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MINI E-Drive

We try brit firm synergy’s take on affordable electric version of class-leading hatch

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Anyone who thought electric cars had to be either mega-expensive or embarrassing to be seen in can think again. The Synergy E-drive offers all the practicality and driveability of a MINI with a fraction of the running costs and a low impact on the environment. The 70-90-mile range should be plenty for most commutes, while the torquey electric motor and single-speed gearbox make it easy to drive. It’s proof that the technology exists for a viable electric model – all we need now is for larger manufacturers to bring affordable cars like this to market.

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The plug-in MINI is here – and Auto Express has driven it! With Government plans to offer grants of £5,000 towards the price of a battery-powered or hybrid car in the next few years, eco models like this are going to be hot property.

But there’s a problem. Current models such as the G-Wiz and Toyota Prius don’t qualify – instead, we’ll have to wait until 2011, when a new breed
of electric cars goes on sale. Or will we?

We drove this Synergy E-drive version of the MINI, and although it’s a prototype – based on the MkI hatch – it’s very close to going on sale. The model isn’t to be confused with the official MINI E, and is an affordable, desirable and easy-to-use all-electric alternative to a petrol car. It’s engineered and built by London-based company Synergy Innovations. So does it make sense?

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Four to six hours plugged into a normal mains supply is enough to completely charge the lithium-polymer battery pack. Depending on how vigorously you drive, that should deliver a range between 70 and 90 miles. According to Synergy, this will be plenty for a daily commute, which it claims is typically no more than 15-20 miles in total.

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The electric motor produces 116bhp and 190Nm of torque, which is enough for 0-60mph in 10 seconds – only nine-tenths-of-a-second behind the petrol MINI Cooper – and a top speed of 95mph.

Twist the key, and the silence from the engine bay is eerie. Flick the switch to D, and a prod of the accelerator moves the car forward smoothly. With a single-speed gearbox and all that torque available from a standstill, the E-drive is easy to use in town, and it feels quicker than the figures suggest.

However, the 78 lithium-polymer cells make it around 100kg heavier than the standard model – and there’s no disguising that on the road. The car feels a little sluggish when changing direction and less responsive under braking, although those really are the only discernable differences.

Unlike the big-budget MINI E, which ditches the back seats and boot to make room for its batteries, the E-drive makes no such compromises, as the power pack is stowed under the boot floor. Inside, there’s a chunky central switch to select forward, reverse or park, and a large LCD screen on the dash which shows real-time performance data.

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There’s full wireless broadband, too, as well as an ioPlay music player, which allows songs to be streamed wirelessly from your MP3 player to the stereo.

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The whole package is very appealing, and that’s before considering the benefits on offer. Electric cars are exempt from road tax, while the E-drive costs only £1.50 per charge. That sort of saving means you could even afford to hire a conventionally powered vehicle for longer journeys at the weekend.

Right now, the E-drive is simply a showcase for Synergy’s talents. The firm’s aim is to encourage manufacturers to work with it to create their own fleets. A Dutch company has already asked for 20 examples to be built, and Synergy is lobbying organisations such as local councils to invest, too.

Electric cars are a hot topic at the moment, but those on sale are limited to tiny quadricycles or the £90,000 Tesla Roadster. Yet the E-drive works – and if Synergy can do it, what’s taking major makers so long? It’s exactly the shot in the arm the industry needs.

Watch a video of the E-drive in action here.

Rival: Mitsubishi i MiEV
This electric city car should arrive in the UK in limited numbers later this summer. And as with the E-drive, it offers a range of around 100 miles from a single, six-hour charge of its lithium-ion batteries.

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