Mini Recharged Heritage first drive review: Carrying on the past
Think ‘Classic Mini’ and images of English villages, cobbled streets and afternoon tea come to mind. Oh, and the buddy-bandit movie The Italian Job – both. True to its name and purpose (its genesis was a wartime fuel shortage), the Mini was indeed miniature and fuel-efficient, but it was also a sales Goliath.
Produced from 1959 to 2000 with variations in name only (i.e. Austin, Morris, Cooper), the small car proved a dominant force. Two million units were sold in the first decade. By the end of its run, nearly 5.5 million had invaded the global landscape.
But a classic Mini drives like a clumsy Mr. Bean. It’s quirky and fun at first, before it gets boring. With a suspension reminiscent of a pogo stick and amenities slightly better than a prison cell, the pre-BMW Mini is not a vehicle sought after for its comfort. Underpowered for the highway, undersized for a grocery run, and yet it has a certain charm. Nostalgia is nice and all, but how does something stay relevant past its heyday? Motor exchange! This being 2022, however, we’re not talking about the LS variety. No, we are going electric.
It’s not a one-off concept vehicle either. The automaker already did that in 2018, unveiling an electrified classic Mini at the New York Auto Show. The Mini Recharged Heritage is all about breathing new life into an old standard for the masses. The name is a little clunky, but converting a classic internal-combustion model into a modern emission-free traveler is a pretty smooth transition.
It’s not a love story
Mini gave me the keys to a prototype whose donor vehicle was a 1985 Mini Cooper. The vehicle was fitted out in a full body wrap with the charging unit exposed in the trunk and an AEM performance monitor affixed to the dashboard. It was as raw as a test mule could get, but it offered a legit preview of what the final product would be.
Yet a lot of consideration is taken to maintain the heritage and essence of the classic. Each modification is in fact reversible. Example: the original engine is kept and stored in case of future renovation. And while modern touches are needed, like replacing the instrument cluster with one that shows battery charge and vehicle range, the updated IP’s styling is vintage. Nothing in or around the vehicle seems out of place. Even the shifter has the old-school aesthetic of a manual transmission (however, all EV conversions can only be applied to an automatic).
When owners receive their Recharged Heritage, their cars will feel different but also identical. Behind the wheel, the EV-converted Mini looked like an old Mini. Which is not an insult. The character of the classic remains firmly intact. The vehicle is nimble but, yes, with that proven responsive suspension. Shit, cobblestone! But even then the new old car made no noise or creak. An engine note can drown out body-flexing sounds, but this classic hatch held up well that there was none. What you get in return is a pleasantly quiet ride.
Power and performance are undoubtedly improved over the conventional four-cylinder, with each model type benefiting from instant new torque. Vehicle weight will vary between options, but regardless of which Classic Mini is used as the donor vehicle, the EV kit will retain the vehicle’s original dimensions and capabilities. For example, a 1985 Mini Cooper hatchback similar to the prototype car has a dry weight of 1,294 pounds. With a driver, the weight distribution was 63:37. With a full load, this changes to a more balanced 53:47. I had a passenger on my ride and the vehicle felt properly grounded. Although the overall weight is unchanged, the rear battery placement could have been key to providing that balance to compensate for the front occupants.
Small car, small battery
The Mini Recharged Heritage is available in three types of conversion: Pure, Sport and Bespoke. All involve replacing the gasoline engine with an electric powertrain consisting of a 72 kilowatt electric motor and 19.0 kilowatt-hour battery. Vehicle range is approximately 103 miles based on WLTP estimates, which will translate to less range by EPA standards. And don’t expect DC fast-charging capability here – the battery is so small that the 6.6kW charging rate is sufficient. With a Level 2 charger, the Mini Recharged Heritage takes three hours to fully charge or nine hours when connected to a household outlet.
The Pure Mini develops 75 horsepower and 92 lb-ft of torque. Its top speed is 90 mph with acceleration from zero to 62 mph taking 11.5 seconds. Ok, so not blazingly fast, but neither was the original, which ranged in power from 34 to 77 bhp and had 0 to 60 times what took…well, let’s just say Usain Bolt on a drive quiet can exceed the OG.
But on a vehicle that weighs half the weight of a modern sedan, the Mini EV feels fast. Go for the Sport and you get 97 horsepower and 111 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration also improves, so it takes just 8.5 seconds to hit 62 mph or 7.8 seconds in the now included Sports mode. The trim also adds an upgraded braking system, sport suspension and Yokohama tires.
Go for the break with the Bespoke Mini, which builds on the Sport model, and you’re looking at 100bhp and 129lb-ft of torque. Top speed depends on vehicle options, but a 0-62 second run in under six seconds seems possible.
Even without the optional sport drive mode, my tester dashed through the streets of small town England without feeling underpowered. The added sporty boost would be a definite plus for hitting melting highway speeds, but perhaps in some situations it might be too fast for too little weight. The instant torque, even at just 111 lb-ft, can still catch you off guard. But I really can’t think of a time when I had so much fun driving such an old, original and at the same time unfinished car.
The weather is changing
The Mini Recharged Heritage was developed in collaboration between Mini Plant Oxford, renowned Mini parts supplier and Mini Sport restorer, and EV component manufacturer Zero EV. The official name of the manufacturer is Recharged Heritage Limited. Currently, only two production vehicles exist, each made as part of a design exercise. Fashion designer Paul Smith modernized a 1998 special-edition eponymous model while artist Lakwena Maciver reworked a 1986 vehicle.
This Mini EV conversion won’t come cheap though, but such is the price of customizations, innit? Customers have the option of bringing their own vehicle or having the team source and purchase one for them. The bring your own Mini itinerary starts at £42,600 or $48,247 at today’s exchange rate. And that’s just for the EV conversion itself. But it’s a quick exchange that will take about two days.
Requesting additional options such as modern control switches, magnetic smartphone charging, or Paul Smith-designed flourishes will require additional construction time and cost. You don’t have a classic Mini but you want one and an EV version as well? The starting price for vehicle purchase plus construction goes up to £60,000 ($67,954). Order books for the Mini Recharged Heritage opened in September and first deliveries are expected in 2023. For now, only UK-based buyers are allowed to pre-order, but the Mini Recharged team is actively looking to expand its sales in other markets, particularly the North. America.