The new fully electric Mini, the Mini Cooper SE, hits US showrooms in March. BMW flew us down to Miami last week to drive it up and down the Florida coast, and Electrek is here to tell you whether it lives up to expectations.

Electrek, By Jameson Dow

© Eletrek | Electric Mini Cooper SE review — lots of fun for not a lot of money

The Mini Cooper SE is Mini’s first entry into the electric vehicle market…sort of. Mini made a limited-run vehicle in 2009, the Mini E, and I was one of the lucky 450 drivers in the US to have one. I drove it for two years and loved it, and it’s what got me into electric vehicles in the first place. Will the 2020 Mini Cooper SE inspire other drivers the same way the original Mini E inspired me? Let’s find out.

To start with a few headline specs, the Mini Cooper SE will start at $29,900 before US federal tax credits, which means after federal, state and local incentives, it could be available for under $20k in some markets. California, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Oregon all offer enough credits to put the Mini Cooper SE into the ~$20k price range, with other states and regions having their own incentives as well.

This price gets you a 32kWh battery good for about 110 miles of range (EPA numbers aren’t yet finalized). The electric motor is good for 181hp, 199lb.-ft. of torque, and will get you to 60mph in 6.9 seconds with a top speed of 93mph.
The car his US showrooms in March and pre-orders are open now for a $500 fee.

Electric Mini Cooper SE video review

Here’s a short video we shot while in Miami, covering just the basics:

And before we get to the words, a warning: Due to my history with this car, this is going to be a long one. Buckle up.

The start of my electric journey

If you’ll indulge me in a little retrospection, I’d like to wax philosophical about how the original Mini E inspired me to do what I’m doing today, writing these words for you here on the internet, trying to share my enjoyment of electric driving with the world.

The Mini E was the first electric car I had ever driven. As much as the original around-the-block test-drive impressed me, it was living with the car for two years that really convinced me electric cars were the way to go. I was already interested in technology and the environment, but the ownership experience is what really got me.

It was a strange little car a retrofit gas mini with the rear seats ripped out in exchange for batteries and an AC Propulsion drivetrain (the original suppliers for the Tesla Roadster 1.5) under the hood. The whole thing went from back-of-napkin concept to production in only a year, was lease-only, and only available in a couple markets.

Those of us who drove them expected issues and some in the program encountered quite a few. There was a lot of discussion about these issues both online and at our periodic in-person meetups. But we signed up for a prototype experience, so a few problems were expected. Personally, my family didn’t have too many.


What my family learned was that, despite its quirks, that slapdash little Mini was the most enjoyable car any of us had ever had, and none of us wanted to go back to driving gas cars after having it for a while. Heck, I used to think I liked big cars, then I drove this one, and now I know I love small cars.

It insinuated itself so far into our lives that if an errand needed to be done and the Mini was already out and about, we’d delay whatever we needed to do until the Mini came back home, so we could drive it instead of one of the many gas cars in the house. Virtually all of my family’s driving miles for those two years went onto the Mini.

I didn’t even look at a gas station for those couple of years. I had no idea what gas prices were. After we turned in the Mini E, I had to go back to driving my old gas Jeep for a short period of time. I pulled into the gas station down the street from my house, and instead of a pump I saw… an ATM. The gas station had been replaced by a Chase bank and I hadn’t even noticed. That’s how satisfied I was with electric, and how I had left gas behind completely.

The same was true for my drive partner on this drive, Tom Moloughney, who was another Mini E driver back in the day. We were both quite active on the forums and have kept in touch since then. Both of us enjoyed the Mini E ownership experience so much that we’ve gone on to get jobs in the electric car media space.

So the Mini Cooper SE has big shoes to fill, and at least with this reviewer, it has to compete against the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. How does it match up?

Performance

The Mini Cooper SE’s motor is good for 181 horsepower and 199 lb.-ft. of torque. This gives it a 0-60 of 6.9 seconds and a top speed of 93mph.

