The high-voltage control box for the MINI E's electric motor (front) is encased in a protective housing unit and uses a forced-air cooling system to maintain level temperatures. The actual motor sits below the casing unit.

The high-voltage control box for the MINI E's electric motor (front) is encased in a protective housing unit and uses a forced-air cooling system to maintain level temperatures. The actual motor sits below the casing unit.

Ted Nygreen ’67 is one of 500 field testers of the first all-electric Mini Cooper (MINI E). Last month, he began a yearlong trial to provide insight to BMW for when it mass-produces the vehicles. And he created a Web site to quench curiosity seekers’ thirst for empirical data.

So does the car live up to the hype touted by auto maker, which claims the lithium-ion battery has a range of more than 150 miles? Maybe, Nygreen says, if you measure at a constant rate of speed with no stops and no accessories in use. Turn on the air conditioning or lights or radio and that number drops by about half in Nygreen’s opinion, to about 75-100 miles on a charge. Just an around-town vehicle.

One of the car’s most interesting features, and one Nygreen had to get used to, is the regenerative braking system. Remove your foot from the accelerator and the car begins recharging the battery as it slows down (which feels like downshifting a manual transmission into a much lower gear). The car actually comes to a complete stop without touching the brakes. In city traffic, BMW says, some 75 percent of all deceleration can be done without the brakes, which recoups energy and can extend the car’s range.

Certainly the MINI E’s zero emissions beat gas-powered vehicles in a which-is-better-for-the-environment contest. But will it save money too? BMW estimates that it’s about 40 percent cheaper to drive its electric car than one that gets, say, 28 mpg. But after crunching the numbers and per mile cost himself, Nygreen estimates the MINI E will cost about the same as a hybrid.

Read more about Nygreen’s experiences with the car, including how long it takes to “fuel” up, how much torque it gets, whether it’s comfortable, and exactly how it all works.