The arrival of pure Electric Vehicles to U.S. automotive dealerships the past decade resembled more of a kitchen sink trickle, not an all-out Tsunami as acceptance and familiarization of this emerging technology took a cautious route. However, the growing number of EVs now available in 2020 adds a mightier flow to that same kitchen tap.
Pure electric, zero-emission vehicles (EVs) do away with conventional internal combustion (IC) engines in need of continual gasoline refills in favor of a system combining an electric motor and large, rechargeable, lithium-ion battery requiring an electric power outlet for its mojo.
One especially prickly issue for hearty Midwesterners; not all EV nameplates sell in all 50 states. A majority during the past decade set up shop only in coastal states with stricter emission regulations. One notable and highly recognized exception remains upstart Tesla, but its success was/is largely dependent upon early adaptors possessing adequate financial means.
A new entry into the highly charged electric race promises availability in all 50 states (including here in the Land of Lincoln) with a very competitive (under $30,000) starting price point: the all-new 2020 MINI Cooper EV
MINI USA began selling vehicles here in the states back in 2002 with the introduction of the MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper S subcompact hardtops. MINI is now an independent sub brand of Germany's luxury-orientated BMW Group, which took a controlling interest in MINI in the late 1990s. Electronic technology in the MINI Cooper mirrors that found in BMW's all electric version of its diminutive i3 EV. The British Motor Co. debuted the original subcompact MINI in England in the late 1950s.
The 181 horsepower electric motor powers the front wheels and connects to a single-speed transmission. The MINI Cooper's electric motor produces 135 kilowatts, equivalent to 181 horsepower. In a mere 7.3 seconds, the MINI Cooper EV zips from zero to 62 miles per hour. Go-kart handling, prevalent in the gas version, carries over nicely when electrified as stiff yet controlled suspension tackles corners with ease.
The diminutive, three-door Cooper EV hatchback strongly resembles its IC counterpart with circular headlight housing drawing a strong resemblance to the orbs fronting the once popular, now retired Volkswagen Beetle. Seating for four awaits, with front buckets manually sliding fore and aft.
Tall rectangular red tail light housing pays homage to the island nation of its birth with inside artwork reminiscent of the British Flag. The flat roof includes a playful top-side spoiler and large side windows never taper rearward, creating large see-through expanses negating pesky blind spots when piloting. It's the one EV available with a cute retro appeal, not a futuristic bubble exterior.
Spot yellow is used to visually signify electrified underpinnings with wheels bearing yellow circular pin stripes and a long, narrow yellow rectangle gracing the front grille. Toyota opts for a dark blue hue nestled inside its circular logo to signify their alternative-powered vehicles.
MINI Cooper provides one of the least expensive EVs in the marketplace with a starting price below $30,000. That's prior to any Federal incentives applicable during annual income tax filings in which MINI Cooper EVs qualifies for a substantial $7,500 deduction. The tradeoff is an estimated driving range of only 110 miles, a short span when contrasted with rivals, making MINI Cooper EV best suited as a second car dedicated to around-town use.
As with its exterior design, the interior follows a similar retro template to its gas-powered stablemate, with hints of a bygone era, the key notable exception found straight ahead with the flat, all-animated instrument panel screen centered by a digital speedometer.
One point of contention in need of address is the tiny point size of the all important electric miles to empty digital countdown; reminiscent of the second-to-last line at the Doctor's office eye exam chart. The IP does includes a large bar graph illustrating available stored electricity, but it's not as precise as the miles-to-empty readout.
Despite its diminutive stance, seating positions elevate at a comforting level for those past their fifth decade of birth. Utilizing a push-tab along the bottom of the center column activates an eerily quiet electronic start.
The accelerator pedal incorporates a different and unique foot feel, with built-in resistance or friction, part of the regenerative braking system common in EVs and hybrids. Lift the right-foot off the pedal after gaining cruising speed, and the vehicle immediately begins to slow down (or resist). This energy gets recaptured by the battery and reused, adding miles back to the estimated 110 mile range. Two levels of friction resistance (low, high) are selectable with 'high' set as the default. To choose less accelerator pedal resistance, push a tab immediately left of the electronic start/stop tab at the lower end of the center console.
The battery pack adds about 300 pounds when compared to its internal combustion look-alike twin. MINI warranties this lithium-ion battery for an extensive eight-years or 100,000 mile time frame.
In addition, MINI includes a complimentary maintenance program similar in scope to what its overlord BMW offers. BMW offers its clients a complimentary three-year maintenance program, and MINI follows a similar game plan. MINI's EV also includes complimentary scheduled maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles covering brake inspection, cabin micro-filter replacement and vehicle/battery check. No complimentary motor oil changes needed since 10W30 lubricant isn't part of an EV's DNA.
A MINI EV hardtop hatchback checks in at a tempting $29,900. Two option groups build upon the Base or 'Signature' level of the EV variant. A 'Signature Plus' trim ($33,900) adds power folding side mirrors, panoramic moon roofs, park distance control (front only) and upgraded sound system. The 'Iconic' trim ($36,900) adds a leather steering wheel, heads-up windshield display projection, larger 8.8-inch touch screen and front/rear park distance control.
MINI delivered an Iconic EV trim for a week's testing with a $37,750 bottom line including an $850 destination charge. By comparison, a MINI Cooper with a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder internal combustion engine starts at $23,400, rather pricy for a traditional subcompact three-door.
According to a 2019 survey commissioned by MINI USA, 80 percent of EV owners tend to charge vehicles solely at home. The same survey revealed 73 percent of respondents did not know where the nearest public charging station was located.
A number of websites and downloadable Smartphone Apps provide locations of publically available, fee-based Level 2 and DC (Direct Current) fast charging stations. Some are updated and edited better than others.
Recharging a spent battery, utilizing a conventional 120-volt, three-plug outlet (also known as Level 1) takes approximately 25 hours to reach 110 miles. The four to five miles of electric charge per hour is on par with most EVs. A recently tested Kia Niro EV with a longer 270 mile range estimated charge time at 55 hours utilizing a 120 volt outlet. Graduate to a 240-volt outlet (or Level 2, utilized for household washing machines) and full charge time from a spent battery reduces to about 8 hours.
When utilizing a publicly available, DC fast charger, 80 percent capacity (or about 88 miles of potential travel) can be reached in 35 minutes.
MINI locates its plug port behind a circular door plate on the rear passenger-side fender. Once the 120-volt (Level 1), three-prong plug nestles into the wall socket, the other end, resembling a small hand-held hair dryer, snaps into the onboard socket. This same socket accepts Level 2 and DC charges.
2020 Mini Cooper EV
Price as tested: $37,750
Battery: 32.6-KWh Lithium Ion
Electric range: 110 miles
Wheelbase: 98 inches
Overall Length: 151 inches
Overall Height: 56 inches
Overall Width: 68 inches
Curb weight: 3,009 pounds
High-Voltage Battery Warranty: 8-years/100,000 miles
Assembly: Oxford, England