Thursday, May 21, 2009

Post Test Drive Impressions

I still have a smile on my face hours after my exhilarating test drive in a MINI E earlier today. I did my best to leave behind any preconceived notions about how the car might handle or feel given what I have read and heard about it. After my relatively brief 12 minute drive, I must say that it blew me away. It exceeded every possible expectation I had for the car.

When I first approached the car, someone had just pulled up from another test drive and I heard a fan near the rear of the car. I can remember thinking that this fan is clearly cooling the batteries and that I will certainly hear it inside the cabin. For the record, I was wrong.

Before I got my turn, however, I had to put my name on a list behind 5 other drivers and wait. I spent the interim period getting to know some of my fellow Pioneers and sitting in a few of the "old-fashioned" gas powered MINI's on the showroom floor. They were nice to be sure; but they were no MINI E.

Once I finally got behind the wheel, everything felt natural. With very little instruction from Nadine (my MINI co-pilot), I had the car powered up and ready to go. Just one thing, it didn't sound like the car was on. There was not the least bit of noise - nothing. Besides the lights on the dashboard, the only other indication that the car was ready to go was a slight turn of the steering wheel that caused the power steering to kick in and turn the tires. A push of the pedal and we were off (notice I didn't say "gas" pedal).

There were three things I observed in the first 30 seconds of my test drive. First, the acceleration was extremely smooth. All cars, regardless of power source, should operate and feel like this. Second, you do not need to use the brake at all. Yes, that's right, at all. The foot brake is purely for fast or emergency braking needs, otherwise the regenerative braking system will do all the slowing you need right down to the stop light. Nadine assured me that when you are decelerating in this fashion, the brake light comes on to let other drives know you are slowing down - good thinking. Finally, the car is so quiet.

Once I was on the open road, I was able to really enjoy the full benefit of a high-torque engine and the electricity available to make it run. The acceleration is so incredibly smooth with the noticeable absence of gear changes and the power that comes from this great, albeit slightly de-tuned, engine. It feels a bit like a roller coaster at launch. While highly aggressive drivers might want more power, there is plenty available to scare most passengers at almost any speed. Off the line, the car springs into action if you demand it easily hitting the estimated 0-60 time of 8.5 seconds. However, once you're at 30 mph or so, jumping on the pedal will boost you to 70 mph probably quicker than many exotics.

Gone is the growl of the combustion engine and the sense of speed you get from an increasingly noisy run through the RPM's. Instead, all you hear in the cabin is the slightest jet-like whine coming from the engine compartment (virtually inaudible and certainly unnoticeable if I wasn't seeking out the most subtle of sounds) and the unavoidable noise of the tires running across the pavement. Otherwise, the car slices through the wind as silently as its rounded nose will allow.

The rest of the car is pure MINI fun. Someone at BMW made a promotion-deserving decision to select the MINI as the first EV in their fleet. The spirit of the MINI coupled with the power-to-weight ratio of this vintage rally car is an excellent combination.

Not only will BMW/MINI have no problem selling large quantities of cars like this, they are going to have a difficult time prying mine away from me.

Like everyone else who has been on test drive, my only complaint is that I didn't get to take this one home.


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