Electric dreams

With UK government announcing its vision for an all-electric future on Britain’s roads, Lauren Harris, spokesperson at the Dutch Embassy, gave the latest plug-in hybrid MINI a spin in town and country

I’ll start with a confession: I’m a new driver. A very new driver. I passed my test (at the fifth attempt) earlier this year, at the grand old age of 39! A born-and-bred Londoner, I’ve been happy until now to get around by public transport. I’m also keen to maintain my green credentials and minimise my carbon footprint as far as possible.

Which is why, when the opportunity arose to test-drive a plug-in hybrid MINI, I couldn’t resist! If clean, electric vehicles are the future of transport, then stylish, compact and versatile hybrids like this are certainly a step in the right direction.

How does it work?
Well, there are three operating modes to choose from, using the ‘eDrive’ toggle switch: Auto eDrive (electric driving up to 80 km/h, after which the combustion engine kicks in); Max eDrive (electric driving up to 125 km/h, ditto) or Save Battery (the car is powered by the combustion engine while the battery charges). With an all-wheel drive system, the front wheels are powered by the combustion engine, and the rear wheels by the electric motor.

It’s economical too – fuel consumption is impressive at 2.1-2.3 litres per 100km, with 49-52g of CO2 emissions per kilometer, which is less than half the average vehicle and exempting it from the dreaded congestion charge.

The car was kitted out with fun features, including a touchscreen navigation system, heated seats, enhanced Bluetooth with wireless charging, reversing assist camera, an eye-level ‘head-up’ display, and electric folding exterior mirrors. I especially liked the MINI logo which cheekily beams from underneath the door handle onto the pavement when the car is parked.

Urban driving
I took the MINI for a week’s test drive, commuting around London during the week and on a trip to a village near Bristol on the weekend.

Getting around London was fairly straightforward; the traffic meant that I was driving slowly enough to be using the electric motor most of the time. It came with a full tank of petrol, but when that ran low, I started looking for electric charging points (there are 14,075 connectors at 4,932 locations and online tools like zap map can help you find your nearest one).

The battery can be charged in 2½ hours at a charging point, or in 3¼ hours at home via a regular household socket. The car came with two cables, one for home use and one for at charging stations. The household cable was too short for me to use as I, like many Londoners, live in an upstairs flat.

But no matter! There were electric charging points on the next street in my neighbourhood in South-West London. Be aware that different charging points use different charging cards, so find out what your local charging infrastructure uses and your retailer will be able to supply you with the appropriate card.

If you have off-street parking, BMW can install home charging units (wallboxes) and some embassies now have charge points. (There are grant schemes for workplace charging so ask your admin manager to investigate!)

Country rides
On my weekend trip to Bristol, the petrol engine automatically kicked in when we reached motorway speeds but I wanted to be as green as possible on the country lanes so I thought I’d charge the battery at a motorway service station. The one we stopped at had five or six different cables. One was in use by another driver; unfortunately that was the one we needed and he had only just started charging!

So what’s the verdict?
The MINI Cooper SE Countryman ALL4 is ideal in many ways for city-dwelling diplomats who are looking for a compact, safe, electric vehicle for day-to-day local or mid-range journeys (the MINI has a range of up to 42 kilometres).

It’s a comfortable, attractive, enjoyable car to drive. And the petrol engine means that there is always a fallback when you can’t find an electric charging point – you won’t run out of juice.

For those of us who would like to go 100% electric the UK has a way to go to bridge the gaps in its charging infrastructure, although the government’s plans to expand this are encouraging.

The MINI hybrid plug-in is ideal for city-dwelling diplomats who are looking for a compact, safe, electric vehicle for day-to-day local or mid-range journeys

Lauren Harris road-tested the F60 MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 PHEV. Diplomats can purchase one from £20,137.50, which includes diplomatic allowances, tax exemptions and the £2500 government grant. To find out more, call 020 3411 2886, email mail@bmw-issd.co.uk or visit: www.bmw-taxfree.com