In a word, the Mini Cooper SE is a much more refined driving experience than the Mini E was. The pedal response has been improved significantly, and regenerative braking is much more responsive than before. Traction control is smoother and more responsive as well, and the car has a setting to allow partial wheel slip for driving in snow.

There used to be a characteristic short delay between letting off the accelerator pedal and the Mini E’s strong regenerative braking kicking in. That delay has been eliminated, producing a much smoother experience. That smoother experience is accompanied by weaker regenerative braking. The original Mini E offered a one-pedal drive experience with very strong regen and consensus among us owners as we loved this very strong regen. BMW decided that was too much and toned it down.

The Mini Cooper SE has two regen modes, but neither is as strong as the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Bolt, both of which offer good single-pedal experiences. Thankfully, the Mini defaults to the stronger regen setting, and the lower setting can be turned on by flipping one of Mini’s characteristic toggle switches under the center display.

The Mini offers four “drive modes” — Sport, Mid, Green, and Green+. The modes change throttle mapping, and Green modes also reduce power for the climate control system. The car seems to default to Mid, though it might be possible to change this in the settings (we didn’t get a chance to delve very deep — but if this setting isn’t there, BMW should add it). The car helpfully changes estimated range numbers on the dash display when you switch from one mode to the next.

The car is quicker 0-60 than the original, though it seemed slightly less “punchy” on acceleration. Perhaps this is because I’ve become accustomed to other, higher-performance EVs in the intervening time, but it feels like the refinement of the car has removed a little of the rawness of the original. Power naturally drops off at higher speeds, but it still pulls well, even on the highway.

The Mini Cooper SE suffers from a little torque steer, as is the case with many front-wheel-drive electric cars with torquey motors. But like everything else, this feels much improved from the original (which had pretty massive torque steer).

There wasn’t much chance to test the Mini’s handling, as the drive route was mostly a straight line up and down the Miami coastline in crowded daytime traffic. It does have a slightly lower center of gravity than a gas Mini, by about an inch, which helps to add cornering stability.

The car weighs 3,153 lbs — representing a slight weight saving from the original. The weight distribution has shifted forward a bit compared to the original since there’s no longer a huge battery taking up the backseat. As a front-wheel-drive car, it’s probably better to have a little more weight over the front axle, to increase traction and reduce the chance of wheel slip on acceleration.

Range, efficiency, and charging

The Mini Cooper SE has a 32.6kWh battery pack, with 28.9kWh usable (my Mini E had 35kWh and ~30kWh usable). EPA numbers aren’t yet finalized, but this should be good for about 110 miles of range.

We weren’t able to do a thorough test of efficiency or charging, as this first drive was just a short drive up and down the coast of Miami in quite a bit of traffic. In these easy conditions, we were on pace to easily beat 110 miles of range in these conditions, driving about 70 miles total and using only 50% of the battery.

The Mini Cooper SE received some efficiency improvements, mostly through shedding weight and some underbody changes. The car’s characteristic boxy shape gives it a Cd of .30.

Another aerodynamic improvement comes from the cool wheels available with the $33,900 “Signature Plus” trim level. These have an interesting radially asymmetric design that somewhat resembles a plug, and has the side effect of reducing aerodynamic disturbance from wheel motion, which should increase overall efficiency slightly.

For when you need to stop to sip electrons, the Mini is capable of up to 50kW DC quick charging with a CCS plug. This is starting to look a little dated compared to other cars offered today, which are often capable of 100-250kW or even more. But considering the Mini only uses 28.9kWh worth of battery capacity, 50kW might be enough.

The car will charge at 50kW all the way up until 80% capacity, rather than tapering early like many other electric cars do. This lets it reach 80% in about 35 minutes when starting from 0%.

The Mini Cooper SE comes with a 120V occasional use cable and a “TurboCord” for 240V charging. The TurboCord can deliver up to 3.8kW and charge the car in about eight hours. If you install a 32 amp level 2 home charger, you can charge at about double that rate, 7.4kW, for a four-hour charge. Like most electric cars, if you plug in when you get home (or when off-peak rates start at your house), your car should be ready to go in the morning.

