Yes, we know it's not a 4x4, but this is a safe place where we can freely admit to admiring vehicles of the pavement pounding variety with out fear of ridicule.
You may remember last spring we road tested a new 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. The Evo's turbocharged four cylinder engine produced over 300hp, was all wheel drive, and was actually able to go off-road. So it wasn't much of a stretch to introduce the Four Wheeler audience to this fine piece of machinery. Thanks in part to the great response we got from readers like you and coupled with the traffic it generated on our website (yes, we know you were looking even if you don't admit it) we're taking this concept to the next level. Let's face it, we are all automotive enthusiasts at heart and this means we love all breads of cool, innovative, and just plan stupid automobiles. So what this series of on going blogs will be is a quick look inside the world of enthusiast automobiles. What type of automobiles you ask? Whatever we deem fun to drive and think that you will get a kick out of seeing. We've got sports cars, muscle cars, and maybe even a 4x4 truck or two already lined up. Let's kick this off with a look at the revolutionary new Mini-E.
Yes, you read that right, a Mini Cooper, probably the vehicle most opposite the big lifted 4x4s that we are used to. But what makes this Mini so special is what's located under the hood. Typically when you pop the hood on a Mini you would find a 1.6 liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine, not here. The Mini-E is fully electric, driven by an A/C induction electric motor and drive system by A/C Propulsion, the same company that designed the drive system used by the Tesla Roadster. Sure, there have been other electric cars throughout history, so what makes this one so special? The Mini-E is one of only two (currently) "production" vehicles to use Lithium-Polymer (LiPo) batteries in place of the typical lead-acid and Nickel Metal Hydride (NyMh) batteries currently found in the plethora of hybrid vehicles roaming the streets. What does this mean? LiPo batteries take up less space, weigh less, have a higher capacity, and quicker charge times than ordinary batteries. All this provides for quicker acceleration, longer run times, and faster recharging.
So why do we care exactly? You have probably never even seen a Mini-E on the road. There is good reason for this as there are only approximately 450 Mini-E's in the United States and all of those are located in either Los Angeles CA or New York NY, which is why when we were presented with the opportunity to spend the afternoon with one of these marvels of engineering we jumped at the chance.
The Mini-E that we got to take for a drive in the hills of Orange County was number 017, all Mini-E's wear a badge with their number. At first glance we noticed the distinctive styling. The Mini-E comes in one color, silver, with yellow accents and is covered in "plug" badges. There is no doubt what this vehicle is. Looking closer we noticed that this Mini was built on the older 2008 model year chassis as opposed to the current body style leading us to believe that these vehicles were custom built with leftover parts. Looking inside we noticed a large box where the back seats normally are and noticed that the interior was very basic for the large price tag the Mini-E carries. What's inside the box? You guessed it, the batteries. And why no luxuries? Mini stripped the Mini-E of anything that consumed electricity. So you get manual cloth seats, no sat nav, and a basic stereo, but oddly enough power windows.
Driving the Mini-E was an awe-inspiring experience. Don't get me wrong, it's not the same rush you get from flooring a 430hp LS-3, or getting a running start at a bottomless mud hole, but still amazing. Since electric motors make all of their torque at zero rpm Mini had to detune the initial throttle response to save the front tires. Once rolling though the massive torque propels the little Mini from 0-62mph in just 8.5 seconds. The electric motor is rated at 201hp, has a maximum RPM of 12,500, and is electronically limited to 95mph. Once you get past the immediate torque of the Mini-E the next shocker is the braking. The Mini-E has what is called Regenerative Braking. Basically the vehicle is slowed by the electric motor while generating electricity and storing it in the battery, it is through this process that the Mini-E can get further on a charge in the city from stop light to stop light than on the open road, the complete opposite of cars with internal combustion engines. As soon as you let off the throttle the Mini begins rapidly decelerating, so rapidly that the brake lights actually illuminate without your foot touching the brake pedal. After about 15minutes of driving we had this down and were able to coast up to stop lights without using the brakes.
Now the important questions, how far can I go, what does it cost, and how do I get one. Unlike electric cars of old the Mini-E actually has a pretty decent range, still nothing compared to a gasoline powered vehicle, but not terrible. The Mini-E is rated at 156 miles per charge under ideal circumstances and 109 city, 96 highway, and 104 miles combined under what they consider normal driving conditions. If you choose to drive it like a go cart your mileage will reflect that. So what does it cost to drive it? On average the Mini-E will cost you approximately .05cents per mile to drive, compare that with the .20cents per mile it cost to drive most current 1/2 ton pickups and you'll notice it's substantially cheaper. But how do I get one? Short answer is you don't. All the Mini-E's are currently spoken for. You had to be on a list over year ago and meet a slew of stringent requirements. If you were chosen you got to sign a one year lease and pay $850 per month (plus local tax) to babysit a Mini-E.
If all goes well with this test hopefully there will be a dealer lot full of Mini-E's in the near future.