Nauna’s Bella Casa Restaurant in Montclair, N.J., was the venue for the final MINI E Northeast Meetup before the cars must be returned.
After a two-year run, BMW’s MINI E adventure is nearing its end.
The car may seem old hat to people like Tom Moloughney, who has clocked over 65,000 miles on his MINI E--and who hosted the event at his restaurant.
But to the passers-by who stopped in to check out the cars, it’s still all new.
The top three questions remain, “How far can it go?”, “It really doesn’t take any gas?” and “How long does it take to charge?” We still have a long way to go before no one takes a second look at electric cars like the MINI E.
MINI E pioneers - the name that BMW have given to the few hundred of us who leased MINI Es - are both sad and happy. It's sad to see the end of the program that delivered us one of the most fun-to-drive cars we've ever used, but we're happy that its replacement will be here soon.
That car, the BMW ActiveE, promises even more refinement, even better driving dynamics and… this is a big one… four seats. Hurray!
We tell onlookers the MINI E is a “science experiment.” And as much as we love it, it has been just that: an experiment.
BMW took 450 standard MINI Coopers for the U.S. market and adapted them with a battery and drive system from AC Propulsion. The drive system is an adapted ‘tzero’ drive train that can also be found in a handful of low-volume specialist conversions: the ACP EBOX (a converted SCION xB), the Wrightspeed Arial Atom, and the Yokohama HER02 that just finished attacking this years Pike's Peak hill climb.
In the MINI E, the motor produces 150 kilowatts and drives the front wheels through a modified MINI gearbox. To get the range of up to 100 miles, the engineers had to sacrifice the rear seat to provide space for the battery pack that houses 5,088 lithium-ion cells. (That did have the beneficial side effect of moving the weight of the car further toward the center, giving the much vaunted 50/50 weight distribution.)
On the road, the MINI E is a silent thriller. It whisks along effortlessly but is always ready to respond to input. Like all Minis, it’s surefooted and ready to change speed or direction like a cat.
What makes the E version especially fun is that its power simply isn’t expected. I’ve often shocked passengers by taking an unexpected left or right turn without warning and without slowing. I've also shown off by transitioning from puttering along to racing up an onramp with just the flick of the wrist and a firm dollop of right foot.
At the MINI E Meetup last weekend, Marian Hawryluk and Hugo VanGeem of BMW USA shared MINI E stories and tempted leaseholders with snippets of information about the BMW ActiveE, based on the BMW 1-Series. It was clear that virtually every MINI E driver is ready to sign the lease for it.
We don’t know for sure when we’ll be able to take delivery (reputedly the first ActiveE cars will arrive in the U.S. in December) but we did hear that there are some test cars on the boat to the U.S. right now. Happy days are coming.
So what’s next for our MINI Es? Some will head to museums, and some will head back to Germany for further lab testing, but the rest will go the way of all automotive experiments: They'll be dismantled and crushed. That relieves BMW of the need to provide service, support, and spare parts for years to come.
Perhaps you might find their recycled metal in your next MINI. If that car goes and stops and entertains half as much as our MINI Es have done, then their spirit will still be with us.
Like any good farewell party, lots of great people shared their MINI E stories for hours. And, of course, there was cake.
Michael Thwaite is an electric-vehicle advocate who lives in New Jersey and works in information technology. He also runs the Tesla Motors Club. When he was 12 years old, he hoped that when he grew up, we’d all be driving electric cars. More than 30 years later, they’re finally here.