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The Mini-E Revealed

So I actually got to see (and sit in) the much-hyped, all-electric Mini E at the Los Angeles Auto Show, and there were rumors that a fleet of them were seen tooling around Beverly Hills. Impressions: Yes, the plug-in Mini looks great, as all 2009 Minis do (except for the Clubman, which I just can't get into).

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And a couple of surprises: First, it was revealed that to be one of the exclusive roster of 500 lessees/guinea pigs for the great Mini E experiment, you'll have to pony up close to $850 a month. For a bit of perspective, consider that for the same monthly outlay, you can lease one of these fine gas-powered automobiles.

But the biggest surprise came when I turned to check out the Mini E's back seat–and discovered that there was none. Not that the other Mini models' rear seats (and trunks) are huge, but they are very nicely designed, and folks have been known to install child seats–and the occasional dog, in-law, and/or golf bag–in there.

But with the Mini E, you're essentially the pilot of a giant lithium-ion battery. Such is the price of a 150-kilowatt electric motor that makes 204 horsepower, and can go 150 miles on a full charge. Like an Apollo astronaut perched on the tip of a Saturn 5 rocket, the sheer mass of the fuel required to propel little ol' you is so obvious, it seems a little ridiculous. Of course, driving a gas-powered car involves lugging a metal Thermos full of explosive dinosaur juice around, which is equally absurd. But after almost a century of automobile-building, we've figured out how to insulate the driver from the knowledge that they're hauling a personal power plant along with their bags from Trader Joe's. Someday, clean-air batteries (or their successors) will become just as ubiquitous, and worthy of camouflaging.

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