Prospective owners who live in cold environments will be happy to know that the Mini Cooper SE has an energy-efficient heat pump for much improved climate-control efficiency. Some electric cars have significantly reduced range in the cold, but the Mini should be able to keep more of its range on those cold days. The ability to pre-condition the battery through the Mini Connected app should help with this as well.

I’ve long been a proponent that range is not the only spec worth mentioning on an electric car or even necessarily the most important one. EVs shouldn’t be measured purely by how big their battery is, with “more range” meaning “better.”

If you don’t need a huge battery, a car can be better with a smaller one. It can be lighter, cheaper, and allow for more EVs to get on the road (and more gas cars to get off it) in a battery-constrained manufacturing environment like we’re in now. There is absolutely a place for shorter-range EVs like the Mini, especially when the price, driving experience, and other amenities fill the right niche.

Tech gizmos

Since the drive was a little short, there wasn’t much opportunity to test the various technology bits the Mini has to offer.

All Mini Cooper SE trim levels come with Apple CarPlay, but like other BMWs, Android Auto is not available. However, the Mini Connected app, which allows owners to check on charging, remotely turn on climate control, and precondition the battery, is available for Android users.

Unlike most electric cars these days, there are no semi-autonomous driver aids available on the Mini. Traffic-aware cruise control is not available on this car. The only thing close to this category is park assist, which is available on the top of the line $36,900 “Iconic” trim level, and which we did not get to test.

But the coolest gizmo was the heads-up display. This pops out of the dash in front of the driver and shows speed, speed limit, and navigation information in a clear but unobtrusive way. This is particularly helpful for complicated directions, as in the case of the second picture above.

And it certainly sounds like a high-tech gizmo when you turn the car on and off:

Design and practicality

The Mini Cooper SE keeps the same classic exterior design of the gas Mini, and there’s no problem with that. It’s been a popular shape since its inception, and even though it has unfortunately gained a lot of pounds since the early days, it still has that same small and fun character as it always had.

The electric Mini has gained several design elements to differentiate it from the gas model. Most obviously, the grille is mostly closed, with only a thin slit for air intake. This improves aerodynamics, as electric cars make less heat than gas cars and don’t need air intake for combustion. The Mini Cooper SE does maintain the small hood scoop, which differentiates Mini’s gas “S” trim from the base model 2-door hardtop.

I’m really happy to see that Mini has kept the cool logo from the original Mini E, which looks like either an E or a plug, depending on how you look at it. This logo shows up several places on the car’s body, though unfortunately the huge yellow roof sticker, which always attracted a lot of interest for me back in the Mini E days, is absent.

BMW’s lost decade

This dovetails into my main annoyance about this car. That annoyance is the model year attached to it: 2020.
As you may have caught on to by now, I drove the Mini E in 2009 and loved it. Most of us who drove it loved it. My friends who I let drive it loved it. It was quirky and it wasn’t ready for primetime, but it was close. It could have been ready for primetime, with some more effort.

BMW took what they learned from the Mini E and incorporated it into future vehicle programs. They came out with the ActiveE in 2011, another lease-only electric vehicle program based on the 1-series platform. Then came their first ground-up, non-retrofit EV, the i3, in the 2014 model year.
They really did have an impressive lead on the rest of the industry. In 2014, the only notable ground-up EVs available were the Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Model S, and the BMW i3 (the Mitsubishi i-MiEV also…existed). And the BMW, in some ways, might have even been the best-engineered of the bunch. Its extensive use of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) allowed a curb weight of just 2,600lbs for a four-seater with plenty of headroom.

But then… nothing happened. One of the large German auto manufacturers simply sat on their hands. There was an occasional anonymous, unserious plug-in hybrid with 14 miles of electric range, and there were a few improvements to the i3. But no new models. The CEO even stepped down because of a lack of EV progress (but the new guy might not be much better).

