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Wednesday 17th December 2008

MINI Cooper E

The MINI Cooper is already a cracking drivers' car but now it has been fitted with an electric motor. Adam Towler finds out if eco can still be fun...



Sometimes, thinking about the future of driving can be really depressing. If we think we’re under threat now for daring to enjoy entertaining cars, it’s not hard to see things getting a lot worse. Eco cars are often earnest in their intentions, but rarely exciting, and going green is a topic there is no escaping from, however fast you drive.

The MINI E has obvious green bits – mirrors, decals and trim in the colour – but the nice thing is that it looks like, well, a MINI. It doesn’t look weird, or exaggeratedly cute, or like it’s made from organic materials. Or like a Prius. It just looks like a MINI.


The ‘E’ is an all-electric vehicle, not a hybrid or an alternative fuel car. It looks the same as ever because it started life on the production line at BMW’s Oxford plant before being shipped to Munich for fitting out with its special innards. This is not a production car, but a ‘field experiment’ in BMW speak, where 500 ‘E’s will be leased to American consumers in California, New Jersey and New York.

You have to apply online to be in with a chance of being selected - and around 10,000 have already done so. Since their initial announcement, BMW has confirmed that 50 MINI Es will be leased in Berlin, with another 50 coming to the UK.

It uses an electric motor and lithium-ion batteries from California-based AC Propulsion (the company also behind powering the Tesla roadster) but it is co-developed with BMW’s engineers, although BMW say future cars are likely to be developed in-house, and the outsourcing here was to speed up the car’s introduction.


The rechargeable battery is made up of 5,088 cells grouped into 48 modules that are packaged in three main elements. This battery pack has a maximum capacity of 35kWh (Kilowatt hours) and transmits energy to the motor at a direct current of 380 volts. What does that mean in old money? Try 201bhp, and 162lb ft of torque developed from… zero rpm.


Range and recharge time depend on your driving style and electricity respectively, but they reckon on up to 150 miles for the former, with the latter taking under three hours in the UK with BMW’s wall box. Sadly, those batteries weigh 260kg (bringing this Mini’s kerbweight up to a portly 1465kg) and their size obliterates not only the rear seats, but most of the boot too.

Of course, whether electric cars are the solution, part of the solution or none of the solution; what the actual environmental problem is, whether there’s a problem and who’s fault that is, are all discussions to set alight any forum. But in the limited space available here I’m just going to attempt to describe how it drives, based on a quick fang around the block on a freezing Monday afternoon in Munich.

Hand on heart, I honestly can’t remember the last time I was so excited to be handed the keys to a car, a buzz borne out of the realisation that this car might just be the future. Well, I say ‘keys’, in reality it’s a disc fob and starter button combo: pressing that button does nothing more noticeable than wake a few lights on the dashboard and send the power dial needle (where the rev counter would normally be) racing around to the current reading.


So you pull the auto shifter down into ‘D’ like you would any automatic and, gingerly – because it’s surprising how a stride into the unknown tempers your inputs when it comes down to it – depress the accelerator pedal. Nothing happens. I push down a little further, and without further delay I feel the car begin to move; silently, almost imperceptibly, wheels start to rotate.


I push harder still, and out we go, through the raised shutter door and onto the street, the MINI E whirring softly under ‘power’. After a few seconds your foot/brain partnership has sussed the appropriate sensitivity required to match expected forward motion with pedal pressure. So I do what most us would do – unable to resist the temptation for any length of time, I floor it.

There’s a momentary scrabble at the front wheels, a nagging tug on the wrists and then the neurotic blinking of the traction control light, so I back off, and try again, this time squeezing the throttle progressively. From the corner of my eye I can see my passenger’s head jolt into the headrest, but this visual confirmation isn’t required: the accelerative force is fantastic, a never-ending surge that has me grinning with genuine surprise.

A 95mph top speed might not sound too promising, but the way this MINI jabs forward from 30 to 60mph is hilarious - the ‘E’ feels quite a bit faster on the move than the 8.5sec 0-62mph figure suggests. But what about the lack of noise, you say? I’ll admit, all I could think of was milk floats before driving the ‘E’, but again, I’m pleasantly surprised.


The rising whine/whistle/whoosh makes me think of a pair of J-79 jets in the back of an old Phantom fighter winding up (ok, that requires a real stretch of the imagination, but what can I say - the MINI E had put me in a positive mood!). I like it. It sounds, well, futuristic I suppose: quite urgent in its own way.

And the more you accelerate, the more purposeful it sounds, plus you get increasing road and wind noise to judge your speed by. Once you’ve got to 60mph, the effect of the last two – without an ‘engine’ blotting them out – really illustrates the energy required to push an object through the air at higher speeds.


Perhaps the weirdest thing about driving the ‘E’ is the significant ‘engine braking’ when you lift off the accelerator as kinetic energy is returned to the battery. Once you’re used to it, you can drive in traffic without virtually ever touching the brakes, because the effect is like driving into a vat of treacle in a Disney cartoon. It does mean however that you have to develop a very sensitive right foot as you’re effectively driving the car from just one pedal.

