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Mini Cooper SE | Born to be an EV?


The Mini Cooper SE seems to embody practically everything we loved about the Mini. Has this little electric hot hatch transformed into the perfect urban EV?

Mini Cooper SE
 
A fuel crisis was the reason the original Mini was born and it’s a little ironic then that another crisis (emissions leading to global warming) is the reason that will ultimately underline the demise of the petrol burning Mini as we know it. But that day, as inevitable as it may be, has not come yet because the Mini Cooper SE sells alongside its ICE brethren at the moment. So, just how good is this EV? Is it as bonkers as the regular car and just how does it fit into our transitioning world? What better way than to get these answers than to drive both back to back. Yes, much fun was had on this test!
Mini Cooper SE

Quiet 

Good things come in small packages, great things come in pairs. When you have both the Mini Cooper SE as well as the John Cooper Works sitting in the office garage, then both statements hold true. When deciding which set of keys to pick, the choice seems easy, at least on paper. And with 231PS and 320Nm on tap the JCW easily wins top trumps over the 184PS and 270Nm from the electric motorized SE. But then, the Mini was never really about outright performance and besides electrics are still novel creatures, so there’s plenty drawing one toward the electric’s keys too. With most of us, it was curiosity that won out with literally everyone wanting a go at driving the EV first.

Mini Cooper SE
 

That first experience for most was surprisingly normal except for the eerily quiet cabin. The Mini EV immediately feels familiar and so it should because it’s essentially the same car with a set of batteries packed into the exhaust tunnel and under the rear seats forming a ‘T-shaped battery pack. This sends power to a front-axle-mounted electric motor that is as smooth and quiet as electrics can get. No fake sound pumped into the speakers here.

Mini Cooper SE

 

There only is a spaceship-esque sound that is heard mostly on the outside of the car which is for pedestrian safety. In fact, it’s so soft that the sound insulation practically cuts it off from the inside of the cabin completely. It’s only with the windows down and with quiet surroundings, that you can ‘hear’ the car from behind the wheel. 

Mini Cooper SE

Peppy

Having driven a few electrics now, both mind bendingly quick ones as well as those that are snooze inducingly slow, the Mini threw no surprises. As expected from the numbers, it slots somewhere in the middle, between these two extremes, but thankfully middle of the market performance from an electric is still pretty quick.

Mini Cooper SE
 

7.13 seconds to 100kmph and a top speed that’s capped at 150 kmph is pretty exciting no matter what powers the car. That’s just about a second slower than the JCW (6.19s) and less than half a second slower in roll-on acceleration from 20-80kmph: 4.06s vs 3.73s (JCW).

Mini Cooper SE
 

And what the electric motor lacks in character (because electric cars all feel more or less the same) it more than makes up for in excitement. There’s enough torque to induce a little bit of wheel spin and torque steer with traction control turned off, planting an even bigger smile on your face. At the same time it’s not so much power that you're ever afraid of using it all with traction control switched back on. 

Mini Cooper SE
 

The Mini comes with 4 drive modes and these dictate the motor’s response that are really self explanatory, Sport, Mid, Green and Green+. Sport gobbles the most juice from the batteries and Green+ extends the range as far as it will go. There are a couple of regen modes too: low and high. These are accessed by one of the toggle switches on the central console.

Mini Cooper SE
 

High is a near one pedal solution, heavy with the re-gen and great for slow moving traffic. You would need to use the brakes for emergency stops still though. Low gives you more coasting and much less regenerative braking.   

Mini Cooper SE

Nimble

At 1440kgs the SE is just 120kgs heavier than the JCW. Which, when you think about it, is just about the weight of your date and her bestie on a night out or that one XL friend who came along for the Sunday morning ride. Either way you look at it, it’s not really the weight you want, but neither is it really excess baggage either. More importantly it doesn’t feel weighted down when you're driving it.

Mini Cooper SE
 

In fact, it feels just like the regular Mini Cooper does. So the full go-kart feel is still very much there. Turn in to corners is sharp, steering weight and feedback is great and doesn’t really feel too different from the JCW Pro. In fact the Mini Cooper SE actually rides more comfortably than the more sportily sprung JCW!

Mini Cooper SE
 

Adequate?

It’s now time to talk about the other side of the electric equation. And in the Mini’s case, the not so fun side. The Mini is powered by a 32.6kWh battery pack that accepts up to 50kW fast charging and 11kW AC wallbox charging from an included home charger. This is good for a range of 270 kilometers (WLTP cycle range). This translates into around 130-150 km of real world range. More than adequate for a city runabout, but not nearly enough for anything else. A round trip of 100 kilometers to a shoot location meant that the car returned back to office with just 20% range in the bank and then the only thing you really want to do is charge it back up again before you're confident to take it out again. Perfectly adequate for a 2nd car, that you reserve for city duties, but not something you can rely on for intercity trips. 

Mini Cooper SE

Fun, But Flawed

The Mini Cooper SE then thankfully keeps all the DNA that makes the ICE Mini Cooper the fun little hatchback that we all dream of owning. It’s exciting behind the wheel, economical to charge up and has no real shortcomings in the city. But there was and, for the time being, still is the possibility that you could put together a case, however flawed that case may be, for the Mini Cooper ICE being the only car you needed to own. But the Mini Cooper SE, right now, with our existing charging infrastructure, simply cannot be your only car. 

 

The flip side is that if you never did see the Mini as an ‘only car’ in the first place, and that it was always only an indulgence for those special, occasional drives, then this Mini Cooper SE could possibly be wedged into fitting that mold. Just as much fun, for just as much money and with the bragging rights of being good for the environment too.

 

MINI Cooper SE Video Review

MINI Cooper SE
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