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Mini E 2008 Review

As I jumped into an electric Mini in Los Angeles, as one of the very first journalists anywhere in the world to drive the Mini E, I was surprised as it drove so much like a normal petrol- powered car.

The Mini E is spritely, has excellent air conditioning, rides nicely and has the same quality construction and funky looks as the regular petrol-power Mini models in showrooms in Australia. And, as you would expect, it is very, very quiet.

Then again, it is charged through a high-voltage cable connected to the electricity grid ...

The Mini E also drops from a four-seater to a two-passenger car, as the tail end is loaded with the giant 200-kilogram battery pack which makes it one of the cars at the sharp end of the move from unleaded to volts.

There are many other electric cars at the Los Angeles Motor Show this week, and California has become a hotbed of electric action as major carmakers accelerate their plans for zero-emission cars to battle global warming "This is about re-inventing mobility. Change and progress is coming,"

the head of the world's fifth-largest carmaker, Carlos Ghosn of Renault-Nissan, said at the opening of the Los Angeles Motor Show.

He forecasted global sales of around seven million electric vehicles a year by 2020, although that will still only be around 10 per cent of total worldwide sales.

The Mini E is already the poster car for the green movement with significant advantages over other contenders including the Mitsubishi i-MIEV mini-car.

For a start, it has 240-kilometre range. It can also zap to 100km/h in just 8.5 seconds, which is better than many petrol cars, and it has a top speed of 155 km/h.

It can also be recharged in just 2.5 hours.

The bad news, for now, is that Mini is only building 500 Es and they will only be leased to people in the USA for around $1500 a month.

There is no plan to bring the car to Australia, except for demonstrations.

But the BMW Group, which produced the Mini E, is committed to alternative energy and is working on everything from cleaner petrol engines to hydrogen power and the eventual switch to electric.

Mitsubishi will easily beat Mini to showrooms when it introduces its plug-in i-MIEV towards the end of next year and Daimler also has battery-power plans for its Smart ForTwo and Mercedes-Benz A-Class, probably early in 2010.

But everyone on the electric bandwagon knows that cars such as the Mini E will only be workable in Australia once there is a significant network of plug-in charging stations like the one already in place in LA.

That is one reason why the head of the i-MIEV project, Kenichiro Wada of Mitsubishi, is coming to Australia next month.

"I am sorry, but without any infrastructure we cannot supply this car to Australia. It is chick-and-egg relationship," Wada said.

"If possible, I would like to talk to governments and power utility companies. They have to prepare for the arrival of electric cars."


Pricing guides

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Range and Specs

(base) 1.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $6,000 – 9,350 2009 Mini Cooper 2009 (base) Pricing and Specs
50 Camden 1.6L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $6,500 – 10,010 2009 Mini Cooper 2009 50 Camden Pricing and Specs
50 Mayfair 1.6L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $6,700 – 10,340 2009 Mini Cooper 2009 50 Mayfair Pricing and Specs
Chilli 1.6L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $5,000 – 7,810 2009 Mini Cooper 2009 Chilli Pricing and Specs