The i3 has been selling steadily since it came out, and the battery has steadily improved, leading buyers to shift more toward BEV rather than PHEV over the years. And BMW does sell more “electrified” cars, as a percentage of their sales, than most companies — around 7% of US sales are electrified. But that counts those anonymous plug-in hybrids, too.

In the meantime, lots of other EVs came out from other manufacturers, and it would be very hard to argue that BMW has any sort of lead on pure electric vehicles now — or that they’re even in the conversation, given that the i3 was designed at least partially as a PHEV.

Let’s hope this new electric Mini changes that. Despite the minor improvements from the Mini E in terms of specs, the package is a lot more complete and refined than it was in 2009. It took too long to get here, and this car should have been out years ago, but at least it’s finally here.

And in one way they’re still beating other manufacturers. 

Many automakers have been saying that 2020 would be their big year that they debut their new electric vehicles and start selling them in numbers. But now, all we’re hearing is delays.
Mercedes isn’t bringing the EQC to the US until 2021. Honda won’t bring their Mini-like Honda e city car to the US “because there’s no demand” (how do you know that if you haven’t even tried? well, except for the boring Clarity EV…). 

The ID.3 is the same story from VW, with possible rumored delays in Europe, too. Even Ford is taking it easy on first-year deliveries of their awesome Mustang Mach-E, and diverting most of them away from the US.

So if the Mini actually hits the road in March (and it’d be quite late for delays to be announced, so we expect it will), then they deserve credit for being one of the few manufacturers who actually follow through and keeps their promises this year.

We’ll see how production allocation goes and if they can actually deliver this car in numbers, and whether the dealers will push it enough. It looks like a good value price and options-wise, so it should sell well if BMW wants it to.

Value

But that lost decade doesn’t really matter to people who are considering this car now. What matters is that the car is here, now, and people like you can go and get it a month or two from now. And surprisingly enough, despite the specs not changing a lot in the last 11 years, it still offers good value and fits well into a particular niche that isn’t really served by other cars in the US.

Even though the Mini has comparatively low range versus other current electric offerings, its price and option level is still reasonable when compared to other electric cars and, particularly, when compared to a gas-powered Mini.

Mini has always considered itself a “premium” brand, and their cars tend to be more expensive than other similar cars.

For example, gas Fiat 500s start near $16k, whereas gas Minis start at $23k. They do this and still sell well because, well, Minis are really fun cars, and they’re cute, and people like that.

Compared to the closest electric competition, the electric Mini is both cheaper and better-equipped than the aging electric Fiat 500e, which is meant to get an update in about a year. It’s also cheaper and more powerful (but with a little less range) than the Honda e, which isn’t coming to the US anyway. Plus, Honda is being jerks about electric cars, so how good could the Honda e turn out anyway if the company isn’t serious about making it?

So while the Mini is missing some features compared to the currently available, serious effort, similarly priced Nissan Leaf (ProPilot Assist, lower range, Android Auto, less spacious, etc.), there will definitely be people who prefer the Mini to the Leaf because of the Mini’s “fun/cute” character.

(This is not to say the Leaf isn’t fun to drive – it’s just not a Mini. The Leaf actually deserves credit for being fun to drive. See our Nissan Leaf review and Nissan Leaf Plus review for more on that)

This means the Mini fits well into a spec niche on the low end of the electric vehicle range. Now it just needs to work on getting gas converts.

And it should be able to do that, too. BMW told us several times that the electric Mini Cooper SE compares quite favorably to a similarly equipped gas Mini. The US configurator is not yet open (here’s the UK one), but descriptions of each option level are available on Mini USA’s website.

It’s not a perfect 1:1 comparison (for example, “Signature” Cooper S comes with 17″ wheels, whereas you need to get “Signature Plus” on the Cooper SE for 17″ wheels), but the prices are generally roughly the same between gas and electric for similar option levels, within a thousand dollars or so.

This article was originally published by Electrek.
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