Combatting Range Anxiety on a 280-Mile Trip
One of the most frequently discussed topics with electric cars is range. Electric car shoppers cite range as one of their top concerns; only the cost of the vehicles ranks higher. The reason many worry about range is that they’re used to the habits of gasoline driving – which involve filling up when the fuel tank runs empty. But electric cars are different in day-to-day use: you’ll mostly slow-charge them at home overnight just like your phone – and be ready to go with a full charge the next day.
Still, a lot of Americans have a lot of ground to cover in their daily routine – and we love our road trips. To demonstrate what it’s like to take a drive in an electric car, the team at MINI challenged themselves to take a trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in the MINI Cooper S Electric. It’s one of the most fun cars we’ve driven in the last year, but due to its small size and small battery, has one of the shortest EPA-estimated ranges, at 114 miles. How did they do it? Read on to find out.
Perfect for L.A. Traffic – and the Corners of Mount Baldy
The morning at Santa Monica starts with the surfers. Looking out over the glittering Pacific waves, the noisy, bustling Los Angeles on California's southwestern coast seems distant. The electric MINI dashes from the colorful beach houses on Ocean Avenue to east L.A. in just half an hour, emissions-free all the way. In rush hour traffic, which regularly comes to a standstill, regenerative braking helps recharge the battery and extend the range: and the Mini produces no emissions when sitting and waiting.
Just before San Bernardino, the MINI turns and heads north on Interstate Highway 15 to Las Vegas. Here, Route 66 – made legendary in the film "Easy Rider" with Paul Newman and Dennis Hopper – once took free-spirited explorers to new adventures.
The MINI's route follows instead the green mountain landscape around Mount Baldy, where the diminutive electric car can really shine. With a short wheelbase, responsive steering, and instantaneous electric torque, the Mini Cooper S Electric is a joy to drive. It corners smoothly, hugging the road. Acceleration is strong, and there are no gearshifts to interrupt the smooth flow of power.
Leading up to curves, regenerative braking once again helps extend the range, charging the battery of the all-electric MINI while driving. It can be set to two levels, and here in the curves, the more aggressive setting recovers more energy and provides stronger braking as soon as the driver takes their foot off the accelerator.
Charging in the Mojave Desert
After two hours of driving, the mountains give away to the red and brown tones of the first desert foothills – and the electric Mini needs a charge. A stop in Victorville lets the drivers take a taco break, while in the shade of the palm trees, the MINI is plugged into one of the fast chargers, taking on board 80 per cent battery power in just 35 minutes. It’s now ready to tackle the next leg into the Mojave Desert.
In the Mojave, where temperatures average 113 degrees in July and August, the drivers take advantage of the MINI’s pre-conditioning feature, which can be activated from a smartphone app. While it’s plugged in and charging, the interior of the vehicle is pre-cooled – ensuring a comfortable cabin temperature and improved range.
The next 93 miles lead deeper into the vast, barren landscape of the desert to Baker – a small town right in the middle of the Mojave, and the southern end of the route to Death Valley National Park. One of the hottest areas in the U.S., Death Valley is often used by vehicle manufacturers to test the hot-weather durability of their vehicles.
To keep an eye on the record temperatures, Baker is home to the world’s tallest thermometer, at 134 feet tall – corresponding to the highest temperature, 134 degrees Fahrenheit, measured here. The thermometer is impossible to miss – and points the way to another fast charger near its base. This fast charger gets its sustainable energy from solar panels, which also serve as a welcome sunshade for the drivers when they plug in the charging cable.
The Hottest Place in America
As the MINI drives on, the highway gives a view of the majestic Mescal mountain range. While the electric Mini was not designed for such extreme temperatures, it stands up just fine. The high-voltage battery supplying the electric motor remains cool, as does the interior, and battery power drops only gradually. A highly-effective cooling system is efficient, thanks to an integrated heat pump.
Beyond the mountains, Interstate 15 leads straight to Paradise – a town 50 miles south of Las Vegas. The MINI stops at the imposing Allegiant Stadium, home of the three-time Super Bowl-winning Las Vegas Raiders. On site at the stadium are flexible fast chargers, which give the Mini enough juice for the relaxed cruise to Las Vegas.
When night falls, no navigation system is needed for the drivers to find their way to the legendary strip. Glittering facades, a sea of neon lights, and the legendary “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign are enough to figure out where the nightlife is happening. The strip’s neon-lit four and a half miles, with its hotels, casinos, and replica Eiffel Tower, Egyptian pyramids, and Venetian canals, is a demonstration of the power of electricity – a fitting backdrop for the silent arrival the MINI Cooper S Electric makes as it pulls into a parking spot at the end of its tour.