London loves a Mini. It coos over a Mini parked, cheers over a Mini in traffic, and allows of a Mini far more legal-speed silliness without a hint of scorn than it affords to say, a flatulent modern supercar. Wrist-flick into a side road and scoot up the next straight and people smile. Smartphones come out to capture the moment, not to capture the inevitable V10-powered accident for their next viral TikTok.
Two things help this Mini’s cause even further. One is its driver, and that’s not to blow one’s own trumpet. It’s just that it’s impossible not to return the favour of London’s sunny disposition when you’re in a Mini; even if it wasn’t now recommended by the Highway Code, you feel inclined to beckon pedestrians on their way, guaranteed a smile and a wave.
The second, and probably more relevant here, is that this particular Mini is electric. Cue whining more shrill than the idler gears in an A-series transaxle. I get it; why bother with a classic, the engine’s the soul of a car, you’ll never make up the cost in fuel returns, so-on and so-forth.
I won’t try to change your mind. If you’re not already sold, it’d waste your time, and mine. But I will report as I find, and I found it… a breath of fresh air, in more ways that one.
This particular Mini has been converted to electric power by Oxfordshire-based Electrogenic. If the name’s familiar, you’ve probably seen their Triumph Stag, or Morgan 4/4, or that rather pretty Porsche 356 that we reviewed in December.
They’re making real cars that are getting used by real people; one client, a local farm, has had four Defenders converted – they’re better to drive than any diesel one ever was and will work off their conversion costs in fuel savings in a matter of years.
The client for this Mini is Small Car Big City (SCBC), a company that operates Mini-based tours around London. Named Rosie, it’ll be their first electric Mini, and is currently undergoing final approval by Transport for London before being pressed into service.
The practical benefits are manifold. Wear and tear, for instance: Tom from SCBC tells me they currently get around 45,000 miles from a gearbox, changing one in the fleet roughly every year, and numerous clutches. It’s not that the cars are fragile, more that someone with the clutch control of Zebedee and an uncompromising city environment can be a mite tough on a dear old Mini.
You can change gears in the Electrogenic Mini (which uses a five-speed Peugeot ‘box, as the gears-in-sump A-series one can’t be adapted, and the Pug box is tougher anyway), but you don’t really need to. Nor do you need to slip a clutch to pull away, and in motion, if you choose to swap cogs, it’s more like operating a switch.
Fuel costs are obviously reduced, and range isn’t even slightly an issue; after a day of bouncing around the capital, the battery gauge (utilising the old fuel needle) still had much more than half way still to drop. You can thank the stop-start nature of an urban environment for that, as it suits the motor’s ability to regenerate charge while decelerating. Factor in no Congestion Charge and no ULEZ wallet-emptier and that’s another 30-odd quid a day in your back pocket.
Time to scoot. Driving in central London is usually an experience that invokes unprintable words. Driving the Electrogenic Mini invokes un-spellable whooping. It takes all of three or four seconds to not care that there’s not an A-series shrieking away up front, and another ten, max, to abandon all intentions to change gear. Second is so rangey there’s no point, even though Rosie has been detuned to avoid squealing its ten-inch gumballs at every green light.
There’s no real plan for today; just a chance to see whether the perfect city car is even more perfect when it’s not giving kids asthma. We buzz around celluloid-friendly Roupell Street first, somewhere that feels built for Mini-mayhem. It probably felt wider in the 1960s without SUVs cluttering up the parking spaces, though whichever local owns all those regularly-photographed Citroëns is doing their best to inject some classic character back into the neighbourhood.
Rushing around behind Tom in one of SCBC’s fossil-fuelled cars the Electrogenic Mini hop-skip-jumps through the potholes just the same, but doesn’t threaten to clang its nonexistent exhaust on speedbumps like the petrol car. It’s handy too doing laps of Lambeth bridge, the roundabout at either end a chance to test that Paddy Hopkirk-approved turn-in.
We thread the needle down Page Street in Pimlico, whose checkerboard buildings seem appropriate for a car whose history includes similarly-patterned flags. It starts to rain. The Mini’s wipers are as geriatric as ever. And they say EV conversions remove a car’s character! Pedestrians seem unperturbed by the drizzle; a few stop and take photos. Despite wearing my best roll-neck, I think they’re admiring the car.
I dither over where to show off next, but snapper Charlie thinks Portobello Road might suit the Mini’s character. Central London disappears in a blur, five miles of elbows-out traffic dispatched in what feels like a few beats.
Minis do that: lanes seem twice as wide, other cars twice as far away. You can get away with full throttle now and then, since you’re not making a racket either. I can’t be sure, but I suspect even the cyclists are pleased; must be nicer getting passed with room to spare by a Mini (a quiet one especially) than some block-of-flats Range Rover.
A bike would be only marginally quicker across the capital. Everyone lets you out of junctions, for a start. Even a double-decker pauses and waves us ahead, despite looking big enough from the Mini’s perch to accidentally flick it up into someone’s windscreen like a pebble.
Down Portobello a group of builders quickly twig it’s electric (SCBC’s graphics, plus the green flashes on the numberplate are a giveaway when it’s parked). Sneaking down the nearby, picture-perfect Holland Park Mews feels a lot less intrusive than it might be for an Instagram personality snapping their new six-figure supercar. The rattling trim is louder than wheels-on-cobbles.
So, that character bypass thing. Taking personal preference out of the equation – and to be clear, I still love, and still covet, petrol-powered Minis – I think it might be bobbins.
After a day in the seat, I still got what I’m calling “Mini shoulder” from hunching over its laid-back steering wheel. My right thigh still ached from treading repeatedly on the high-set brake pedal. The ride is still unyielding, the otherwise perfect steering is still a workout at parking speeds, and you still need to crane your neck to look at traffic lights.
Practically speaking, the boot is still small too, though a different kind of small from a normal Mini, since one of the battery packs is against the bulkhead, rather than the old fuel tank taking up one side of the boot instead.
The usual Mini bits, both good and bad, are still present and correct. Not once did I find myself wishing for petrol power during the day. Equally, not once did I wish I was driving anything other than a Mini. Like all the best cars, whatever fuels them, the motive force feels appropriate to the vehicle it’s powering, and the car feels appropriate to its environment.
If you can spare the £58,000 that we insured the Electrogenic Mini for, you’ll not regret it. If you can’t (and realistically speaking, not many can) then perhaps the best news of all is that you’ll soon be able to book an appointment with Small Car Big City and experience one of the most enjoyable experiences in motoring – driving an electric Mini around London – for a whole lot less. An eight hour day behind the wheel in a petrol model is £179. If a date with Rosie is much the same, it will be money well spent.