Extended Test: 2020 Mini Electric review

A spark of excitement

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Specifications

  • Model 63-reg Mini Electric Level 3
  • Price £33,900 OTR
  • Price with options £33,900 OTR
  • Colour Enigmatic Black metallic
  • Cost options fitted None
  • Drivetrain Synchronous electric motor plus 32.6kWh lithium-ion battery pack
  • Power output 181bhp
  • Torque 199 lb ft
  • Kerb weight (without driver/ with driver) 1,365kg / 1,440kg
  • Boot capacity 211 litres
  • Top speed 93mph
  • Acceleration 0-62mph: 7.3sec / 0-37mph: 3.9sec
  • Range (WLTP) 141 miles combined
  • Rated consumption (WLTP) 4.33 miles per kWh
  • Charging time 0-100%: 3hrs 30 mins (AC 11kW) / 0-80% 36 mins(DC 50kW)
  • CO2 emissions 0g/km
  • Road tax £0

Test details

  • Test period June 2020 – November 2020
  • Starting mileage 682 miles

Updates

July 5: Introducing the Mini Electric

In a way, the Mini Electric could be the ultimate iteration of the Alec Issigonis’ original design. The Mini was born out of the Suez oil crisis, which began in 1956. At the time, two thirds of Europe’s oil passed through the canal, so when Egypt seized control, oil supplies were limited. Issignonis’ solution was an affordable compact car with seats for four passengers and exceptional fuel economy (by the standards of the time). The first Mini rolled off the production line in 1959 and it became a sensation.

And now we have Mini’s first ever production electric car, which sips no oil at at all. Issigonis may have also been impressed with the fact that it produces no exhaust emissions, runs whisper quietly and feels extremely eager, thanks to the punch afforded by the instant torque of the electric motor (more on the way it drives in my next update).

This isn’t Mini’s first attempt at an electric car, mind you. Back in 2009 we had the Mini E, a rolling testbed vehicle for BMW – a toe in the water for its electric plans. Shortly after came another car for electric trials: the BMW ActiveE. Those in turn led to the BMW i3, which launched in 2013, but we haven’t had a proper electric Mini until now.

Officially, customer deliveries of the Mini Electric should have begun in March, though plans have been somewhat disturbed by the Covid-19 pandemic so there aren’t many on the roads yet. There are question marks over the breadth of the plug-in Mini’s appeal, too, as it doesn’t go very far per charge by modern electric car standards: the 32.6kWh battery pack, arranged in a T-shaped unit in the vehicle floor between the front seats and below the rear seats, gives the car a range of up to 145 miles on the official WLTP test.

Compare that to the likes of other electric cars in its class and it doesn’t look very impressive: the Renault Zoe has a 52kWh battery that gives a driving range of up to 245 miles; the Peugeot e-208 can muster up to 217 miles from its 50kWh pack.

And whether the Mini’s 145 miles per charge is actually possible to achieve in the real world is something I’ll be looking at in due course. Will I have to adjust my way of life to suit the Mini Electric’s range, or will it fit into my lifestyle. Time will tell.

Another thing I’ll be exploring carefully is the ability to charge it away from home. I am unable to install a wallbox at my house, despite having off-street parking (it’s complicated), which basically puts me in the same boat as the 25% of drivers nationally who park on the street (or up to 60% in London)*.

A trickle charge via a robust extension cable would probably be fine but part of the reason that a wallbox is difficult for me is that I’d still have to run cables across public land. I could potentially ignore the trip hazard issues and run an extension lead from the house to the car, but mention such an idea to an experience electric car owners and they’ll look at you as if you’re a wannabe arsonist. Fires can happen with extension cables or dodgy wiring, due to the amount of power an electric car draws over extended periods. For that reason I’m going to attempt to charge up only via public charging points during my time with the car. Can you own an EV without being able to charge at home? Let’s find out.

Charging aside, I think what Issigonis would most like about the Mini Electric is the way it drives. Writing that a Mini handles like a go-kart is such a cliché that no motoring journalist would dare do such a thing, but from my experience so far the Mini Electric has lost none of the brand’s characteristic appeal for keen drivers. A smaller battery means less weight, of course, and it feels rapid. Very rapid.

