IN HIS review of the new Vauxhall Corsa for The Sunday Times Magazine a few weeks ago, Jeremy Clarkson said very earnestly that he was fine with the fact he was stuck with a supermini from a car maker he’s never really taken to, instead of a supercar from Lamborghini or a luxury car from Bentley, because the journalists who have been left with those outside their homes also can’t drive them at the moment.
Since then, though, he’s come to an important realisation. In the review published today, which he wrote at the end of March, Clarkson says that he “can whizz about as much as I like in my Range Rover” because, being a farmer with a press card, he ticks two boxes on the key worker list.
This means he’s changed his tune. “I wish to God that I had a truly great car to test,” he writes, “because to bomb about now, on deserted roads, knowing that all of the police force is busy telling youths to stop their kickabout in the park and go home, would be bliss.”
The good news is that he does have another car alongside the Corsa. The bad news (in his mind) is that it comes with a plug: the new Mini Electric.
The Grand Tour host, this week voted screen’s greatest automotive icon, has long bemoaned electric cars, and he has a few complaints that aren’t necessarily the Mini’s fault. For one, it’s not an Alfa Romeo GTV6.
His Alfa, a car he bought after driving it on an episode of The Grand Tour’s third season, “is a musical instrument,” he says.
“The noises it makes cause the hair on the back of my neck to rise.”
An electric car, on the other hand, is more like a dishwasher, he says.
However, Clarkson knows that people care more about the number of pennies in their pockets than the number of goosebumps on their necks. And in this sense, the Mini makes some sense. For an electric car, he thinks it’s rather cheap — a touch under £25,000 for the base version, and a just below £31,000 for the “Level 3” trim that Clarkson was delivered.
You get a lot for your money, too. It has the same “hybrid synchronous” motor as the BMW i3, which Clarkson thinks will make people who like electric cars, like James May (who owns a Tesla) and Richard Hammond (who wants a Tesla), very excited. It’s also got 179bhp and 200 lb ft of torque, which means that the Mini, despite carrying a heavy electric powertrain, can do 0-62mph in a respectable 7.3 seconds.
It’s after those 7.3 seconds that the issues of EVs come into the light, however, issues that mean Jeremy Clarkson will never own an electric car.
“Yes, when you put your foot down at low speed there is instant and dramatic thrust. But before your passenger has time to say ‘wow’, it’s over. In this respect the power delivery from an electric motor is like the power delivery you get from a diesel. There’s one big lump, and then it’s gone.”
And while speeding up in an electric car might be thrilling, slowing down in the Mini Electric enrages Clarkson, due to the regenerative braking system. “You take your foot off the throttle and it’s as if you’ve jammed the bloody brakes on.”
And while it might be mini in price (for an EV), it’s also mini in range — it has a range of 140 miles, which is quite a lot less than its main rivals from Peugeot and Renault — as well as on the inside, especially in the back, with the batteries being stored under the rear seats. Clarkson adds that the boot is so small that it is “suitable only for people who have a pet ladybird. It wouldn’t work at all if you had two.”
There are things that Clarkson likes about the Mini, but it’s safe to say that he’d opt for the petrol powertrain. Because for Clarkson, that’s the only way he’d actually be opting to buy a car.
For Jeremy Clarkson’s full review of the Mini Electric, click here to read it on The Sunday Times website, or pick up a copy of today’s Sunday Times Magazine.