30 June 2009

Day 5: Full charge, full speed ahead!

Ralph's Ices store front
This is a stock image of Mini's Mini-E #001 and not a picture of my #339. (I'll try to take some more pics of 339 this weekend.) But I thought this stock image was a good representation of how I felt (and drove) my 339 today! (click to enlarge)
After two days of "rest and recharge," my Mini-E 339 had a 100% charge (Yipeeeeee!!!!) and was ready to go for a full-day of "testing" on Monday (June 28)!!!

Yaaaaayyyyy!!!

The numbers, in short:

Odometer mileage, start: ~ 130 miles

State of Charge (SoCs), start: 100% (WOW!!!!!)

Odometer mileage, end: ~208 miles

State of Charge (SoCe), end: ~38% (Ooops...)

Travelog:

With her first ever (at least, the first I've ever seen since getting her 4 days ago) completely full charge, I felt 339 was really gonna get a hard real-world test.

That is to say: A full-charge means, 339'll go (roughly) 100+ miles before her batteries cry "Uncle!" More than enough for my usual 60+ mile round-trip daily commute. So, on this Monday, the whole "Range Anxiety" limitation -- which I had the thrill of experiencing last Friday -- was pretty much a non-factor.

And since I no longer had the whole "Will I have enough juice to...?" thought process that apparently becomes the mindset of most electric-car owners, I could really focus on how my 339 drives.

In other words: Could 339 fool me into believing "I'm in just an ordinary, petrol-powered Mini?"

The answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! (And that's a negative answer in a GOOD way!! Read on!)

First... a side note!

Ralph's Ices store front
This is the Ralph's Ices store/corner stand near my house where I ran into a fellow Mini driver who commented on 339. (Ralph's, by the way, makes the best Italian ices EV-ah!! Check them out on the Web: http://www.ralphsices.com
I took 339 out on Sunday, when it was only 95% full, to run some local chores. We made a small detour to Ralph's Ices (Mmmm... Italian ices... just the thing for a bright, slightly humid Sunday!) and both of us were recognized!!! The total opposite of what happened at the end of Day 1, when I took 339 home!!

A dude in dark shades, sitting in 339's near-twin (a two-door Cooper S in a flatter gray, and of course, without the distinctive "E" appliqu├ęs), was waiting for someone to come back from Ralph's stand. I parked 339 next to him on his Mini's passenger side. As I was getting out of 339, his passenger (Wife? Girlfriend? With a cup of Ralph's icy goodness!!! Mmm....) was getting into his Mini.

He lowered the passenger window, looked right at me (past his passenger) and said: "Hey, is that a Mini-E?"

To which, I (wearing my Wiley-X SG-1 wraparound shades and probably the biggest grin I've had in a long time) looked at him and said (in a Barney Stintson kinda way) : "Why, yes... It. Is..."

"Wow, man... You won the lottery? I mean, they actually chose you?"

"Yup."

"Wow, man... I applied... But... $800 per month??? That's a lotta money, man... I couldn't afford it." [Did I detect a subtle nod to his passenger? BTW: the monthly lease cost is $850, dude. :-( But, whatev.]

"Yeah, I know... It's real steep. But it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, bro. Sometimes you just gotta be a part of something big because... ya know, you only go around once, yea?"

"Heh. Man..." [Again, another sub-conscious head-tilt to the gal seated to his right?] "How's she [my 339] drive?"

"Only got her last Thursday. so I haven't driven her much... But so far, pretty good. Fun. And I never drove a Mini before, but friends tell me a Cooper S -- like yours -- is a pretty sweet ride. So, I'm thinkin' this here Mini-E is prooooob-a-blllyyy not that far off from drivin' like yours." (Sh'yeah... right! But I had to say something, cuz it was clear that his "passenger" was more than just... and she appeared to be getting a little bit annoyed at what looked like a long, drawn-out "big-boys-and-their-toys" kinda chat -- something I didn't want to start with an "unbeliever" in the middle! Not to mention, I wanted some Ralph's of my own... ;-))

"Ah, well... She [339] looks beautiful.... Good luck, man!"

"Thanks, man. You have a good one, too, yeah?"

(Well, ok... 339 was recognized. Me? I was just the lucky schmuck to be her "driver/owner." Although can any of us "pioneers" truly be considered "Mini-E owners" since in just 11 short months we all know our great affairs will be over?)

Anyway, having said what I said on Sunday about 339, how well would my statements hold up on Monday? Not well, really.

You see, during Monday's commute, I really did try to think of 339 not as being an electric, battery-powered Mini. "Just drive like you normally would, Paul," I thought. And to some extent, 339 does behave (I think) like an ordinary Mini.

Driving my sister to the subway, merging onto the highway, picking up the intern, powering up steep and curvy up-grades... 339 behaved pretty much as anyone would expect of a normal car. It was easy to maneuver -- slaloming 339 between bigger, slower moving cars and buses; nudging her into tight spots (say, between two big SUVs to get to the curb and drop off sis) -- and responsive to my right foot. ;-)

Small, nimble, quick... "Go-kart performance," I believe, is the marketing term the fine folks at Mini use to describe these Coopers. And 339 seems to live up to that image. (Again, I never drove a gas-powered Mini, so I'll just have to assume that my experience in a conventional Mini would be similar.)

BUT as hard (or easy) as I may try to "not think" about 339's electric-only nature, it is hard to ignore. Specifically:

The regenerative "braking." The moment you lift your foot, easing the pressure off the accelerator pedal, the Mini-E's motor turns into an electric generator. The energy of the car's spinning wheels is captured by the motor-now-turned-generator to create electricity that's sent back to the battery. (This energy would normally be wasted as heat and friction when you step on the brakes.)

