By: Omar Rana – Editor in Chief.
At the 2008 LA Auto Show, BMW let me have a shot at driving its latest creation – the 2009 MINI Cooper E. I had the chance to spend a half hour with the battery-powered MINI E in downtown LA before I had to return it to BMW. But before I get into the details of my test drive I have to say; driving an electric-car is a totally different experience than driving a car with a normal gasoline engine.
Power comes from a lithium-ion battery pack that feeds power to an electric motor that turns the front wheels pumping out 204-hp with a maximum torque of 162 lb-ft. MINI says that 0 to 60 mph comes in 8.5 seconds with a top speed of 95 mph but driving in downtown LA traffic, I wasn’t able to test out those figures.
Click through to read more and check out the high-res image gallery of the 2009 MINI E test drive.
As I got into the 149th unit of the MINI E (you can tell which of the 500 units you’re driving by the plaque on the side of the car) I felt as if I was sitting in a regular MINI Cooper besides the exterior and interior colors and graphics that scream “I’m not just any Cooper” (not to mention there are no exhaust pipes in the back since this is a zero-emissions vehicle). But everything changed once I slid the key into the ignition and hit the start button. The MINI E is completely and awkwardly silent besides the buzzing/humming noise from the electric-motor during acceleration. You just slide the key in, push start, wait for a little sound that tells you the car is ready to drive, put it in ‘D’, hit the accelerator, and off you go.
There are no gear-changes since there is no engine – and since there is no engine there is no noise. Now some of you may say why would you want to drive a car that requires hardly any involvement from the driver? But there is a big difference here. The 2009 MINI E is fairly zippy. While I didn’t get a chance to do a 0 to 60 mph run or a top speed test – BMW’s claim of an 8.5 second run from rest to 60 is definitely believable. The only difference you’ll notice from its gasoline sibling is that it feels a little heavy due to the 600 pound lithium-ion battery sitting in the back, which not to mention makes the MINI E a two-seater vehicle (total weight is 3,230 pounds compared to a regular MINI Cooper which weight 2,634).
Sit inside the MINI E and you’re welcomed by the same familiar interior of a MINI Cooper. However, the ginormous speedometer in the middle of dashboard features a tiny power-flow gauge replacing the normal placement of the fuel-gauge. The power-flow gauge turns counter clockwise indicating the amount of power going out when you accelerate. The gauge behind the steering wheels has now become a battery level indicator which scared me a little as the percentage-level kept declining during my drive. I took over the MINI E with a 43% charge and I have to admit it’s a bit eerie watching the battery-level percentage decline. It causes you to be a little more worrisome than watching your fuel gauge go from ‘F’ to ‘E’ since when driving a gasoline powered car you just pull into a gas station; but when driving an electric-car, you have to run and find a wall socket to plug it in.
Overall, driving the MINI E was one of the most interesting and unique driving experiences I’ve ever had. The future is coming and it’s coming fast. BMW is leasing 500 units of the MINI E in California, New York and New Jersey for a whopping $850 a month. After a one-year lease, drivers will have to turn over their MINI E to BMW engineers who will examine and run further tests on the electric-car. Of course all this is a part of the process of one day putting the MINI E into mass production and after driving the electric-Cooper I must say that BMW is on the right path.
First Drive: 2009 MINI E:
Photos Copyright © 2008 Omar Rana for eGMCarTech.