Talks about the hybridization and electrification of the MINI line-up have been going around for quite some time now. We even spotted various test vehicles out already fitted with one extra ‘fuel cap’ that clearly indicated they could be plugged into a socket. However, we lacked any official information, until today. Two high-ranking MINI officials finally confirmed that we can expect hybrid and electric vehicles coming from the British brand in the near future.
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With the introduction of the first plug-in hybrid model by the British premium brand, the company hopes to keep the same driving fun customers have grown used to intact. The series development process for this car has been almost completed. It features a combustion engine and an electric motor enabling purely electric propulsion for the first time in a MINI.
Head of MINI brand management Sebastian Mackensen and Head of MINI series management Peter Wolf offered some insight into this new near-series test vehicle, and explained 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”, says Mackensen, “and impress everyone who already has hybrid driving experience with MINI’s unique go-kart driving feel.” The key to achieving this lies in intelligent energy management which is used to control how the combustion engine and electric motor operate together.”
The car used to showcase the first attempt at offering a MINI hybrid model was the upcoming Countryman, dressed in appropriately psychedelic camouflage and featuring the charging socket for the battery integrated in the left side scuttle. There are also a couple of changes done in the cockpit, to differentiate a hybrid model from a standard version. For example, the Start/Stop button in the center of the dashboard glows yellow instead of red while the tachometer in the instrument cluster on the steering column has been replaced with a power display.
AUTO eDRIVE standard mode permits speeds of up to 80 km/h (50 mph), whilst in MAX eDRIVE mode speeds of up to 125 km/h (75 mph) 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.”
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, “and the set-up benefits a lot from the hybrid concept”. Thanks to the eDrive components, which are positioned very low down at the rear, the car’s center 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 optimized via the drive system. “As soon as there is any risk of drive slip, the second drive unit is activated to provide additional traction when starting off or ensuring a high level of steering precision when cornering”, explains Wolf.
Intelligent energy management offers a further opportunity for both power sources to work together effectively. Driving on the motorway activates a third mode with 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.
MINI will introduce the new Countryman at the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show.