David Brown Mini eMastered: the ultimate city car?

1 month, 1 week ago - 10 June 2024, autocar
David Brown Mini eMastered: the ultimate city car?
I don’t think there was an intended allusion in meeting next to Battersea Power Station to try the new Mini eMastered by David Brown Automotive, but still: if one was going for the ‘icon with its insides torn out and replaced by something more in vogue’, here we are.

DBA already makes a Remastered Mini restomod, with uprated ICE mechanicals that it sources from elsewhere. This is an electromod on the same theme.

The Northamptonshire firm will do up your classic Mini, the condition of which is not too important because it then buys a new shell made by British Motor Heritage. They’re from original tooling, so DBA fettles and coats and paints the body so that it stands up to modern luxury levels of scrutiny.

Then it fits an EV system it buys in wholesale from Australian-British firm Fellten, which is one of a few manufacturers to provide classic Mini electric conversions. The important bit about it from a UK registration perspective is that not a single new hole is drilled in the classic Mini’s bodyshell.

This is important because even though the body is new and so is the drivetrain, enough other components are retained from the original Mini that it keeps its title and isn’t put onto a Q numberplate.

Excuse the pedantic bit but, according to the DVSA, to do that, a ‘radically altered vehicle’ must score at least eight points from a checklist, five of which have to come from ‘original or new and unmodified’ chassis, then the remaining three from any of the suspension (two), axles (two), transmission (two), steering (two) and engine (one).

So while there’s a 97bhp Zonic motor under the bonnet and a new subframe in there, plus some battery, then more battery again and an inverter in the boot space, they all bolt to existing subframe mounting points. Likewise, beneath the body run cables shrouded by a skidplate, all mounted to holes that are already there. Even the charge port – AC only, so it doesn’t rapid-charge – uses the fuel tank hole.

The eMastered’s body is deseamed and smoothed, which is a long-established Mini technique that doesn’t seem to bother the DVSA assessors. That the steering and suspension is original equipment gets the predominantly new eMastered back on the road with the numberplate that its donor supplied. To see it and look at it, though, it’s as shiny and new as any other new car.

Albeit much, much smaller. It’s easy to forget, given how rare a sight Minis are on the road these days, how dinky one is. It’s just 3.05m long and 1.4m wide.

And to think these things seat four. Or did, anyway. The makeover that DBA gives the interior includes not just a new dash and trim but also twiddly air vents and metal buttons, plus really lovely dials that fit the original spaces but which include battery charge state. There are also plusher front seats that you would be hard pushed to get people behind. Think of the rear seats as additional luggage space, although the rear battery is where the spare wheel would be, so the boot is still the original size.

Anyway, it’s probably more two- than four-seater, but given this level of makeover costs £150,000, most owners will have several something elses in the garage for serious journeys, so it doesn’t really matter. It also won’t matter that the batteries only total 19kWh, for a WLTP range of 110 miles or, as DBA tells customers so they’re never disappointed, 100 miles confidently. On a domestic wallbox, three hours would have it topped.

What this is, then, is a city runabout for the minted who have other things elsewhere. And on that front, it does exactly what you would want it to. With nearly 100bhp, it has a claimed 0-62mph time of 8.5sec. Driving the car exclusively in London, I didn’t get to test that, but it sounds pretty reasonable to me.

The nice thing, as with lots of EVs, is that bold smooth torque delivery from rest, and it’s very linear. Fellten says that the original throttle pedal is much like a switch, so this is way more graded and progressive. There’s predictable retardation too, with regeneration optimising the range and good brake pedal feel. Regular handbrake. Gearlever in the same position as usual, about the same height, but with just forward and reverse positions.

Otherwise, it drives much like I remember a classic Mini, as well it might because, given the battery size, it comes in at virtually the same weight as the original. As some people tell us, you can make an EV as light as an ICE car, but it means a small battery and most likely no fast charging.

Minis got a little heavier over the years, and various official bits of paperwork said they were anything between 580kg early on and 700kg towards the turn of the millennium. DBA claims a weight of 640kg for this one, which is very much naff all by modern standards, so it turns, steers and stops with the same sort of ease as most quadricycles, rather than cars.

The wheels are 12in with 165/60 Yokohama A539s, an ‘all-round sports tyre’. Which is almost how you would describe this car’s driving experience: all-round sporty. Albeit owing to the new interior, the refinement that offers, a responsive heater and a decent aftermarket infotainment system, there’s very much a feeling of small, lightweight luxury too.

Of course, you feel more exposed in a car like this than you might in a Range Rover. I did, anyway, sitting at truck wheel height with the passenger side of the car only a short reach away. It didn’t bother me, but even if you acknowledge it, lean into the smallness, embrace it and there’s absolutely loads to like.

I’m not sure that one could (or should) boast about the environmental credentials of an electrified classic for the city (and DBA doesn’t), because it has a new shell and a new EV system and cities have buses, but I thought it was great fun.

Mini eMastered by David Brown Automotive: price and specs

Price £150,000

Engine Synchronous motor

Power 97bhp

Torque 129lb ft

Gearbox 1-spd reduction gear, FWD

Kerb weight 640kg

0-62mph 8.5sec

Top speed 92mph

Range, economy 110 miles, 5.3mpkWh

CO2, tax band 0g/km, 2%

Rivals Electrogenic Mini, Abarth 500e

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