I am one of the 100 people in New York who have leased a MINI E pure electric car. Since I can’t get a Volt yet, I figured this was the next best thing for now. I have just passed 3000 miles in over two months of driving it.
The car is a 2 seat prototype, or electric powertrain-converted standard MINI Cooper. It has a 35 kwh lithium-ion battery pack (28 kwh usable), 205 hp motor, a 100 mile range, top speed in excess of 100 mph, and 8.5 second 0 to 60 time.
When I last wrote here about it I was still waiting for installation of a 240 V home charger and was getting by on a 120 V portable unit which took about 33 hours to charge the car.
I now have the 240 V, 32 amp wall charger in my garage and the UL certified proprietary charging coupler cord (see above).
Having this unit has made a tremendous difference for me. When I arrive home at about 25% state of charge, it only takes about 2-1/2 hours to recharge. I still charge at work on the 120 V unit anyway.
The car continues to perform well. It is fast, crisp and quiet. There are minor fan noises and an occasional odd smell when first turned on, but it is a very capable car, jumps briskly when called upon and handles quite well. Interior creature comforts are a bit spartan.
I can say I very much enjoy doing most of my daily driving without the use of gasoline. It does get weird sometimes. Still when I pass my usual gas stations I am compelled to think about pulling in to refill, but smile from ear to ear when I realize I don’t have to. Its kind of like waking up from a bad dream.
In practice, I have found with my usual high speed air-conditioned and almost all highway driving style, effective range is from 75 to 85 miles, not quite the 100 that is claimed. There is little doubt though that with lower speed conservative driving 100 miles of range is doable, and indeed there are reports of some MINI E drivers getting more than 100 miles.
I took the car on a 12 mile course that I use to test hybrids with hypermiling techniques. On that course I’ve achieved 82 MPG with the 3rd generation Prius, 62 MPG with the 2010 Honda Insight, and 57 MPG with the 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid. With the MINI E, using those same methods, the projected effective range based on my energy use over that distance was an unimpressive 92 miles.
An important observation about range though is that I suspect people will never fully utilize it, even if it was 100 miles. This is because there is clearly a psychological concern about needing some kind of safety buffer for returning home which seems to be at least 10 miles for me. No one wants to get caught out with a dead battery.
In fact, I think this factor will be a significant limit for BEVs in general and something that the Volt will not have. There will never be a worry about squeezing out those last couple of EV miles in the Volt because if you misjudge, the gas engine will just go on.
The MINI E has two annoying quirks. One is a built-in 1 or 2 second delay or lag that occurs when one first steps hard on the accelerator from a stop. The other, which is downright dangerous, is that the car will pop into neutral with a loud bang if the accelerator is suddenly floored while at cruising or highway speed.
I have come to believe that these flaws were purposely built in. They are in effect punishment to the driver who tries to punish the battery. The initial lag is common and even GM put it into the Volt mules that were test driven. It is to prevent screeching the wheels with torque by the overzealous driver (journalist).
BMW has not admitted they cooked-in the neutral pop, but haven’t responded to my emails about it. There are multiple reports about it by other MINI E drivers. After a few experiences with it, due to simple negative reinforcement-type Pavlovian conditioning I (the driver) never floor it anymore. This was the result I think BMW wanted as it is less abusive to the battery.
Production cars will not have such harsh tactics.
A major problem with the pure EV is the 100 mile limit. I am able to use the car for essentially all of my daily 56 mile commutes. It becomes a 3500 pound garage ornament, however, when I need to take longer trips. At least once a month or more I have to go to an airport, a distant concert, beach trip, or some event that goes beyond 100 miles. People often say, just rent a car for those occasions, but let’s face it, that is extremely inconvenient especially after one has paid a significant amount of money for their car. This is another area I believe the Volt will strongly outmarket the pure EV competition.
In the end, the MINI E is a rough-around-the-edges but highly capable fun car. Driving electrically is thrilling and very rewarding. Being able to charge quickly is important. Pure EV limitations are significant.
[UPDATE: Some commentators claim the neutral-pop is not found in all mules. I just received the following email response from BMW spokesperson Nathalie Bauters: In speaking with our engineering team, we would like the opportunity to investigate the problem you have experienced with your MINI E. Would it be possible for you to bring in your car so that we can inspect it? ]
This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 1st, 2009 at 6:14 am and is filed under BEV, Competitors, Test drive. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.