MINI are making their first plug-in hybrid model. This means the power train will be a combination combustion and electric motor system, but drivers will have the option to drive electric-only. The company says the development process for this car has almost been completed and this will be the first time an electric motor will enable purely electric propulsion in a MINI.
Head of MINI brand management Sebastian Mackensen and Head of MINI series management Peter Wolf offer insight into this new nearseries test vehicle, and explain how it retains go-kart feeling in the true spirit of a MINI during a test drive of this model.
“With this model we want to convince MINI customers of the benefits of hybrid drive”
At first glance, you wouldn’t recognise the car is any different to a standard MINI, with engineers able to somehow find room for the extra complexity of a hybrid in the same already small package. The charging socket for the high-voltage battery is discreetly integrated in the left Side Scuttle.
If you’re used to the MINI interior, everything looks familiar, with the exception of the start/stop button in the centre of the dashboard which glows yellow instead of red. This vehicle, remains silent as the hybrid model always starts in electric mode.
The RPM counter in the instrument cluster on the steering column has been replaced with a power display. Keeping a close eye on this display is particularly worthwhile for the first few kilometres as it informs the driver about the electric motor’s power reserves before the combustion engine fires up. When exactly the combustion engine starts varies depending upon on the vehicle’s speed and the intensity with which the driver operate the accelerator pedal.
And this new driving experience promises a lot of driving fun. The hybrid MINI makes full use of the electric motor’s entire torque, which is available right from standstill, allowing for catapult-like acceleration. Even after leaving the slower pace of the city, this vehicle maintains its zero-tailpipe emissions at motorway speeds. The high-voltage battery under the rear seats provides power for long-lasting electric driving.
AUTO eDRIVE standard mode permits speeds of up to 80 km/h, whilst in MAX eDRIVE mode speeds of up to 125 km/h are possible. For Mackensen this is a question of character:
“In a hybrid MINI model, driving electrically must also be an exhilarating experience. This means that entirely electric driving is not limited to speeds of 30 or 40 km/h, but to speeds well beyond city traffic pace.”
Testing the vehicle himself, Mackensen puts the car through its paces and demonstrates that you need to step on the accelerator peddle very firmly indeed to activate the second power source. Then things really start happening. With the combined output of both drives, the first MINI hybrid vehicle demonstrates unparalleled acceleration performance when compared with its combustion-only siblings.
However, MINI’s go-kart driving characteristics consists of more than just fast acceleration. Above all, this hybrid MINI has to prove how precisely it handles when taking bends on the most exciting, twisting roads. This is where MINI’s plug-in hybrid concept plays its next trump card. “As far as the chassis and suspension are concerned, nothing changes from the conventionally driven model variants”, says Wolf.
Thanks to the eDrive components, which are positioned very low down at the rear, the car’s centre of gravity is lowered and the weight is evenly balanced between the front and rear axle – ideal for achieving an even higher level of legendary MINI agility.
The Hybrid concept provides yet another benefit: the electric motor transmits its power to the rear wheels, the combustion engine to the front wheels. Since the intelligent energy management is linked to the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), traction and drive stability are optimised via the drive system.
There’s also a third option on the eDrive toggle switch, SAVE BATTERY. In this mode, the combustion engine powers the car whilst at the same time, the high voltage battery can retain charge at a constant level or indeed increase charge via a generator. Extended driving in SAVE BATTERY mode enables enough power generation for purely electric driving later.