Living With The Mini E Electric Car For Two Years: Memories


Mini E and BMW ActiveE in New Jersey (photo: Michael Thwaite)

Mini E and BMW ActiveE in New Jersey (photo: Michael Thwaite)

So, first, a little history.

Our family car was a 2008 Audi A6 Avant S Line, silver with a black interior. My husband Michael had a 2005 Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works. Both were very nice cars.

In February 2008, Michael discovered the Tesla Roadster, and decided he had to have one. We did the math, put down a deposit, and his dreams of an electric car were about to become a reality.

We had to sell his beloved Mini, as we couldn't afford to keep both it and the Tesla. But it sold quickly and, to bridge the gap, he bought a 2005 Honda Insight hybrid. Apparently, he had always wanted one. It had high mileage, and was blue on the outside and a horrid pale beige inside.

That's no problem, I said. I'm not driving it. Though every day, I got to hear about how many miles per gallon it got.

August 2009 finally arrived, and the Tesla turned up in a very large crate. Michael was one very happy person--and you might think, the Tesla was here, so we'd sell the Insight?

But, oh no, "We'll keep it!", said Michael. "Our daughter can learn to drive in it." Oh, great.

In time, our daughter started to learn to drive in the Insight. But then, somehow, guess who else ended up having to drive it? Yes, that's right... me!

MINI E

MINI E

"The Audi gets such bad gas mileage compared to the Insight," I heard. "Why don't you drive that instead? It costs us less in fuel and you don't need the space of the Audi all the time."

OK, I relented, the environment deserves to be treated better. Reluctantly, I started driving the Insight, hoping that no one would recognize me.

The problem was, it got to be a competition. Who can get the best gas mileage?

Michael still used the Insight as well, and we both drove it carefully, even with a long line of cars behind us. After all, we were traveling at the speed limit, so of course all the drivers behind us will thank us, won't they? They were getting better mileage too, and the planet will be happier.

One day, we were invited to a Mini E event, with Michael being asked to bring his Tesla Roadster. There, we heard some talk that a few Mini E drivers had returned their cars, and there were a few that hadn't yet been assigned.

Hmmmmm, we thought. We hadn't originally applied for the Mini E because the monthly cost seemed so high. But after enjoying electric drive for a few months, the idea of an electric car started to seem more important.

So we said we were interested, and on December 16, 2009, we picked up our own Mini E (number 361). And so began my two years, one month, and five days of driving an electric car.

What about the Honda Insight and our Audi A6 Avant? The Insight was sold promptly, and I was happy to see it go. We decided our daughter would continue to learn to drive in the electric Mini instead, and we kept the Audi for the times when we went out as a family.

Taking a Driving Test in a 2009 MIni E

Taking a Driving Test in a 2009 MIni E

Except that it mostly sat in the garage, and when we went out as a family, we ended up taking two electric cars. We realized it was still better to travel on electric miles and, actually, it was a lot cheaper than the Audi too. It was only two years old, it had less than 19,000 miles, but it only left the garage to go to the Audi dealer for its service.

We decided that if we needed to go on a long drive, we would just rent a car, saving money on insurance and depreciation. So, we advertised it and sold it very quickly. I was sad to see it go, as it really was a fantastic car, but it just didn't fit our lifestyle anymore... we had become true electrics.

I've spent the last two years (and a bit more) driving the Mini E--and occasionally the Tesla, if Michael allows me--and it's been great. I've loved every minute of it.

Well, almost.

On a couple of occasions when it was really cold outside, the range of the Mini E was reduced significantly. It didn't have battery heaters, and cold batteries don't make happy  batteries. On those occasions, it wasn't unheard of--on days when I knew I had some miles to do--for me to drive the MINI-E with the heat off, to conserve my miles.

The heater ate into the range and I couldn't afford to run out, so I'd dress really warmly. It was fine, you do what you have to do for the planet--a true pioneer, I'd say!

The Mini E never let me down. Even when warning messages threatened that something was wrong, it kept going. It spent a few days at the Mini garage having its charger fixed, but that's all that went wrong. Other problems we had with it were actually about it being a Mini, nothing to do with it being electric.

Mini E and BMW ActiveE in New Jersey (photo: Michael Thwaite)

Mini E and BMW ActiveE in New Jersey (photo: Michael Thwaite)

It was great to get up in the morning, open the garage, and know that the car was in there, full up and ready to go. It was so quiet, it moved along effortlessly, it did what I asked of it, and in turn I treated it with respect. I drove it steadily, knowing that if I needed a bit of extra power, it was there waiting quietly--and it never failed to deliver that power!

We took it to Green Fairs, where people were amazed and surprised that it was electric--and then asked where they could buy one. There you go, BMW: An electric Mini would be a huge seller!

After two years, one month, and five days of fantastic electric driving, its time was up. BMW insisted that we give the car back to them in exchange for our next electric car, a white BMW ActiveE, based on the BMW 1-series sedan.

We actually had the Mini E longer than expected, and thoroughly enjoyed the extra time. And I realized, I don't want an ActiveE. I want to keep my Mini!

I was told I'd love the ActiveE, but it seemed a bit of a stretch to me. First, it's painted white, a color way down on my list of car colors, one step above the universally accepted bottom of the chain: beige. Second, it isn't a Mini. Third...it's white.

Mini E and BMW ActiveE electric cars, New Jersey, Dec 2011 (photos: Tom Moloughney)

Mini E and BMW ActiveE electric cars, New Jersey, Dec 2011 (photos: Tom Moloughney)

One plus point for the ActiveE, though: It has four seats, so we can go out as a family again in the same car. But, it's still white! Could I get BMW to repaint ours in silver? "No, that's not going to happen," Michael said. "They're all white, and if you take a moment, you'll really like it... honestly."

Why was I not convinced?

I had just guestimated my miles for the last Mini E week, and it looked like we'd be able to get to 33,333 before Saturday; that'd be cool. I so enjoyed the last week, though it was tinged with sadness, knowing that my electric MIni travels were coming to an end.

Saturday arrived, and so did snow. Would that mean we could postpone the departure? Alas, no. It just meant we might not make the 33,333 miles.

So we cleaned out the Mini E, and it was time to leave. It was weird getting in knowing it would be the last time. I felt very glum driving it to its final destination. But we took the long way round, and turned up at the BMW garage with precisely 33,333.3 miles on the clock.

2009 Mini E with 33,333.3 miles on the clock (photo: Pamela Thwaite)

2009 Mini E with 33,333.3 miles on the clock (photo: Pamela Thwaite)

It was a fantastic car, even though it was a bit of a science experiment. It wasn't perfect inside, but it worked, and it did everything we asked it to, even picking up our Christmas trees for the last two years!

Also, I don't want a white car. Did I mention that?

The Mini E looked so forlorn as we walk out of the garage, I didn't dare look back or else I would have cried.

In the garage, we were taken to see the Active E. Yes, it's still white. Oh, dear.

After the paperwork was done and the salesman made his speech--though we know more about the car than he does--we got in the ActiveE and drove out of the garage.

OK, it's really quiet, and it seems nice inside. I would have preferred black seats, but the ride is nice and firm. They seem to have spent some time and thought on the car so, I suppose it's nice.

The trunk is smaller than I would have liked, and I don't think I'll be able to get a suitcase into it--but overall the interior is passable.

If only it weren't still white.

Pamela Thwaite is a keen advocate for healthy low-impact living, supporting local and organic producers. She has recently become an electric-car convert, and is now vice-president of the New Jersey chapter of the Electric Auto Association.

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