* Data from Spaced Out: Perspectives on parking policy by the RAC Foundation, July 2012

Mileage today 964 miles
Distance since start 272 miles
Average consumption 4.5 miles per kWh

As always with our extended tests, you can ask questions at any time via my Twitter account or the comments below.

September 4: What’s the Mini Electric like to drive?

2020 Mini Electric long-term review by Will Dron for Sunday Times Driving.co.uk

It’s been two months since my last update — apologies for that but a holiday and an avalanche of post-lockdown test drives landed on me. I’ll make up for it with an extra bit on the Mini later this month, and I’ll make sure the car gets lots of love on this page before the keys are snatched back. First things first: I promised a proper assessment of the way the Mini Electric drives, so here it is…

Most obvious is its rapid, instant acceleration. The official 0-62mph time is 7.3sec, which is decent enough — somewhere between the three-door Mini Cooper (8.0sec) and Mini Cooper S (6.8sec) in terms of grunt — but that doesn’t really tell the full story as the way the car grips the asphalt and throws itself off the line is pretty brutal. We should be talking 0-30mph rather than 0-62mph, as it’s that initial thust that’s so impressive.

This is in common with all electric cars: the torque from the electric motor comes from zero revs. But not all electric cars pull with the same ferocity: a Renault Zoe or Nissan Leaf, for example, just doesn’t feel as sporty as the Mini. The Honda e, too, is slouch by comparison (0-62mph in 8.3sec).

A drive mode button on the centre console of the allows you to switch to Sport, which makes it all the more potent. We’re not talking Tesla acceleration here but the Mini Electric definitely feels like the sportiest compact electric car out there right now. The same button can be flicked the other way for Green or Green+ modes, which dampen accelerator response, and less the effect of the air con (switching it off completely in Green+, in fact).

The regenerative braking is also wound up in the Mini Electric. The first time you take your foot off the accelerator you may end up nutting the steering wheel, as it’s like stepping on the brakes. The regen turns the electric motor into a generator when slowing down, recovering energy to the battery, which helps a bit with range.

You get used to this “one pedal” style of driving over time but there are some situations where it’s not ideal, so I have found myself occasionally reaching for the switch (also on the centre console, in front of the gear lever) to reduce its effect. The next time you switch on the car it defaults back to max regen, so be prepared for neck-snapping on lift-off. You may be able to change this in the settings — I just haven’t felt the need to do so.

The ride is on the hard side but if I had a pound for every time I’ve written that about a Mini, I’d have nearly enough for a pint of beer in London. Firm suspension is basically Mini’s thing, so if you’re looking for a comfortable cruiser, there are better options. However, it’s not tooth-rattling by any means, and the car deals with road humps and speed cushions well, the spot-on damping ensuring you’re not launched off the top. The extra weight of the Mini Electric’s battery pack also means it’s less prone to vertical movement than petrol or diesel cars in its class.

That extra weight is noticeable through corners, with less sprightly changes of direction than you’d find in a petrol Mini, but again the suspension comes to the Mini’s aid, limiting body roll, while a centre of gravity that’s 30mm lower than in the Cooper S petrol version, and more even front-to-rear, massively helps with agility. Grip, too, is astonishing — I’ve not felt the car get away from me even when turning hard into sharp a bend at silly speeds.

All of which makes the Mini Electric a brilliantly engaging and fun car to drive. Don’t just take my word for it — my wife now doesn’t want to drive her diesel Countryman any more, as she’s fallen in love with the Mini.

Obviously, driving it hard reduces range… but that, along with how and where I’ve been keeping it charged up, is something to cover on the next update.

Mileage today 1,831 miles
Distance since start 1,149 miles
Average consumption 4.3 miles per kWh

As always with our extended tests, you can ask questions at any time via my Twitter account or the comments below.

 

October 12, 2020: Can you own a Mini Electric if you can’t recharge at home?

