I've owned a pair of Mini hatches since BMW re-launched the brand to great acclaim in 2002. In the intervening years, it has been noted by the automobile intelligentsia that for Mini to prosper, it had to become a full range of vehicles, and not just a niche. Whether the boys from Bavaria had this in mind from the get-go or they didn't, the prophecy is being fulfilled. First came the convertible Mini, which was cute, then the Clubman, a stab at inventiveness, and the upcoming Countryman four-door, arriving in February, which has been described by Britain's CAR magazine columnist Gavin Green as a Mini "suffering from elephantiasis." But perhaps the most ambitious Mini of all is the Mini-E, the electric Mini.
The Mini E uses a regular Mini Cooper body, but the addition of a battery pack and electric drive system inflates the curb weight to some 3,230 pounds, 684 pounds more than the standard Mini. The battery pack is rated at 35 kWh (compared to 24 kWh for the forthcoming Nissan Leaf). BMW claims the Mini E can do 0-62 mph in 8.5 seconds, with a 95 mph top speed.
It's a tour-de-force of technology, perhaps the most innovative Mini since the original Sir Alec Issigonis-designed car. With its hundred-mile driving range, the Mini E could be the perfect choice for the Santa Monica Boulevard at rush hour or the Garden State Parkway on a hot day when billions of folks are heading to the Jersey Shore. Or the Nurburgring.
What's that, the original "Green Hell" racecourse, you say? Why not? How would an electric Mini fare on the 12.9-mile Nordschleife? After all, it has become de rigueur for cars with sporting pretentions to tackle the North loop of the Ring, even if their times don't quite match up to the elites. The fastest production cars, those in the sub-7:30-lap-time club, include the Dodge Viper ACR, the Ferrari Enzo, the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, the Nissan GT-R, and the Porsche Carrera GT.
As it turns out, when BMW let the Mini E loose on the 'Ring back in April, it was a bit off that pace, turning a best lap at 9:51. Driven by German Touring Car driver Thomas Jaeger, it managed a top speed a hair under 116 miles per hour. While this Mini E racecar was modified and lightened with racing seats, beefed-up suspension and a roll cage, it did derive its power from the stock 150-kilowatt (201-horsepower) electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack.
The Mini E is not (yet) a series production vehicle, meaning you can't go out and buy one, but it is much more than a halo project for BMW. There are 450 on lease as part of a large-scale test in the U.S. right now, and BMW plans to deploy more to China and France. The company also says it will have BMW-branded electric vehicles on European roads sometime next year.