2010 Mini e quick drive review: Run silent, run e?

2010 Mini e

2010 Mini e

It’s not really silent. Anyone expecting the Mini E to quietly ghost along will be dismayed with the golf cart-like whine of its electric motor and drivetrain. BMW’s electric vehicles team claims it’s “nearly” silent, and admittedly at a constant cruise it is.

When the Mini E pulls away from a stop, however, there’s no doubt there’s anything but an electric motor under its hood. Perhaps it’s quieter at higher speeds because the motor/drivetrain noises have gone up in pitch to where the Mini E can only be heard by dogs though more likely its noise from the drivetrain’s internal gearing.

2010 Mini e charge meter

The tachometer mounted on the steering column in the standard Mini is replaced by a meter that shows remaining charge in the Mini e. (click to enlarger)

On the other hand, the Mini E has straight-line performance as well as that electric motor sound. It’s rated at 205 horsepower, more than the turbocharged Mini Cooper S that’s rated at 172 horsepower and much more than the standard 118-hp Mini Cooper. But despite almost twice the horsepower, the Mini E just edges out the standard Mini in acceleration. The former takes 8.5 seconds to get to 62 mph (100 km/h) while the latter is only going 60 mph after the same amount of time.

The difference in performance per horsepower comes from the Mini E’s significantly greater curb weight. The standard Mini Cooper hardtop tips the scales at 2,568 lbs. The Mini E is a relative porker, at 3,230 lbs. That’s 662 lbs more, or if you do the math–or maths, as they say in Blighty–that’s an increase of just over 25 percent .

In technical terms, that’s a lot.

2010 Mini e battery cover

The 2010 Mini e gives up its back seat for the battery pack. Note the warning label that says to not block the cooling air inlet screen. (click to enlarge)

However, the Mini E was explained to us as a “quick and dirty” way to evaluate how people would use an electric car in everyday use and as such isn’t as refined as it might otherwise be.

Still, the Mini E has its own personality and entertaining elements, including a hard jump off the line, thanks to an electric motor’s max torque at zero rpm. In fact, with the wheels cocked to one side even slightly, it’s almost difficult to keep the inside front wheel from spinning when starting up from a stop. From there on out it’s not so dramatic, though acceleration was seamless acceleration for as fast as we went, coming without the gearshifts we’re accustomed to, or even the soaring revs of gas engines with a continuously variable transmission.

2010 Mini e

2010 Mini e (click to enlarge)

According to the Project i team that’s running BMW’s electric car project, an peculiarity that owners actually like is the strong braking effect of electric regeneration. Lift off the accelerator and the Mini E slows hard enough that the brake lights need to be actuated. We’re told that Mini E drivers like the “one pedal driving”–the regular brake pedal needs to be used only for particularly intense braking. However, at slower speeds we found the sweet spot between acceleration and braking to be especially fine. No doubt the constant driver would learn where it is and how to keep the car there but it’s off putting to the novice.

If the Mini’s operation feels something like a engineering school project, that’s because to a certain extent it is a field trial of driver acceptance as much as it is a technical experiment. The Mini E is a bridge to the BMW 1-Series-based ActiveE, which will address many of the Mini E’s shortcomings, and the ActiveE will lead to the Mega-City dedicated electric city car. After two years at most, every Mini E out on lease–the only way to get one–will be called home and at least on the public road, silenced forever.

Mini E selected specifications, as tested
Layout Front electric motor/front-wheel drive, unitbody 2-seat hatchback
Engine  AC induction motor
Output 150/201 kW / hp
Torque 220 Nm / 162 lb-ft
Maximum rpm 12,500
Battery 53 cells connected in parallel constitute a unit, 2 units connected in series constitute a module, 48 modules connected in series constitute the battery; 5,088 individual cells in total
Battery cooling Air cooling via temperature-, load- and speed-sensitive fans
Battery capacity 35kWh, approx. 30kWh of which useable
Peak battery current 500 A
Battery chg time, hr. at 110 V/12 A (1.3 kW) 26.5; at 240 V/32 A (7.7 kW) 4.5; at 240 V/48 A (11.5 kW) 3.0
Suspension, f / r Macpherson strut / longitudinal link with centrally mounted control arms, z axis
Steering, type rack-and-pinion w/ elecrtric power assist
Turning circle, ft 35.1
Brakes, type Front and rear disc brakes
Rotor diameter, in., f / r 11.6 / 10.2
Wheels, size,  type 16-in., aluminum
Tires, type runflat, no spare
Dimensions & capacities
Length, in. 145.6
Width, in. 66.3
Height, in. 55.4
Wheelbase, in. 97.4
Curb weight, lbs 3,770
Cargo vol., cu. ft. 2.1
Performance
0-60 mph, sec. 8.5
Top speed, mph 95 w/ electronic cutoff
Consumtion, CA test 0.22 kWh/mls
Consumtion, obs. n.a.
Range 156 miles under ideal conditions
109/96/104 miles estimate under normal driving conditions city/hwy/comb