If you like the excitement of driving go-karts hell for leather you’ll love the forthcoming new electric Mini which hits UK showrooms next year.
I should know. I’ve just had an exclusive drive in one – charging around on the track and doing tighter slaloms through cones than an Olympic skier.
Though I travelled to Germany to drive it – Mini is now part of Bavaria’s giant BMW Group – the three-door hatchback vehicle itself will be built in Britain at the Oxford factory from November this year ready for sale in early 2020.
That’s providing there is a deal on Brexit, following dire threats by BMW bosses at the Geneva Motor Show to end production in Oxford and switch it to Holland or Germany if there isn’t.
The car that might not be built in Britain: Mini might pull production of the 2020 electric Mini from Oxford if there’s a no-deal Brexit, but our man Ray Massey travelled to Germany months ahead of its arrival to test it
The electric Mini’s road to market has been a long journey – with a few recharges along the way.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the original – a design penned by automotive genius Sir Alec Issigonis, who created the car that epitomised the Swinging Sixties.
Plenty has changed in that time, including ownership of the iconic brand.
German keepers BMW cannily clung onto Mini when they off-loaded of the rest of the Rover Group – dubbed ‘the English Patient’ because of the problems it caused them – to the ‘Phoenix Four’ of would-be saviours led by ex-Rover executive John Towers.
BMW then created a new Mini for a new generation – bigger too – and began production at Rover’s former Cowley factory in Oxford (which they also retained) from the following year.
It proved a huge success – even if bosses are now threatening to pull operations after Brexit.
Ray Massey put the near production-ready prototype through its paces at a test track
This year is Mini’s 60th anniversary. Commenced production of a full-electric model will be a huge part of the celebrations
Mini first set out their electrification plans with a prototype Mini-E, a small fleet of which were tested on UK roads in 2008. I drove one at the time around Surrey.
But more significantly, a small army of guinea-pig volunteer drivers drove one daily and kept a log, and the results were fed into what became the electric BMW i3 programme – as well as, to a lesser extent, the i8 supercar.
It was pretty perky, but range was an issue. And there were only two seats at the front, and no boot for storage.
The state of battery technology at the time simply meant that too much space was taken up storing a much smaller amount of power.
So as a practical proposition for busy singletons, couples and small families, it had its challenges.
Now things have moved on apace.
In 2010, a small army of guinea-pig volunteer drivers drove one daily and kept a log
The knowledge gained from the 2010 project were directly fed into the design of BMW’s own electric model line-up – the i3 and i8
Mini also showed this Electric Concept at last year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed as it geared up for the production cars arrival
Up to now BMW has shown only its Mini Electric Concept – a prototype of the new fully electric model – which made its UK debut at last year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.
But the electric Mini I’ve been driving in Germany is the near production-ready version, though in a light camouflage.
Mini’s Oxford factory, which employs 4,500 people building 223,000 new cars a year – of which 80 per cent are exported – will assemble the new electric Mini from next year, though the electric drive-train will be constructed in Germany.
It had to fight hard for the privilege, beating off challenges from Germany and Holland (where BMW is claiming production could be shifted to entirely), with some within BMW wanting it to be built on the continent.
Mini’s Oxford factory, which employs 4,500 people building 223,000 new cars a year – of which 80% are exported
Getting behind the wheel: Ray Massey pictured with the heavily camouflaged pre-production electric Mini ahead of his exclusive road test
‘It was whizzing silently though an assault course of cones and tight corners this the electric Mini really came into its own. It’s fast, fun and fiendishly agile,’ says Massey
So what’s it like to drive?
A simple flick of a toggle switch to the lower dashboard fired it up. Put the lever into drive and away we go.
I did not hold back. It has, as many electric vehicles do, pretty rapid acceleration as there’s almost no delay in maximum power.
But it was whizzing silently though an assault course of cones and tight corners this the electric Mini really came into its own. It’s fast, fun and fiendishly agile.
No exact figures on acceleration or top speed have been revealed as yet. But it certainly feels fast enough.
Ray Massey says Mini has managed to retain the car’s iconic go-kart-like handling characteristics
The batteries powering the electric motor are stored in a T-shape configuration under the floor to aid the stiffness of the chassis and so increasing its manoeuvrability
At 1.35 tonnes the electric Mini it’s about 120kg heavier than the equivalent petrol Cooper S, largely because of the weight of the batteries
If I didn’t know better, I’d not instinctively say ‘this is an electric car’.
It’s a car. It just happens to run on batteries which are cunningly stored in a T-shape configuration under the floor to aid the stiffness of the chassis and so increasing its manoeuvrability.
At 1.35 tonnes it’s about 120kg heavier than the equivalent petrol Mini Cooper S, largely because of the batteries.
Thanks to the batteries layered into the floor, the electric Mini has a lower centre of gravity. This maks it feel more stable in fast corners
The light disguise wraps will come off in July when the car gets its world premiere, most likely in the USA
But it also has a lower centre of gravity which aids stability. And battery density – how much electrical charge bang you get for you bucks – has doubled in just six years.
The light disguise wraps will come off in July when the car gets its world premiere, most likely in the USA though that is to be confirmed.
It electric Mini, running on 16 inch and 17 inch wheels, will be priced similarly to the petrol-powered Mini Cooper S – which puts it at around £23,000, though that is likely to after a taxpayer-funded subsidy for electric vehicles.
Prices for the car are expected to start from around £23,000 – on a par with the Cooper S model
Charging to 80% battery capacity can take as little as 40 minutes, if you have access to a 50kW fast charger
In terms of charging, the Mini boffins say a 50kW fast charger will cover 80 per cent of charge in just 40 minutes.
A standard AC charger will take about three hours to reach the same 80 per cent level. And plugging it into the mains at home will take about 12 hours.
Range anxiety remains an issue but Mini are pitching this car at urban commuters who will do around 25 miles a day.
There’s some confusion about the name, though
‘Mini SE is a rubbish name’, says Ray Massey. He wants the brand to stick to Mini Electric
Bizarrely, the BMW Group marketing geniuses in Munich want to call the new electric Mini the Cooper SE, the ‘E’ referring to its electric prowess.
However, I understand this is meeting stiff resistance among the Mini folk back in Blighty who point out that this completely misses the point about its unique electric selling point and instead makes it sound like a bog-standard SE trim level more usually associated with Mercedes-Benz or a mundane saloon.
Memo to Munich: SE is a rubbish name for a very clever car. Mini Electric sounds much better.
As part of its electrification programme, Mini currently sells the plug-in hybrid Mini Countryman which is built under licence in Holland.
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