2020 Mini Electric long-term review by Will Dron for Sunday Times Driving.co.uk

This extended test of the Mini Electric was always going to be fascinating for me, for two reasons: I can’t really charge up at home (without an extension lead, and even then only at 13 amps) and because the Mini has a relatively limited amount of range. It’s no Tesla in that department, with its 32.6kWh battery pack capable of 141 miles on the official WLTP test; the electric cars with the most range are capable of more than twice that distance.

So would I be constantly running out of battery? Would it be a chore to keep it running? Would I have to resort to other cars for long-distance runs… or even short, day-to-day journeys?

The first proper test came early on in the loan, with a journey up to the Oxford area. It was 70 miles there from my house and the car was indicating 71 miles before I set off. If you can charge at home your electric car will have a full battery every morning, but I don’t have that luxury. So I checked the Zap-Map app and found a Polar rapid charger en route, 59 miles from home, for a “splash-and-dash” top-up.

When I arrived, the car was indicating 15 miles remaining and six minutes after plugging in I was back up to 30 miles indicated. The car reached 80% full after half an hour, and I was on my way again. I used the same charger on the way home for another 30-minute juicing, just to be on the safe side.

There are a couple of important things that I noted here. Firstly, there would have been issues if the charger had been occupied when I arrived. Hopefully it woudn’t have resulted in a long wait, while the other person charged up, but as more electric cars hit the road this may become more common. Fortunately most apps now tell you if a charger is being used in realtime, and the mapping technology being built into electric cars is becoming sophisticated enough to recognise if someone plugs into a charger you were bound for, and will re-route you to another one nearby. That’s not on the Mini Electric, though.

Also, public chargers are likely to be more expensive compared with using your home electricity supply. Polar Plus membership is currently £7.85 per month (the first three months are free) and you then pay 15p per kWh for the 50kW rapid charger, which is actually comparable to my home energy tariff.

But other public charging networks have higher fees; plug in at a Shell Recharge station and you’ll currently pay 39p per kWh, which means a full charge of a 100kWh battery pack would cost you £39 — nearly as expensive as refilling a petrol tank. Ecotricity, which dominates the motorway service station locations, will charge you 30p per kWh unless you use them to supply your home energy, which halves the cost. GeniePoint’s 50kW chargers, which you’ll find in many Morrison’s car parks, also cost 30p per kWh, plus a £1 connection charge.

There are plenty of opportunity charges – VW is working with PodPoint to install public chargers at many Tesco locations, and a set of 7kW posts went in at the store near me earlier this year. They’re currently free to use, which is absolutely superb, and I can add a decent number of miles while doing the weekly shop. Multi-storey car parks in town centres are ideal locations for a recharge, and would encourage me to shop on the high street rather than online. And roadside chargers can mean a trip to the cinema also means a full battery after the show.

And one of the surprising takeaways from my time spent charging the Mini at rapid chargers is that it’s not wasted time, as some would have you believe. When the battery gets low, which is about every couple of weeks of normal usage, I always take my laptop with me so that I can respond to emails, or write or edit articles. It’s actually highly productive time, away from the distractions of the home or office.

Quite a few of the rapid chargers near my home are in pub car parks, which means I‘m obliged to go inside and buy a cappuccino (or maybe even a half pint of beer) – that’s no hardship as far as I’m concerned. On the flipside, one near me is in a hotel car park and you’re charged an exorbitant parking fee on top of the cost for the electricity. I also found that the CCS (DC) plug wasn’t working on that particular Polar point, so I was forced to plug in the 42kW Type 2 (AC) cable, which is a bit slower.

And it’s fair to say the Mini Electric isn’t the perfect car for long motorway journeys – it’s not the electric car I’d chose to drive to Scotland or Cornwall for a holiday. But because it recharges so quickly, it is possible to venture much further than you might think, and when you do plug in, that’s not lost time — you can grab a coffee, carry out some life admin or get on with some work.

And the most important thing I’ve discovered is that it is possible to own an electric car, even if you can’t charge at home and it has a relatively low range of less than 150 miles per charge.

Mileage today 2,131 miles
Distance since start 1,449 miles
Average consumption 4.4 miles per kWh

As always with our extended tests, you can ask questions at any time via my Twitter account or the comments below.

Jeremy Clarkson has been left with an electric Mini during lockdown

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