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Forward-thinking and bold, yet characteristically familiar and desirable, the MINI Electric sees the brand charging ahead into the age of electromobility.

29 Jan 2020

How do you make an electric car? You could start with a blank canvas and a bold idea, and develop something so drastically different, like the BMW i3. Or, you could take an existing body type, ditch the internal combustion engine (ICE) components, fix in an electric drivetrain, and tadah, you have an electric car.

Except, of course, it's not quite so simple, is it? Electric cars have their own peculiar mechanical demands - heavy batteries, added heating and cooling requirements, and all manner of manufacturing complications. And, that's before we get to some of the conceptual issues - namely, finding the balance and compromise between size, performance and range.

It is into all of these complicated demands that MINI wades in, with the production of its first ever all new MINI Electric. We head to Miami to find out if it managed to get things right. 

Urban chic

The unique wheel design injects the MINI Electric with an added sense of quirkiness
Upon first glance at the new MINI Electric, a couple of things stand out - the yellow accents, the strange plug logo, and the funky asymmetric wheels. These unique touches bring a particular individuality and character to what is an extremely iconic, recognisable and familiar silhouette - a MINI Cooper 3-Door.

That's strictly by design. The team behind the MINI Electric made it very clear that they wanted to make the car as familiarly MINI as possible, so most of the car is basically unchanged. The exterior dimensions, along with the interior space and configuration, are unchanged.

Inside, a new digital dashboard catches the eye. This feels a tad more high-tech and futuristic than the standard MINI dial, and rightfully so. This is a 'car of the future', after all. The rest of the cabin is unchanged, though our test car came fully equipped with features like a Harmon Kardon sound system and a head-up display. Even the buttons on the centre console remain physically unchanged, though their functionality have been tweaked slightly.

City and colour

The 135kW electric motor delivers 270Nm of torque, allowing you to make light work of city driving 
Hit the yellow ignition switch (normally red) and the car blinks into life. It's eerily quiet, and it's just now that you realise that this is an electric car. 

As I tap the accelerator and slowly creep off, there's no denying that it feels a little weird. MINIs are vibrant, excitable little things, yet here I am creeping along to the red light in silence.

The lights turn green, I put my foot down and the car scampers forward with rapid urgency. Ah ha! The wonders of electric power and instant torque. 0-100km/h takes 7.6 seconds, but 0-60km/h (you know, real world acceleration) takes just 3.6 seconds.

However, whether it's cruising along Miami Beach, stretching the car's legs on the highway or negotiating bumper to bumper peak hour traffic, what's most remarkable about the MINI Electric is how normal it feels.

Behind the wheel, the MINI Electric delivers a satisfyingly familiar and authentic dynamic experience
Other than the lack of engine noise and the presence of more low end torque, it feels just like a typical MINI. It's lively and fun to drive, but at at highway speeds above 110km/h it does the same slightly floaty and nervous thing. It's not the most comfortable car, but it's a hoot to chuck into corners. So, you know, it's a MINI!

The MINI Electric also allows you to toggle between two energy recuperation levels. At high, it’s quite like what you'd expect - strong braking to provide maximum energy recovery. However, in the low setting, it's remarkably like a traditional ICE. Hell, it even has a split second of lag before the regeneration kicks in - again, so incredibly normal-feeling.

The compact architecture and refusal to compromise interior space means the MINI Electric is fitted with a modestly sized battery. The brand quotes 235-270km of range, but the low 200s is more realistic in real-world driving. Still, for the purposes of the typical urban dweller that this car is targeted at, that's more than sufficient. 

Electric ladyland

Charging the car from zero to 80% using a DC fast-charging station takes just 35 minutes
MINI has gone to great length to build the MINI Electric on the existing Cooper 3-Door template. The battery pack is specially developed in a T-shape to fit in the space normally occupied by the fuel tank and exhaust system. It's smart - not only does this improve production and cost efficiency (same production line, same body parts), it also makes the MINI Electric entirely familiar and recognisable.

Yes, sometimes it pays to make some completely different and out of the norm. The i3 needed to be different and to push the needle. Yet, sometimes it pays to not mess with a proven formula. The affection for MINIs is real, and there's no need to alienate this (already small) group of loyal fans.

The MINI Electric doesn't shout about its green credentials. Instead, it wants to continue to deliver an authentic MINI experience, just in a cleaner and greener manner. And it undoubtedly succeeds. It's also priced sensibly - globally, it's priced just slightly under the Cooper S 3-Door, which makes it a sensible and accessible alternative. But, in Singapore it's likely to be slightly more expensive than the Cooper S (you can blame our Government's kooky regulations on electric car taxes). 

With its iconic design, familiar dynamism and ease of use, the MINI Electric looks to further normalise our electrified future
In my time with the car, the word that keeps coming up is 'normal'. That's not a slight on this car at all. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Nothing about the entire experience is jarring, off-putting or difficult. It's a MINI - you just get in and drive. And, if this is way to normalise electromobility for the masses, then I'm all here for it.

With the MINI Electric, the brand has produced an accomplished electric city car. But, more importantly, it's produced a hell of a good MINI Cooper. It's the most exciting and interesting MINI that has been made in a long time, but it feels just the same. That's brilliant.

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