Mini has been on a roll this year, with a new Coupe concept to celebrate its 50th birthday and the much-publicized U.S. release of 200 Mini E electric conversions.
Now, 40 Britons will be able to drive the electric Mini E as well, 20 of them members of the public chosen from more than 500 applicants, to provide BMW with real-world data on how drivers actually use electric cars. Participants' driving patterns will be tracked using a data-logging device.
2009 MINI E
Mini E electric vehicle - battery charge gauge shows charge and range falling, percent by percent
Mini E electric vehicle - start button and speedometer
Mini E electric vehicle - rear seat and load area mostly occupied by battery box
Mini E electric vehicle - nope, no engine in there
RHD for U.K. drivers? Nope.
Unfortunately, a look at the Mini E Field Trial FAQ points out a grievous flaw for British drivers: All of the U.K. electric Minis will be fitted with left-hand-drive, part of a total fleet of 500 built in batches.
BMW's terse explanation? It cites the need to test Mini E vehicles worldwide.
Echoes of earlier snub
This LHD-only provision echoes an earlier snub of right-hand-drive markets in the setup of the Mini Clubman station wagon. That car has two doors on the right side, but just one on the left.
It was designed to let drivers unload kids and cargo through the "Clubdoor" on the curb side. Which is fine in left-hand-drive countries, but leaves British Mini Clubman owners (who park on the left) unloading directly into a traffic lane.
BMW said the expense of tooling up to offer the opposite arrangement for the U.K. wouldn't have been justified, and much grumbling ensued over the perceived snub to the Mini's ancestral homeland by its new German owners.
Limited area, dedicated charger
The U.K. Mini E trial begins before Christmas and lasts six months, and it's restricted to the southeast portion of England. This limits the area in which new charging equipment needs to be installed by BMW's electric utility partner, Scottish and Southern Energy.
As in the U.S., the company will install a 32-Ampere dedicated charging station in each owner's lockable garage. A full charge, giving a range up to 120 miles, takes about 4.5 hours.A cord for charging from a standard 13-Amp, 240-Volt U.K. socket is also provided.
No congestion charge
Mini E drivers will pay a rental fee, but won't have any costs for insurance, maintenance, or roadside assistance (or, of course, gasoline). They're also exempt from London's congestion charge for entering the central city, which is waived for zero-emissions vehicles.
We were quite disappointed with our test drive this spring in a Mini E, though we suspect that by now, BMW will have improved the control software that delivers power from the lithium-ion battery pack to the electric motor and modulates the action of the regenerative braking system.