California’s battle with pollution-induced smog and increasing paranoia about the destructive consequences of global warming have made the West Coast state a hotbed of alternative automotive technology, with Hollywood stars (well able to afford a public conscience) invariably seen parading along the Strip aboard the latest eco-wheels.
BMW latched on to this trend by developing an all-electric Mini, building 500 examples and launching at the 2008 Los Angeles Motor Show. It was not for sale but, after journalists had tried it to their hearts’ content, the handsome two-door prototype was leased to chosen individuals (250 in LA, 200 in New York and 50 in Germany) who would pay handsomely (and willingly) for the privilege of being the first to drive the innovative Mini E — and incidentally conduct a prolonged road test of the unproven car.
Space normally occupied by a standard Mini’s rear seats contains over 5,000 AC propulsion lithium-ion cells, which extend into the boot and restrict storage space. The engine compartment bristles with electro-drive technology — the motor itself, an inverter that turns DC into AC (and vice versa) plus power-control electronics. Open the bonnet at your peril — not because of the risk of getting fried alive, but because the auto cut-out will save you . . . and require a BMW engineer to re-set it.
Performance is astonishing, with both acceleration and top speed limited well below their potential top-end figures. There is no transmission, simply an automatic-style lever that engages Drive. Then it’s just a matter of hitting the accelerator and being startled by the alacrity with which the Mini E leaps away . . . and stands on its nose when the startled first-time driver lifts off as the motor regenerates power. Will this car of the future go into production? Switched-on opinion says ‘yes’!
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
150 Kw Asynchronous Electric Motor
Limited top speed of 95 mph (153 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 8 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
With a special 50-amp socket the Mini E is fully recharged and ready to go again in just over two hours, though using a conventional American 110v supply extends that time to 28 hours. The maximum range per charge is around 160 mi(257 km) though a safer limit is 120 mi (193 km) to allow for wasteful driving.