only 145kg heavier than MINI Cooper S automatic)
Engine: electric motor
Power: 184hp (135kW)
Battery capacity: 32.6kWh
0-37mph: 3.9 seconds
0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
Top-speed: Restricted to 93mph
Range: 145 miles (WLTP test)
Charging costs: around 4p per mile / £5.31 per full charge
Boot volume: 211 litres (731 litres with rear backrests folded down)
Charging times: 0 to 80% fast charger (DC 50 KW): 35 minutes
0 to 100% (AC 11 KW): 210 minutes (3 and a half hours)
0 to 80% (AC 11 KW): 150 minutes (2 and a half hours)
Domestic home supply: 12 hours
The cheapest Mini overall is the 3-door Hatch Classic from £16,195.
Set against that the £24,400 electric car looks expensive, but while you can’r argue that it’s cheap, the Mini Electric is only £2,115 pricier than the £22,285 equivalent Mini Cooper S in classic spec with automatic gearbox.
That’s the equivalent of £60 a month in petrol costs over three years.
And despite heavier batteries, it weighs only 145kg more than a Cooper S at 1,365kg.
The car’s centre of gravity is 30mm lower than that of the Cooper S boosting driving dynamics.
Charging costs are around 4p per mile – or £5.31 per full charge, says the manufacturer.
On a public fast charger (50KW direct current) the electric Mini can achieve 80 per cent charge in just 35 minutes. That increases to two and a half hours on a public AC 11KW charger, 3 hours 12 minutes on a domestic 7.4kW wall-box, or 12 hours on a home three-pin plug socket.
New EU safety laws mean it must emit a distinctive sound via loudspeakers at low speed to protect pedestrians, though I could barely hear it.
The Mini Electric hits the road 61 years after automotive design genius Sir Alec Issigonis created the original ‘ten foot square box’ Mini to meet the need for smaller and more fuel efficient cars to cope with an oil shortage caused by the Suez Crisis.
It revolutionised motoring when it rolled out of the same Oxford factory to become a classless symbol of booming baby-boomer Britain in the Swinging Sixties.
Perhaps its time really has come again.
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