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Sneak Peek: Mini E Electric Car

Consumer Reports News: October 27, 2008 02:08 AM

While other well-known automakers are developing plug-in electric and fuel-cell cars, BMW is making its own alternative fuel move by rolling out a fully electric, battery-powered Mini Cooper for lease to select customers in California, New York, and New Jersey. (Honda has a 200-unit lease program underway for its FCX Clarity fuel-cell-powered sedan.)

A large, 35 kilowatt-hour, lithium-ion battery pack takes up the whole back seat, making this Mini E strictly a two-seater. (That’s no great loss, as the Mini’s back seat has limited room for passengers’ legs anyway.) The battery is made up of 5,088 individual lithium-ion cells. The company claims a 150-mile range on a full charge, but in press photos the range indicator shows just 83 miles on a full charge. (While this may be a remnant of acceleration testing, we note that in practice electric cars often don’t attain their claimed electric ranges in real-world driving.)

Mini is including a quick charger with every electric car, but it has to be installed in lessees’ garages. The company says this special wall unit will charge the car in 2.5 hours, though the Mini E can also be recharged from a common 110-volt power outlet.

The Mini E uses a 204-horsepower direct-current electric motor and a single-speed gearbox. Torque is rated at 162 lb.-ft. Mini claims the Mini E will accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in 8.5 seconds, notably quicker than the base Mini Cooper we recently tested.

The Mini E is electronically limited to a top speed of 95 mph. The front-wheel-drive Mini E weighs 3,230 pounds, about 700 pounds more than a base Mini. The suspension has been fortified to account for the added weight and its distribution.

Interestingly, the Mini E will be the first all-electric car on the market with electronic stability control.

Mini says it will lease 500 of them, for a one-year term at a time. No word on how much those leases will cost, however, or what options are available to lessees at the end of the term. Mini will be looking for feedback on how lessees use the cars to gather data for future electric-car development programs.

Read more about electric cars. And join the discussion on our hybrids and alternative fuels forum.

Eric Evarts

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