Otherwise, the ‘E’ feels remarkably like any other MINI, at least on this brief drive around town. The steering is perhaps a touch heavier than memory recalls, but despite the weight increase the car still feels lively and keen to change direction, with all the directness that defines the MINI personality.

Excluding the numerous external challenges for a minute, it’s the size, weight and range of the battery pack that really limits the MINI E: we lost around 30% of charge in under 20 miles of driving, although admittedly that was ‘revving’ its electrodes off. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that having driven the MINI E, I suddenly feel a good deal more optimistic about the future.


Mini E  
Engine Asynchronous electric motor
Maximum power        201bhp
Maximum torque 162lb ft of torque
Kerb weight   1465kg
0-62mph 8.5sec
Maximum speed 95mph
Capacity 35kWh – 28kWh of which is useable
Charge time   @ 240V/48A 2.9 hours
Peak current  Short bursts of up to 900A

 

Adam Towler
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Author Discussion

patmahe

Original Poster:

4,316 posts

90 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
If they can invest enough in electricity storage/transfer technology to get the range out to 200 miles driven hard and still keep the charge time down to 3 hours I reckon this thing would sell like hot cakes to city commuters all over the globe.

I'd consider one for my 50 miles a day commute, depending on costs (purchase and running), but I do believe cars like this have a future. It may only suit a certain market, but its a very big one.

AlpineWhite

1,932 posts

81 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
patmahe said:
electricity storage/transfer technology
Also known as 'rechargeable batteries'.

But you're probably right. Perhaps it will be the next Prius. The wider public will probably miss the fact that they're plugging it into the end of a coal power station anyway.



Edited by AlpineWhite on Tuesday 16th December 16:42

ajprice

10,118 posts

82 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
There's another electric Mini prototype (not by BMW) that uses wheel motors instead of the system the Mini E uses. It keeps the 4 seats, has the equivalent of 600bhp (150bhp per motor) and 4wd (4 motors). This Mini E thing needs 200bhp to get going because it weighs as much as an Accord. I don't get the big hoo-ha about the Mini E.

dcb

4,755 posts

151 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
AlpineWhite said:
But you're probably right. Perhaps it will be the next Prius. The wider public will probably miss the fact that they're plugging it into the end of a coal power station anyway.
At best, any electric car can only move the supposed problem upstream
to the local electric power station.

RichyBoy

2,642 posts

103 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
Why does it always feel like they make these trick cars in this country for the left hand drive market only, when we pay a load of tax on our fuel and could benefit from them?
Advertisement

carjac

92 posts

70 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
There will be no genuine alternative fuel vehicles available to the genreal public until we have been sold the very last drop of oil on the planet. The oil companies rule the world.

sjg

4,557 posts

151 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
article said:
Perhaps the weirdest thing about driving the ‘E’ is the significant ‘engine braking’ when you lift off the accelerator as kinetic energy is returned to the battery. Once you’re used to it, you can drive in traffic without virtually ever touching the brakes, because the effect is like driving into a vat of treacle in a Disney cartoon. It does mean however that you have to develop a very sensitive right foot as you’re effectively driving the car from just one pedal.
Are the brake lights switched from the brake pedal as with a conventional car, or do they come on when a reasonable amount of "engine" braking is happening? I'd hope it's the latter if you can get a decent amount of deceleration without touching the brake.

PJR

2,616 posts

98 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
Despite the well known drawbacks, I think this is one very cool car. I'd love to have a go in one. I imagine it's a real hoot to drive.
But how forking pointless it is! No matter how much you might want one, BMW won't sell you one. Instead you have to essentially sign up to the BMW lottery and likely be denied one anyway. Yet it would appear that the demand is there for them.
Electric cars are so incredibly simple compared to any dino juice powered car. It really isn't rocket science to develop and build them. I don't see why they don't just mass produce them and sell the damn things now. I'd be tempted to get one for sure.

P,

dandarez

5,767 posts

169 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
I had a good look at the MINI E at Cowley during an 'evening' 'do' for workers and family.

IMO they have got it 'spot on'! It looks just like a normal Mini outwardly, it's quick and if they get the rest of the package together, this thing would sell like ruddy hot cakes if/when things (economically) pick up.

Me? I know the MINI is supposedly British as it's plant is here but I'd rather have a 'real' Brit and this will fit the bill:
The Ginetta G50 EV -----oooooooooh yes please!

Yep, every manufacturer is struggling but lille ol Ginetta founded in 1958 seems to be getting along just fine. Wierd.

