Let’s address the elephant in the room: range. The new MINI Electric will cover ‘at least’ 122 miles on a single charge, which, when you consider a Peugeot e-208 do over 200 miles, really isn’t all that impressive.
If you put that to the man in charge of MINI, Peter Schwarzenbauer, his response is quite a straightforward one. “Nobody needs a big range in an urban car; it’s psychological,” he says. “An average drive for a MINI customer per day is 37km, so in theory, our customers can drive all week on a single charge.”
There’s also the question of cost and weight; the larger the battery, the more expensive the car and the heavier it will be, which has a detrimental effect on handling and performance. So MINI has opted for a relatively compact 32.5kWh battery, which it says, gives the best trade-off between price, range and handling.
And it doesn’t appear to have deterred potential buyers; MINI has already received over 40,000 ‘registrations of interest’ ahead of any test drives. Prices start from £24,300, inclusive of the government grant, and rise to just over £30,000. Schwarzenbauer told us: “I have worked in the automotive industry for 35 years, and I have never seen a reaction like it.”
Our first chance to get behind the wheel of the MINI Electric is a fairly limited one – a handful of laps of the Formula E track in NYC. This is by no means a definitive verdict, but an early opportunity to see if the reaction the car has generated is warranted.
You can make up your own mind about the way it looks, but to us, it has enough unique touches to mark it out as something different without going overboard. But if you’d rather fly under the radar you can lose the yellow detailing for body colour.
The Electric’s architecture is a lightly modified version of what underpins every other version of the MINI. The batteries sit down the spine of the car in the housing for the transmission tunnel, as well as behind the seats; helpfully there no intrusion on boot capacity, which remains a modest 211 litres.
Climb in and the cabin will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever driven a modern MINI. The only real change is the analogue rev counter making way for elliptical display behind the steering wheel, relaying info on speed and remaining charge to the driver.
It sits 15mm higher than a regular three-door hatch but from behind the wheel, it still feels compact and low. Crucially, there’s also plenty of adjustment in the steering wheel and seat to get comfortable.
The start/stop toggle switch remains on the lower section of the dash and brings the MINI Electric to life. Sport, Normal and Green are the driving modes, but given our surroundings and limited time, we go straight to the Sport. The first thing you notice, as with most electric cars, is the slingshot-like acceleration; MINI says the 181bhp motor will take it from 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds, but in truth it feels faster. Once beyond that there’s a noticeable tail off in acceleration but up to that point, it’s certainly brisk enough.
Another thing the MINI Electric has going for it is it’s relatively lightweight. The 32.5kWh battery has added around 130kg, taking the total figure up to around 1,350kg – making it one of the lightest EVs on sale. That means it feels just as nimble and eager to change direction than a regular three-door, but perhaps even more entertaining to drive, thanks to the punchy, on-demand acceleration.
There’s a hint of body roll through faster corners but not too much – enough to let you know the level of grip remaining at each corner. The steering is weighty and reacts immediately to inputs, giving the Electric a real sense of athleticism; it feels every bit like an electric hot hatch and by some margin the most entertaining, ‘affordable’ EV to drive.
We’ll have to reserve judgement on the ride until we get onto the public road, but there is slight firmness to it over rougher sections of the circuit. How that will affect the overall package we will find out in January, outside the confines of a track.