Why an Electric MINI?
My wife Jing and I needed a second car. When looking for cheap vehicles, some electric vehicles showed up because of $7,500 tax rebates. We were after something small, thus affordable and easy to maneuver. MINI won us over the Leaf or Bolt in part to its cool/funky/cute style and MINI’s feel luxurious. The fit and finish are premium and the cabin is quiet. How this is achieved for $35,000, I have to assume is in part to the small size, and small battery.
MINI has a playful steering wheel, the braking is strong, and the suspension is tight. These factors lead to a more engaged, personal driving experience. Jing describes driving a MINI like an extension of yourself. The tall windows make for good visibility. Parking is hilariously easy in a MINI, always leaving plenty of room around you. Jing ended up selling the Civic and getting a MINI of her own, red, with white top and mirror caps.
I thought the size might compromise safety, but apparently not, with “Good” IIHS ratings, particularly in the side impact tests.
34 cubic feet of storage can easily fit an extra set of wheels and tires for the winter swap.
Battery and Charging Specifications
A wall charger was included that can be plugged into any 120v outlet, and some, like the BMW charger that came with my MINI, can also be plugged into a 220/240v outlet like our dryer plugs into. More than 90% of the time, I plug in when I get out of the car and wake up in the morning to a full charge. However, I also want to talk about that other percent of the time where I have to use public chargers. So far, that has not included plugging into an open wall socket in the wild.. yet.
At home, where electricity is 14 cents per kWh, and it takes 1 kWh to go 3.6 miles on average, which is 28 kWh per 100 miles. That means 10,000 miles has taken 2,800 kWh for about $392. For reference, the average gas car costs $1,396.89 in gas and $66 for an oil change in 10,000 miles.
28 kWh generates ~120 miles on average. I drive 300-400 miles a week, and we take 200+ mile trips a couple of times a year. If we drive around 100 miles for a trip, which is every couple of weeks, we are plugging in at home and forgetting about range. A 50 kWh public fast charging rate means 80% in 36 minutes. For us, after 2 hours of driving, we like to stop to stretch our legs and refresh, making the small range a non-issue for us.
The cooling systems for the battery and motor operate at much lower temperatures than an engine, which means all the energy for heating the cabin must come from the battery, at the cost of range. Therefore: The guess-o-meter for the range increases by a few miles if you turn off the heat.
The State of Public Charging
Getting to a charger with 15% can be daunting right now, because you can’t be sure it’s available, or even functional. The infrastructure needs a ton of improvement. For example, coming through Massachusetts, I planned to stop at a community college on a Saturday to get a quick charge at their only ChargePoint charger. Someone was plugged in, but said she would only be 30 minutes. Ok, PlugShare shows another charger less than 10 miles away at a supermarket.
I pulled into the parking lot and found 2 chargers across from each other, one’s occupied by a Tesla. I park at the other one. The screen instructs to download the app to begin. It’s always great when you need to download an app to make a simple transaction. I’m standing in the rain searching for this app, and find it with 1 star reviews. The app asks me for a station number. I looked all over the pillar, the fences, the parking space itself – nowhere was there a station number. I must have been there 15 minutes trying to start the charge. Defeated, I returned to the community college where I patiently waited to charge.
At a gas station, you just pull up, no regard for accounts (usually), or apps, and swipe your card at the station to release the fuel. ChargePoint and EVGo have decent systems for this, but many others fail miserably, and there aren’t enough chargers to dismiss them entirely. Once, in Waterford, I saw a 12 stall station completely full, with one broken charger, and 2 other vehicles waiting. Average charge time seems to be about 30 minutes. I decided to just go straight home less gingerly. Millions of chargers are slated to be built by governments, non profits, and large automotive industry projects in 2024, but right now, the charging infrastructure is the worst part of owning an EV in general.
I dream of a clean, well-lit area you can sit and charge your laptop and phone while you charge your car. Bathrooms are a necessity. Indoor seating and vending machines would be primo. This should be a place you can clean your windshield and fill your tires, or unwind a bit during a long road trip. Maybe you forgot to charge last night at home, so you’re getting a fast charge while you check your emails and grab a coffee for 15 minutes.
Maintenance and Reliability
Electric cars don’t have engines, so they don’t need spark plugs, oil changes, oil filters, an exhaust system, fuel pump, fuel filter, radiator, alternator, timing belt, transmission, catalytic converter, muffler, or air filters. The average internal combustion vehicle has 2,000 moving parts – the average electric vehicle has 20. This means less maintenance, and less points of failure. This was a major selling point for us.
I haven’t had the MINI a year yet, so of course there haven’t been many maintenance visits. I’ve had a new set of wheels and tires installed for winter, and replaced one tire after hitting an exposed manhole cover during road work. I’m due for the first brake and coolant fluid checkup in a few weeks.
The biggest concern most people have about the reliability of an electric powertrain is its battery, and rightly so since they usually cost about a third of the total cost of the car. While phones and laptop batteries often lose much of their capacity or fail after a few years, all high voltage batteries in electric vehicles come with an 8 year/100,000 mile warranty by law.
The price of these batteries has consistently gone down, 90% from the 90’s, with exciting new battery chemistries being announced rapidly in the past few years as well, such as solid state batteries. If this were an investment with an ICE vehicle as an option, it’s important to consider the cost of gas has gone up 90% in the same time frame.
Acceleration is instant and grippy, delivering a reliable 6-7 second 0-60. On a wet or icy road, I find myself being extra careful pressing the accelerator pedal since there tends to be more slip than some other cars, like the Civic. 180 HP carrying 3,100 lbs. is sporty and engaging in curvy roads. This was perfect when I met with other MINI owners for MINIs Take Vermont last month. I have heard from other MINI owners that this EV drives like a MINI, just quieter.
Naturally, a smaller car has its benefits. It’s easier to maneuver in general, but especially in tight cities we visit often, like Boston and Hartford. Less weight, wheels at the corners, and all the weight low to the ground and centered, means less body roll and tighter handling, and more responsive steering. It’s also more efficient, and gets better reliable performance as a result.
It has Apple CarPlay, geo location, auto air conditioning, remote start, lane departure warnings, auto dimming rearview mirror, collision detection and avoidance, heated seats, interior and exterior lighting that’s useful for entering and exiting in pitch darkness. The A/C is a heat pump that doesn’t rely on warming up the engine, so it’s nearly instant. In all honesty, this MINI has made the driver’s seat one of my favorite places to be.
I have never driven so much in 11 months as I have with my MINI. The driving dynamics and character are important to bond with a vehicle. Low maintenance and projected savings bode well financially. The convenience, independence, and practicality of plugging in at home cannot be understated, but the public charging infrastructure is limited at best, and capable of stranding people at worst. But, that’s not MINI’s fault, and it’s bound to get better in a few years. In summary, I’m happy with my choice, and as you can see, I’m kind of obsessed now.