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The Mini enters a BRAVE GREEN WORLD

I had preconceptions about this car before I drove it. Having batteries will mean it will weigh more than a normal Mini and it will be sluggish due to the extra weight. The ride will be harsh, it’ll thump along over bumps and the batteries will die on me at the furthest point away from base.

None of the above turned out to be true. Good thing too, as the trend towards electric cars is hotting up. The Tokyo motor show this year was all about the EV – electric vehicle. It’s a good time to get your hands on one if you live in London, because we’re in uncharted territory. Boris Johnson doesn’t know how much to charge users when they plug their EV into a charging point so for the time being, running one is practically free – apart from your own home-brewed kilowatt usage of course.

Now, for the Mini. In total, 612 cars have been built, 41 going to “testers” in the UK, including our very own PM, Gordon Brown (except he doesn’t drive due to blindness in his left eye, so Mandy’s got it instead).

I’ve just been handed the keys to car number 611. It looks just like a normal Mini, the giveaway being the lack of exhaust pipe protruding from the rear – that, and the large E painted on the doors, which happens to resemble an electric plug.

I jump in the left seat, put my key in the slot and press Start. Silence. But look, signs of life – needles spinning around the gauge and the fuel level lights now representing battery charge. It’s full and primed for the off.

I select D for Drive on the automatic gearbox (handbrake off), dab the accelerator and forwards we go, silently and emission-free into the traffic. Power is immediate and there’s plenty of it. In fact, I’m seriously impressed with its performance despite weighing 1,465kg. The Mini E generates 204bhp and has a limited top speed of 95mph, and we don’t want to destroy the motor after all.

As for range, the harder you drive it the less you’ll get out of a charge. On a fair day, good conditions and driving as though you’re terrified of speed, you should manage around 150 miles. The trip computer will also give you an up-to-the-minute reading of all the vital figures and warn you of impending battery doom. A full night’s charge will cost just £1.50.

Regenerative braking cuts in the minute you lift off the accelerator, rapidly slowing you down and – with the distance in front judged correctly – you’ll find that no left peddle is needed. The brake lights come on automatically the moment you lift off the power too.

Inside? There’s work to be done on space. Everything behind the front seats is devoted to the lithium-ion batteries, including the air-intake needed to keep them cool.

By 2015, when BMW anticipates Mini E production, there will be four proper seats, a normal boot and almost certainly increased range. Here’s to that.

THE VERDICT
DESIGN
PERFORMANCE
PRACTICALITY
VALUE FOR MONEY
THE FACTS: MINI
PRICE: N/A (Prototype)
ENGINE: Electric
BATTERY CHARGE TIME: 4.5 hrs
0-62mph: 8.5 secs
TOP SPEED: 95 mph
CONSUMPTION: 0.22 kwh/ mls (city)
RANGE: 80 miles
(winter conditions)