As the last man standing amongst halo cars or wheels that serve as style-statements without being obnoxiously expensive or at the least ostentatious is the Mini Cooper that has yet another cross-roads it finds itself on. While the rest of its peer group that include the Volkswagen Beetle and the Fiat 500 have long since stopped rolling off the production lines, or left India, the crossroads of going electric presents itself.
The BMW Group which owns MINi and the Rolls-Royce brand in recent times launched its i4 a statement of intent of how it plans to push its battery-driven cars in the subcontinent. Indeed BMW India today offers the i4, the iX and the MINI Cooper SE, all of which are supposedly just a fraction of the over dozen EV cars it plans to launch in this market when the time is right.
But back to the cute, eye-catching car that the MINI is. Drive the electric MINI around town and its low-slung, rounded curves get more stares than a troupe of Hare Rama Hare Krishna procession. It's not much different inside in that it has toggle-style switches, large dials and tachometers and firm hard seats that make cornering and sporty driving a cinch. It's also, thanks to its European DNA, got a seriously heavy body-frame. Whoever coined the "thunk" phrase in a reference to Skoda's doors and how it thudded shut clearly had never sat in a MINI. In fact its doors are so solid that when you jump out, all you need is to feather tap them with a finger (not even two) and it swings shut in obedience to the eternal laws of physics. Note to pet-owners and parents: make sure your little ones are out the seat before you "touch" the door.
Start up the MINI electric and its ready from the get go as are all MINIs except that with this one of course there's a slight difference here which is the electric motor does churn out a slight whirring sound that's later followed by a steady silent static sound reminiscent as are all electric cars of a spaceship or a really well-tuned Ham radio searching for a station.
There's little design hints in the interior decor to let on that it is an electric car save for the dashboard which is composed of high tech plastics in grey with flecks of green presumably to suggest that it's eco-friendly and not carbon-emitting.
Like all EV cars the MINI zips to high speeds in the blink of an eye, almost lurching occupants inside to grab on to side handles or the seats for stability. If there is a factor that one needs to be mindful of it is this. That you have a range of around 270 km at full charge which ought to be fine in small towns, resorts or inner city driving. But the second you get into a groove where you're commuting from city to city and traversing the breadth and length of a large metro like Delhi-Gurgaon-Noida you could easily burn through that in a couple days. Of course, presumably this is something that MINi s working on as are all other EV makers - i.e. in boosting range for drives up to at least north of 400 km.
Losing speed or deceleration in the MINI can take drivers by surprise like in any electric car. That's because there is no gentle or gradual deceleration from top speeds to lower ones. Instead, the MINI electric will lose speed much like when you cut power off from an electrically-powered device –– instantly. That means a swift shift in driving styles to ensure your brake-pedal is always a foot tap away.
While ride quality is smooth and powerful the electric MINI does have one wondering how and when one will recharge the car when it loses power. Surprisingly, one learned that even at mainstream hotspots such as the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi, there was no infrastructure set up for electric charging thus far.
Globally, BMW Group said that 50% of its sales will come from electric, globally. In India, in the short term electric will be a niche segment because infrastructure is not entirely rolled out in every city, even though there will be that infrastructure at every dealer point they have. Also, each customer will get a mounted AC charger along with their electric car.
That doesn't take away from the fact that there is a fan-base who appreciates small, eye-catching cars with designs that stand out and a heritage of being different. Case in point VW's boss was noted to have recently hinted at potentially bringing back the Beetle, in an electric format in the near future.
While the range of "fuel" runs out faster than one would like, the 2-door MINI is not a car that is really geared for everyday travel or commuting. It is in fact more a lifestyle product that's geared for younger (or older) drivers who want to use the car for specific purposes. In other words will it be practical for runs to the Airport to pick up siblings with baggage and the answer is definitely not but it will certainly be the vehicle to be spotted in for the Dotcom CEO who wants to hop across to the local coffee-shop at a nearby patisserie for a meeting with an investor or future business partner.
Ultimately The Mini Cooper is one of the all-time halo car greats – as a car that got post war Britain commuting when all resources were dear, it was a blessing and thus remains a loved classic. A classic defined properly is something that stands the test of time, and that is something MINI is clearly looking at doing.
MINI Cooper SE
Max. Output in hp (kW): 184 (135)
Max. Torque in Nm at 1/min: 270 (1000)
Range on Full Charge in Kms: 270
Weight: 1365 kilograms
Motor Configuration: Single Electric Motor, FWD (Battery Capacity in gross: 32.6 KWH)