MINI had two quite different cars featured on their display at this year’s LA Auto Show alongside their full line of previously introduced cars. The John Cooper Works GP car celebrated the brand’s racing heritage, with video displaying the Le Mans entries of the 1960s and the words, “The faith of a few can change the minds of many.”
You might change yours about electric cars when you see the new MINI E, which comes out in March. Looking in all respects like a gasoline MINI, the car is fully electric, gets a decent but yet undetermined range, and drives like, well, just like a MINI, according to company spokespeople.
MINI sells about 37,000 cars a year in the US, and they hope that 1,500 of those will be electrics in the 2020 model year. The car is below $30K to start, much cheaper when state and federal rebates are factored in. For that, customers get a well-equipped model. The cars are configured in three marketing trim levels, but they all have full navigation, Apple Car Play and the Android equivalent, safety features, and so on. You can go up from one level to another simply by adding a package—there’s no tricky “Oh, I lose this if I go to that trim level” stuff with this car.
Battery range, the ever-present question, isn’t officially determined yet, as was said. The EPA certification process must happen first, but the indication is that it will be about 110 miles. (Interesting side note—the Porsche Taycan is also waiting EPA approval and similarly can’t release the numbers.) That’s far less than a Tesla Model 3 and less even than the 150-range Nissan Leaf (an extended version has even more miles in a charge). But neither of those cars is a MINI, and thus they don’t have the driving dynamics the little Bimmer does.
The way this one drives comes as a result of battery design and placement, according to MINI sources I spoke with. The battery is T-shaped, hugging the center tunnel and occupying the space where the gas tank would be. The car uses the existing body structure and engine mounting points, as well, and so it was easy to design, relatively speaking, and will be easy to build. The MINI E can travel down the same Abingdon assembly line as the gas models. According to the MINI expert, the car was benchmarked against the Cooper S for driving dynamics and will satisfy the mainstream customer just as well as the E-car enthusiast.
The car retains its low center of gravity (in fact lowers it over the gas cars because of where and how the battery sits) despite being slightly raised to accommodate its technology (you won’t see this looking at it), and it has the familiar performance and fun-to-drive focus as all other MINI models. In other words, It’s a go-cart, a roller skate, or whatever metaphor you want.
Speaking of changed minds, you might also change your mind about getting a JCW GP when you see how ugly it is, with an ungainly rear spoiler mounted roof-high and the oddest fender flares ever which stick out from the body but leave a lip for dirt and debris to catch in. They’re hoping to sell 3,000 of these, at mid-40s pricing. I’d doubt that number, but let’s not be negative—the MINI is still an iconic brand, with the fun quotient and what the company calls “Customer-centricity” the core of their brand.
I’ve owned a 2006 MINI since 2012 and never regretted it a day. And that electric is awfully tempting at less than $20,000 net. Better get one before the federal tax credits go down, as they are, reportedly, doing.