A month prior to its scheduled debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the BMW Group has provided an early and far more focused look at the plug-in electric MINI E it plans to start testing here in 2009. Vehicles in this pilot project initially will be offered to both public and private customers in Southern California, New Jersey and New York under a one-year leasing program. Based on the current-generation MINI Cooper, the 500 MINI E variants due stateside will be powered by a 204-horsepower electric motor that produces a stout 162 lb.-ft. of torque. Fed by a lithium-ion battery pack that has a single-charge range of 150 miles, it can send this 3,230-lb. front-drive EV from 0-60 mph in about 8.5 seconds and on to an electronically-limited top speed of 95 mph.

In return for foregoing painfully expensive trips to the gas pump, MINI E drivers will have to sacrifice some measure of conventional utility. Seating capacity in this zero-emissions city runner is trimmed to just two, as the as the rear seat area is taken up by its Li-ion battery pack, a 380-volt array that consists of 5,088 individual cells grouped into 48 secondary modules and three primary elements. While it can be replenished using any 110-volt outlet, BMW plans to offer a fast-charging/high-amperage wallbox that can perform a full recharge in 2.5 hours.

Beyond all powertrain-specific variations on the MINI Cooper theme, this new-age E-Type also benefits from numerous dedicated tweaks to help boost overall drivability. Revisions to the suspension and Dynamic Stability Control systems help manage the added mass more effectively while its ABS brakes are fitted with regenerative capability that can extend the MINI E's range by up to 20 percent. Even the air conditioning compressor has been modified to operate on a strictly as-needed/wanted basis to let the MINI E travel even greater distances on a single charge.

While substance is at its core, the MINI E brings distinctive styling elements to the mix, as well. Its Metallic Dark Silver body is topped by a Pure Silver roof accented by an "E" logo in the form of a power plug rendered in Interchange Yellow. That high-profile badging also appears on the grille, hood and charger port door complemented by additional color-keyed trim on the roof and mirrors. The bright yellow motif recurs inside on the dash inserts and central gauge cluster, which has been revised to include the requisite battery level indicator and red/green LED readouts that display the real-time power use/regen status.

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