FIRST DRIVE: The Classic MINI Electric

MINI, Test Drives | March 27th, 2018 by 3
Classic MINI Electric 12 830x553

What do you get when you mix the old-school charm and style of 1960’s Michael Caine with new-school, Silicon Valley-type technology? Well, you actually get …

What do you get when you mix the old-school charm and style of 1960’s Michael Caine with new-school, Silicon Valley-type technology? Well, you actually get an incredibly fun and appealing product. As evidenced by this new Classic MINI Electric.

Basically, this Classic MINI Electric is exactly as it sounds. It’s a classic MINI, the sort they drove through Turin in the Italian Job, but with batteries and an electric motor stuffed inside. That’s a rather primitive way of putting it but, in a nutshell, that’s what it is. And we recently had a chance to drive it, albeit briefly, though some of the busy streets of Manhattan.

Classic MINI Electric 13 830x553

This Classic MINI Electric is a one-off project done for fun and it’s not something you can actually buy. However, it is a good example of what can be done and it’s surprisingly fun.

Under the hood lies a small electric motor, rather than a four-cylinder engine, and it powers just the front wheels, as a proper MINI should. Behind the driver’s seat is a small battery pack that’s covered in carpet, so it doubles as a sort of parcel shelf. Thanks to the incredibly low curb weight of the classic MINI, this electric version can make do with pretty small battery and still have an impressive range, around 65 miles or so.

The most odd bit about the Classic MINI Electric is that, connected to that front-mounted electric motor, is a four-speed manual gearbox. I’ve driven quite a few electric cars before but never have I ever driven one with a manual gearbox. It was an odd experience to see a manual gear lever in an electric car.

Classic MINI Electric 8 830x554

There’s no clutch, though. The clutch pedal was there but it didn’t do anything. You just shift the car into gear with your foot off the “throttle” and then take off. To shift gears, you simply lift off the throttle, wait a second, then smoothly shift into your next gear and get back on the throttle. Easy peasy. At a stop, you don’t have to be in neutral and you don’t even have to keep your foot on the brake. It almost felt like driving an automatic, just with the added bonus of being able to row through gears. I imagine it’s a lot like Saab’s old Sensonic gearboxes.

It was surprisingly quick, too. It’s not as fast as any typical electric car, an i3 would probably smoke it in a straight line, but it’s quick enough to be fun and felt lively. Plus, the electric motor whine in a car that looks, feels and is as old as the classic MINI is an odd but cool experience.

Aside from that oddity of its electric powertrain and manual gearbox, it felt very much like a classic MINI. At least what I think a classic MINI feels like, as I’d never driven one before this. The steering was completely unassisted, lacking power steering, and heavy at slow speeds. Though, incredibly accurate and dripping with feedback. The position of the wheel was odd, though, like driving a bus.

The suspension was rock-hard, though, as there has been no change to the suspension from the original setup. It’s been restored with new parts but no additional design changes to its chassis or suspension. So it was firm, almost brutally so over New York’s pock-marked roads, but very sporty and very fun.

Also, being a classic MINI, the view out was excellent. Spindle-thin pillars and tall glass gave the Classic MINI Electric an excellent greenhouse in which to see out of. That, combined with the car’s bite-sized footprint, made it a blast to shoot gaps in tight NYC traffic.

The idea of a classic MINI being converted to electric is a fun one. It takes the best of cars from a bygone era and blends it with the best from our current era. So it has tight, nimble, pure handling with the instant electric torque and technology of a modern-day powertrain. I only had a chance to sample it for a few minutes but from what I felt, I liked it a lot. It’s a very cool car and we hope that it sparks enthusiasts to make more cars like this.

NEWSLETTER