Review: Electric Mini, eish!

2014-04-12 09:26

CAPE TOWN, South Africa - If my brief encounter with the electric Mini is anything to go by, I doubt the rest of South Africa is ready for the new era of battery-powered cars.

Before I get started, I have to mention that the vehicle was not fully charged when it was collected for review towards the end of 2013 – in Mini’s defence, since I had taken my frustrations to the social universe at the time and moaned until the cows came home.

Image Gallery: 2013 Electric Mini

However, I didn’t know that and neither did the people in charge of the car, so the following incidents are based on that.


Firstly, the car came with a huge file with all sorts of instructions on what you should and should not do... I.e charging the battery. I felt like I was studying for an exam to pass my electric-car licence test.

The huge 'rev counter' behind the steering wheel - which shows battery power - revealed that I could only travel 52km after I had fumbled to start the car, only to realise it was already on... It's that quiet.

Problem, I live about 40km from work and I knew the remaining battery power was not going to take me anywhere close to home. Oh, dear!

It was already late afternoon and I had no intention of staying behind to charge the car before I headed home. Where and how I would have done that, was too much of a logistical nightmare to even consider.

So I thought I'd drive the car to my friend's exhaust shop in Milnerton, about 10km. I knew there would be a plug socket in the wall next to the lift in the workshop.

I made sure the lights and aircon was off, even the radio could not keep me company as a I prayed my way to a garage.


After spending about 30mins trying to figure out the voltage of the plugs – my friend apparently has three different settings in his shop – and trying to remember the correct sequence of instructions and how many times to flick the indicator stalk etc, I was told by Mini’s fleet manager “forget the instructions, just plug it in and switch it on”.

I charged the car for 2.5 hours and my mileage went up to 75km. Considering there was only 25km extra on the “clock”, I knew I was still not going to make it home.

Annoyed to say the least, I crawled at a snail’s pace on the road and received angry looks from fellow road users. Not because I was driving a left-hand drive car with German number plates and a huge Mini and plug graphic on its sides, but because I was holding up traffic. I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide.

I thought to myself, there is no way South Africa is ready for this technology, at least not if one considers the dire state of Eskom.

I mean, even they’re spending billions of rands on diesel to make energy! And what with all those notorious load shedding schedules, often not communicated with the public... No ways, this electric driving buzz is not going to work.

I was forced to pull over and give serious thoughts as to my next move. Which way should I drive home? How many friends do I have on the alternative routes and who has enough prepaid electricity loaded?

Most people have these items in their homes and just that week, buying power units online was a nightmare as the system was offline.

And what about theft? What if people will end up stealing electricity from others just to charge their cars? It's happened before in the US. Wheels24 reported in 2013 that a man was arrested for stealing a charge at a US school for his Nissan Leaf.

Fortunately, it turns out the slower you drive, the more mileage you gain. I chugged along to Blue Downs, about 30km out of Cape Town towards Somerset West, towards my best friend Nazli’s place for another quick charge of three hours.

She posted a picture of the car charging in front of her house on Facebook the next day captioned: “She used to come around and look for a cellphone charger, these days she drops in to charge her car…”

Really funny Nazli...

But is this what we would succumb to given the advent of electric cars in SA? Nissan launched its electric Leaf and it's the same issue for any of its customers.

If you’re going to switch to an electric vehicle, you have to thoroughly do your research and make sure you're equipped with charging points.

When fully charged (read - all night) the car has a claimed range of 170km. Since I live out of town and have to commute daily, the car would get me to work but I'd have to charge it there during the day and then again at home.

It’s awesome for city driving, especially if you live close-by your place of work.  I’m from the northern suburbs, my fiance is from the Swartland in Malmesbury and my mother is from the West Coast. Do you see why this car wouldn’t work for me?

How does it drive? Well, slow, at least I had to. I think the fastest i managed was 130km/h, but then I noticed how that speed sucked all the battery power.

It still looks like a Mini of course, with the usual interior and giant speed clock in the centre console and the window buttons at the bottom of it. The car just felt heavy. It’s a two-seater since the rear of the car is converted to a charging box and it has lashings of bright yellow inserts in the interior. The seats are nice too. But that’s all I have to say because all I wanted to do was get out of the car every time I was in it.

It was an awful experience the very first day, and I’m feeling all flustered just thinking about it all again while writing this.  

But in all fairness, I don’t think I was mentally prepared for it. Nor was the car fully charged.

When it was, the car was actually pleasant to drive, if you’re the cruiser type.  Also, from what I could gather, it didn’t seem to use too many electricity units to charge the car either. You would need a closed garage at night with a power point to charge your car though. I had to leave a small vent window open in order for the power cable to run through the house to our garage.

I’ll give it another go though, seeing as this was just a prototype model. It was pretty awesome driving a unique car on local roads for a couple of days, but I just don’t think SA is prepared for this technology until we have the proper infrastructure.

  • Adriaan Coetzee - 2014-04-14 11:27

    About time they got the article up eish on news 24 it development department.

  • Sean Hearder - 2014-04-14 12:39

    Now that's some free advertising for your friends exhaust shop eh?? As far as the car is concerned... nope not for me!

  • Norbert Skosana - 2014-04-14 13:09

    What a shameless "plug" for your friend's shop. Sies.

  • King Kwagga - 2014-04-14 21:49

    Electric cars are awesome...but not for South AFrican distances. Where I live in Europe I probably clock around 60 km max per week, in a relatively flat city environment. That means I'll probably have to recharge once a week, which would be no trouble at all. I'd look at either a Nissan Leaf (ugly) or a Renault Zoe (beautiful), the latter being much cheaper with similar specs. Even VW E-Up seems ok, but quite expensive for what you get. For South African conditions, well, probably a Tesla Model S (500 km+ on a recharge) can do it for you if you change your habits a bit. All and all they will only get better. But a Mini? Oof, please don't make that the benchmark.

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