There are some pioneers and professional car reviewers who say the Mini-E's regen braking is "aggressive" or "intrusive." And I suppose it can be. Lift your foot off and switch to "cover" the brake as you would in a car with automatic transmission and the Mini will seem to "lurch" or "jerk" backwards while your head lurches forward -- as if your sitting in a car with a very bad driver!

While I'm no stranger to regen braking (my sis has a 2001 Gen-1 Toyota Prius), I initially did find 339's regen as... "strong." To counter the herky-jerky driving style that would make it seem I was a "novice" driver, I began "driving" the Mini-E like I would a car with manual (stick-shift) transmission -- something I was fortunate to learn back in the '80s with my sis' Renault Alliance(!)

With a manual, you "down-shift" and use the lower gear ratios to "absorb" the forward momentum of the car, pulling it back and (in effect) slowing the car down. That means giving yourself a lot more stopping distance but the trade-off: You use your brakes a LOT less.

In fact, using this method, I've very rarely had to actually step on 339's brake pedal during local road driving -- or, even when sitting in stop-and-go highway traffic. And the Mini-E is "smart" enough to know that if you're lifting you foot off the accelerator, it probably means your desire is to slow down. So, to prevent the car behind you from becoming your new "backseat buddy" (i.e. "rear-end you") the car automatically lights up the rear brake lights. Nice...

Seemingly instant acceleration. At the other end of the speed spectrum, my 339 feels -- and is -- fast. As I posted on the first day, I haven't experienced any problems in leaving pricey sports sedans and even sports cars behind when we're all coming off the line of a stoplight.

Now naturally, I'm not sayin' that the 339's electric motor (rated as equivalent to a 201-HP engine?) will beat out a sports car like a Camaro or "super-cars" like a Porsche or a Bugatti Veyron in a standing quarter-mile run. But, I found that it was easy -- maybe a little too easy -- to "kick" the 339 "to the next level" during highway cruising.

During Monday morning's commute, there were countless times where I'm cruising at 60 or 70 MPH in the left lane, passing cars on my right at a leisurely pace. But then I'll have some idiot in a big honkin' (and powerful) SUV or "sports car" come roarin' up behind me in the left lane. And yes, I know the left lane is the passing lane and if I'm not passing the cars on the right "fast enough" for the jerk behind me, then...

A simple tap on the accelerator and my 339 easily jumps up another 10, 20, 30 MPH (leaving the butt kisser eating my wake) so I pass the cars on the right faster and then I find an open slot in the middle lane, slip in, ease off the accelerator (and the regen kicks in slowing me down just as quick as the speed up) and watch that "speedy" tailgater (finally) catch up and then pass me. (Hehehe... So much fun to see them SPEED by... "Trying to justify something, fella?" I think, "Trying to reassure yourself that the all that money you spent on that burly, beefy, gas-guzzling super car/SUV -- which just got left in the dust by a tiny electric Mini -- really is still 'powerful' and zippy?" I love it! :-D)

There are many other tiny aspects that make it hard to forget that when I'm driving 339, I'm not in "an average Mini."
  • The no-noise, stealthiness of the car when going slow -- like when going through a parking lot -- or even at a complete stop. I find that for a short time, you're reminding yourself, "Yes, the car's 'on.' It's ready to move at the slightest tap of the accelerator."
  • How the radio's volume is just that much softer. (Again, since it doesn't have to "fight" the "growl" and roar of a big, thirsty gas-engine, the radio just has to be "loud enough" to drown out the minimalist "road, tire and wind noise.")
  • And the distinctive "wheeeeeeee" sound of the electric motor as it spins up to pull the Mini to the speed you want. It certainly doesn't make as much noise as a conventional car -- especially in the "passing" situation described above. It's kinda freaky. More so for someone outside of the car. It looks like any other Mini, so you expect it to go ""Vrrroooooommmm..." But all you hear is this ghostly whine...
I had the opportunity on Monday to give a co-worker (and BFF here at work) a hop/demo ride from one side of the parking lot to the other. (Had to move my car to be closer to the building.)

As usual when I get in the car, I reached for my seatbelt. She said to me: "Uhh, we're just staying in the lot, aren't we?"

"Oh.. Yeah... No need for belts.... Right." [It was just us and the lot was devoid of pedestrians or other moving cars...]

So... Step on the brake, insert key, press "start" button, drop the manual parking brake, click/shift from "P" to "D"... Tap the accelerator...

(Soft "Rrrrrreeeerrrrr..." from 339's motor...) as we pull out of the parking slot...

"Whoaaa..." says my friend.

I tap the switch for the driver's window to slide the window down all the way. (It was stuffy inside since 339 sat in the sun all day...) Then, I tap her accelerator a little harder cuz I had to make it up a longish, winding parking ramp...

"RRrrrrr... eh-wheeeeEEEEEEEEE..." goes 339's motor while her tires are noisly grabbing for more road...

"HOooooo...!!!" my passenger yelps as she reaches for and grips the door's grab bar.

We mount and climb the ramp under 339's steady "Wheeeeeee..." sound... crest the ramp onto a flat stretch of pavement and her motor switched from "Wheeeeee... " to "Eeeeeennnnnnnnn..." of a steady paced "cruise" on to the building...

"Holy smokes!" my friend says. "I expected it to be quiet and such... But wow... it's like, it's like..."

"One of those fancy new roller coaster or other thrill ride at Disney that sorta just 'launches' or 'shoots' you out of a gate?" I suggest.

"Exactly!!! That's what I was thinking of... Wow... This is totally Awesome!!!!"

That pretty much sums up day #5... A full charge meant pretty much a "carefree" day of just "motoring" with my unique Mini-E #339.

And that, my friend, is pretty awe-sum!!!

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