In fact, shoppers and tourists on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, had the premiere of seeing the new Mini E on the road, as BMW had several Electric Mini cars available for the media to drive from the Four Seasons Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard.
I was one of the first lucky writers to get behind the steering wheel of the electric Mini, that from the ouside looks identical to the standard version.
All 500 Mini E models are painted grey and have lots of electric-yellow stickers that resemble a reversed 'E´ or better, a plug. One of those stickers is put on the filler cap (yes indeed), which covers the charger socket.
Inside there are differences: there is a charge indicator instead of a rev counter and the trip computer shows the range, while the power gauge replaces the fuel gauge.
When you bring the Mini E to life with the start button, it shows in the instrument panel and off you can go. Why did I wait? Wait for the sound of an engine, but you can sit there forever, as there is no such thing, only silence.
Push the throttle and the Mini, that is powered by a battery pack of more than 5,000 lithium-ion (or li-on) cells, surges forward. Producing 204 horsepower and 162 lb.ft of torque, it sprints from zero to 60 mph in just 8.5 seconds. Beware! That is even faster than a Cooper.
The reason is that practically all torque is immediately available and as the electric motor provides its power through a single-speed transmission, the acceleration is constant. That makes the front wheels fighting for grip and the traction control working really hard. A fair amount of torque steer is noticeable, but its something you get used to. Of course, I did not reach the top speed of some 95 mph on the Beverly boulevards, but the speedometer hit an easy 85 on a short leg of the Santa Monica freeway.
With a quietness inside the cockpit that is a bit unreal, you hear the tires. When you brake, there is no sound, due to the fact that the Mini uses brake regeneration to re-use the energy for recharging the batterypack. The latter uses the complete rear section of the cockpit, so there is no room for a rear seat. For more than 11,000 people that seems to be no problem: they applied for a lease of the Mini E on the first day the internet site was open.
But only 250 Californians and 200 New Yorkers will get one for $850 a month.
Mini-parent BMW announced at the LA Auto Show that the test will probably be extended to Berlin, Germany.
The Mini E will not go into production, but an evolution of the plug-in electric powertrain may be built into the future small car, that BMW has put on its agenda. This completely new megacity car, however, will have more than two seats and will be especially developed for the use of batteries. It is scheduled for 2015 and by that time, we may have the infrastructure of charging points maybe at existing gas stations?