G50R is the road car, for the electric road car Click on G50EV

http://www.ginettacars.com/roadcar_range.php

Edited by dandarez on Tuesday 16th December 19:41

SystemParanoia

9,696 posts

84 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
No idea why theyre using Lithium-ion batteries.

when Lithium-polomer batteries are atleast x3 times lighter, and possible as powerful?

just look at the R/C racing scene, its been transformed by these batteries

dandarez

5,767 posts

169 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
From what little I know, polymer ones are still in their infancy and much more costly. Hence use of the tried and tested. Will change no doubt, with time.

kambites

41,003 posts

107 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
dcb said:
AlpineWhite said:
But you're probably right. Perhaps it will be the next Prius. The wider public will probably miss the fact that they're plugging it into the end of a coal power station anyway.
At best, any electric car can only move the supposed problem upstream
to the local electric power station.
Not quite true. Power stations are roughly 60% efficient, you lose maybe a further 10% in transmission, say another 10% in the batteries... that's 50% efficiency, give or take. I think an internal combustion powered car is about 20% efficient under normal driving conditions.

Of course there are other problems with electric cars, but the potential for significant savings is there is they can be overcome. The most obvious issue is range and the environmental cost of manufacturing the batteries - they use some pretty nasty chemicals in them.

Edited by kambites on Tuesday 16th December 19:45

okgo

23,428 posts

84 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
I get to have a go in one in a few weeks apparently..

Should be fun.

BigLepton

5,042 posts

87 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
Can somebody explain to me why this car running on 90% coal and 10% nuclear power is greener than one that weighs 260kg less and runs on unleaded petrol?

Twincharged

1,805 posts

91 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
BigLepton said:
Can somebody explain to me why this car running on 90% coal and 10% nuclear power is greener than one that weighs 260kg less and runs on unleaded petrol?
See Kambites' post above.

PJR

2,616 posts

98 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
BigLepton said:
Can somebody explain to me why this car running on 90% coal and 10% nuclear power is greener than one that weighs 260kg less and runs on unleaded petrol?
Simply because combined emissions are not comparable. The large scale power production is still a more efficient power producer than a any combustion engine. Even allowing for transmission losses over power lines etc. Its a common myth that the emissions are the same, so that pollution levels would also be the same.
Emissions/pollution still much lower with an electric car.
Not I especially care about emissions mind! I just find electric cars interesting, and for me, a car like this could work out just fine too, for the kind of driving I typically do.

P,

Edited by PJR on Tuesday 16th December 20:52

BigLepton

5,042 posts

87 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
PJR said:
BigLepton said:
Can somebody explain to me why this car running on 90% coal and 10% nuclear power is greener than one that weighs 260kg less and runs on unleaded petrol?
Simply because combined emissions are not comparable. The large scale power production is still a more efficient power producer than a any combustion engine. Even allowing for transmission losses over power lines etc. Its a common myth that the emissions are the same, so that pollution levels would also be the same.
Emissions/pollution still much lower with an electric car.
Not I especially care about emissions mind! I just find electric cars interesting, and for me, a car like this could work out just fine too, for the kind of driving I typically do.

P,

Edited by PJR on Tuesday 16th December 20:52
Do you have any sources to back that up? It's not that I don't believe you, it's just there is a lot of assumption and green propaganda floating around and I'd like to see some actual figures rather than general theories.

bobthemonkey

3,549 posts

102 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
BigLepton said:
PJR said:
BigLepton said:
Can somebody explain to me why this car running on 90% coal and 10% nuclear power is greener than one that weighs 260kg less and runs on unleaded petrol?
Simply because combined emissions are not comparable. The large scale power production is still a more efficient power producer than a any combustion engine. Even allowing for transmission losses over power lines etc. Its a common myth that the emissions are the same, so that pollution levels would also be the same.
Emissions/pollution still much lower with an electric car.
Not I especially care about emissions mind! I just find electric cars interesting, and for me, a car like this could work out just fine too, for the kind of driving I typically do.

P,

Edited by PJR on Tuesday 16th December 20:52
Do you have any sources to back that up? It's not that I don't believe you, it's just there is a lot of assumption and green propaganda floating around and I'd like to see some actual figures rather than general theories.
Anyone got any [hypothetical] efficiency figures for something like the Chevy Volt where the drive is via electric motors, run off batteries charged from the mains and a petrol engine running through a single speed box to a generator.

lance1a

1,316 posts

84 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th December 2008 quote quote all
I drove one of the US cars (no 3) the other day. Apart from the weird on-off feeling and that the braking force of the motor takes getting used to, it goes really well! It is very quiet, but whines a bit under load. It is a bit of a pig to move about in small areas, like parking it on a hoist due to the previously mentioned on-off nature, but should be easy to get used to. These cars are not for sale to anyone, and will be leased only to temp owners, who will be from a select few. 10 000 buyers/drivers had signed up for the car in the US before almost any info on them was available.
95MPH restricted speed, and about 240 mile range at normal speeds.

AlpineWhite

1,932 posts

81 months

[news] 
Wednesday 17th December 2008 quote quote all
kambites said:
I think an internal combustion powered car is about 20% efficient under normal driving conditions.
More like 35% I'm lead to believe; but if your figures on power stations are right then they still appear to better the IC engine.
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