My year of driving electric

Last reviewed: October 2010
Paul Eng and his all-electric Mini E
Mini & me
Paul Eng, a senior Web editor who covers electronics, and his all-electric Mini E.

What's it like to live with an electric car every day? Recently I got some firsthand experience by leasing a Mini E—an electric-powered, two-seat Mini Cooper—for a year. The lease, $850 a month, was part of a pilot program that Mini offered to 450 people in the Los Angeles and New York City areas.

The numbers looked right. My round-trip commute is 64 miles, and the Mini E provides a 100-mile range when it's fully charged. But at first, I could only drive the car to work every other day because the standard 110-volt electrical outlet in my garage wasn't able to fully charge the car in one night.

As part of the lease deal, Mini was supposed to install a high-output 220-volt charger (which can cost $1,000 or more). But the chargers were in short supply and I had to wait for an appointment to have one hooked up. Once the equipment was installed, the Mini's charging time was reduced to about 4 hours, making it easy to top off overnight and drive every day.

Initially, being limited to 100 miles of driving per day took a bit of getting used to. It was critical that I planned each side trip carefully so that I didn't end up stranded somewhere. But after a while, when I really understood the distances to my common destinations—work, the supermarket, and so on—I became more comfortable with how far I could drive between charges.

I also got used to the tangible benefits of going electric. I appreciated the car's quiet operation and lack of tailpipe emissions. The fact that the car wasn't adding to New York's noise and pollution made me feel good. After having to fill up my '97 Honda CR-V every three or four days, I also delighted in never having to stop at a gas station or worry about oil changes. Plugging in the car overnight was much more convenient.

The Mini E increased my monthly electric bill by about $60. In comparison, gasoline for a conventional Mini Cooper would have cost me about $80 per month. And the extra cost of the electricity was well below the $150 I was spending on gas for the CR-V in a typical month. That said, the SUV still came in handy when I needed more passenger or cargo space or had to drive longer distances.

Bottom line

After driving more than 11,000 miles on electricity, would I get another electric vehicle? The fact that I placed a deposit on the forthcoming Nissan Leaf probably answers that question.