Test drive: Mini bosses review first of new hybrids

  • Bosses behind the wheel for Mini test
  • Hybrid model first from the brand
  • Three driving modes, even better handling
HYBRID MINI TESTED: Image: BMW/Mini/Newspress
HYBRID MINI TESTED: Peter Wolf (left) and Sebastian Mackensen get to it with one of the first Mini Hybrid models. Image: BMW/Mini/Newspress

MUNICH, Germany – Mini, now a subsidiary of BMW, is close to launching its first hybrid car so what better way of checking a close-to-production product that getting two of the bosses to drive it?

They might not be as objective of a bunch of critical motoring journalists but then again they wouldn’t want to be caught slacking on the job either, so the head of Mini brand-management Sebastian Mackensen and series management boss Peter Wolf decided to preview the first plug-in hybrid model to come of the British production line in Oxford, north of London.

Mini says series development is almost done. The Mini, for the first time, has an electric motor to work solo or in tandem with a normal combustion engine – described by the automaker as “a new phase for Mini which offers a glimpse into a future charged with excitement for drivers yet to experience the thrill of a hybrid”.

HYBRID MINI TESTED: Image: BMW/Mini/Newspress
HYBRID MINI TESTED: Mackensen and Wolf settle down for some serious driving.Image: BMW/Mini/Newspress

Test-drive over, Mackensen and Wolf elected to offer insight into this electric Mini “and explain how it retains the kart feeling in the true spirit of a Mini”.

Mackensen told The Corner in a media release: “We want to convince people of the benefits of hybrid drive, impress everybody who’s driven a hybrid about Mini’s’s unique kart-driving feel.”

“The key to achieving this,” Mini says, “is intelligent energy management to control when the power units should be used singly or together. For this reason the Mini plug-in hybrid model is not focused on efficiency, but on the pursuit of driving fun.”

The car, our management road-testers report, doesn’t at first glance, look like a hybrid. “That’s not because of the camouflage foil used. The charging socket is discreet; everything looks familiar in the cabin.

The start/stop button central on the facia, however, glows yellow instead of red but is still simply pressed to start the car though there is no engine noise – the car always “fires up” in battery mode.

READ MORE Carman’s Corner features on Minis

The tachometer of the standard Mini has, however, been replaced by a power display. Our doughty corporate testers report: “Keeping a close eye on this display is particularly worthwhile for the first few kilometres as it informs the driver about the battery pack’s power reserve.

“When the combustion engine starts varies according to the vehicle’s speed and the intensity with which the driver presses the accelerator.”

‘IT’S AN EXHILARATING EXPERIENCE’

Wolf weighs in with a comment: “After a short time you get a feel for this.”

The car will maintain battery-only propulsion even on a freeway. The standard ‘Auto eDrive’ mode allows up to 80km/h, ‘Max eDrive’ 125km/h. Mackensen reported: “Driving a hybrid Mini on battery only must also be an exhilarating experience – this means it is not limited to 30 or 40km/h.”

Mackensen put the car through its paces to demonstrate how firmly the accelerator must be depressed to activate the petrol engine. “Then things really start happening. With the combined output of both drives the Mini Hybrid has unparalleled acceleration compared to its combustion-engined models.”

BATTERY MASS LOWERS CENTRE OF GRAVITY

Wolf added that the car’s handling proved precise when taking bends on twisting roads. “This is where the Mini’s plug-in hybrid concept plays its next trump card. Thanks to the eDrive components being positioned very low at the rear of the car its centre of gravity is lower and the weight is evenly balanced between the front and rear wheels – ideal for a higher level of Mini agility.”

HYBRID MINI TESTED: Image: BMW/Mini/Newspress
HYBRID MINI TESTED: Topping up the battery – the plug socket is described as ‘discreet’. Image: BMW/Mini/Newspress

Using both electric and convential drive also automatically imbues the car with all-wheel drive: the electric motor drives the rear wheels, the combustion engine the front.

“Since the intelligent energy management is linked to the stability control system,” Wolf said, “the traction and drive stability are optimised. As soon as there is any risk of drive slip the second drive unit is activated to provide more traction when pulling off or when cornering.”

There’a also a third mode – ‘Save Battery’, which can be invoded with the same switch. Mackensen explains: “Intelligent energy management offers a further opportunity for both power sources to work together.

DRIVING TO THE SOUND OF SILENCE

“In this mode the combustion engine and electric motor power the car together to the high-voltage battery retains charge at a constant level or even recharges to ensure enough power later for purely electric driving.”

The bosses’ test over, the Mini is driven back into town in silence. The status display on the facia reminds the driver to recharge the battery through a wallbox or power socket.

Refuelling is not yet necessary because the Mini plug-in hybrid used only a small amount of fuel.

HYBRID MINI TESTED: Image: BMW/Mini/Newspress
TESTING TIME OVER:Two happy Mini bosses at the end of their city and motorway test drive. Gonna sell oOK, guys? :mage: BMW/Mini/Newspress
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