Electric Mini E driven

* We drive electric Mini * Trial to lease car * £330 a month...

Electric Mini E driven

How does the idea of a Mini that's quicker than a Cooper, but costs less to run and emits zero emissions grab you?

If that sounds appealing, the Mini E an all-electric version of the iconic hatchback will be right up your street. Except it won't, unless you're one of the 20 people in the UK already selected to run one as part of a special test programme.

This isn't a Mini you'll ever be able to walk into a showroom and buy, but 600 have been built to take part in a worldwide trial that will shape an all-new BMW Group electric car due to be launched within five years.

Mini E: 20 lucky drivers
Just 20 Mini Es will be leased to selected private users in the UK over the next six months at a cost of 330 per month. All insurance and maintenance costs are included, but there's no choice on interior or exterior trim, and they're all left-hand drive.

The good news is that, electric or not, the E is a Mini through and through. Although the batteries and motor add a further 325kg to the weight of a standard Cooper, it's still great fun and feels nimble and alert.

Put your foot down and the 201bhp electric motor under the bonnet gives a strong, steady flow of power through a single-speed automatic gearbox. Acceleration from a standstill is quicker than a Mini Cooper, but accompanied by a muted whirr rather than a roar.

Shedding speed is just as easy, because as soon as you lift off the throttle the electric motor acts as a generator, slowing the car so effectively that you hardly need to touch the brake. In fact, the switch from one to the other is so abrupt that it can be hard to make smooth progress. This is the kind of glitch the trial will help fine-tune, Mini says.

Future electric models will also be better packaged, says the manufacturer, because they'll be engineered from the ground up. Unlike the Mini E, which has a big, carpeted lump in place of the rear seats, with a laptop-sized boot space behind.

Charge the car at home

Participants in the programme will have a high-power charging point installed in their home that can top up the Mini E's battery from empty in 4.5 hours. Using a standard domestic socket takes twice that long. A full charge costs around 4.00 by day and less than half that using cheaper night-time electricity supplies.

Mini quotes a maximum range of between 100 and 120 miles in normal traffic conditions, so even if you drive hard by day and recharge at night, the Mini E's everyday costs will be low. Still interested? Applicants for a second trial scheme will be needed in 2010 (see www.electricmini.co.uk for more details).

Our verdict

An intriguing and appealing glimpse into the future

Mini E Price £330/month
On sale NA
You'll like Quick, clean and fun
You won't Only two seats; availability