Rare BMW Screwup: Mini E Electric Vehicle Is Unpleasant To Drive

June 2, 2009
2009 MINI E

2009 MINI E

Like their owners and pretty much every auto journalist, we love BMWs. And we especially love driving them.

It's a cliche now, but especially their sedans are perfectly balanced, instantly responsive, and raring for the open road. They are, to overuse the decades-old tagline, pretty close to the ultimate driving machines.

Which is why we're so disappointed in the Mini E electric vehicle. In this, BMW's first experiment with electric drive, the company had said it would "preserve the Mini experience" in an EV.

As we said in our complete First Drive report on GreenCarReports.com: If the Mini were many hundreds of pounds heavier, suffered a distinct rear weight bias, and had the deceleration braking of a semi with the Jake Brake on ... yeah, maybe.

Just to be clear, we love the roller-skate handling of the 2009 Mini Cooper and 2009 Mini Cooper S. We have a special fondness for the not-quite-a-station-wagon Mini Clubman. And the Mini John Cooper Works is 208 horsepower worth of hot-rod heaven.

Which is why we're doubly disappointed with the driving characteristics of the Mini E. We have several questions:

- Electric motors generate peak torque from 0 rpm, so why did BMW program a slight lag before power comes on when you floor it?

- Did BMW really greenlight regenerative braking so forceful that it pitches you forward in your seat belt when you lift off completely?

- Was it really a good idea to put the battery-charge gauge directly in front of the driver so he can watch every single mile ebb away?

We have great confidence in BMW, and the company makes relatively few mistakes. Perhaps the truncated hatchback BMW 318ti was one; some might say the squashed-sport-ute styling of the 2009 BMW X6 is another.

And we suspect BMW will get electric drive right sooner or later. After all, these are just development prototypes, released in limited numbers for a year so the company can get better data on how EV drivers really use their cars.

It's just that we've several prototype EVs now: a 2011 Chevrolet Volt mule, the 2012 Nissan EV prototype, and the 2012 Ford Focus EV prototype. And, of course, the production version of the 2009 Tesla Roadster, which we were lucky enough to road-test and which will make a believer out of even the firmest skeptic.

All four of those electric cars, whether prototype or production, were more pleasant to drive and better behaved than the Mini E.

We're not angry, honest. We're just ... disappointed.  And we bet BMW now appreciates how challenging it is to code the software that provides a pleasant EV driving experience.

Bring on the Mini E 2.0. Please.

Mini E electric vehicle - battery charge gauge shows charge and range falling, percent by percent

Mini E electric vehicle - battery charge gauge shows charge and range falling, percent by percent

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