A few years back, I had the chance to drive a classic Mini that had been modified to us an EV powertrain. The project was the work of mostly one man who had developed a unique EV powertrain setup that still utilized a manual gearbox. It was one of the most interesting drives of my life. Since then, though, I’ve always thought that electrification would be excellent in a modern MINI. Due to their compact footprint and light weight, MINIs are the perfect cars for zippy, instantaneous electric torque. Fortunately, the folks at MINI, and the BMW Group in general, felt the same way. So they developed this — the MINI Cooper SE.
We’ve known about the MINI Cooper SE for some time now, as the British brand unveiled a concept version last year and has been hinting and teasing its eventual release. Now that it’s finally here, we get to see what a proper electric MINI is like. If you remember, this isn’t the first all-electric car from the brand. The original MINI E debuted in 2008 and was only leased in very limited numbers. In fact, only 500 made it to the US market and they were only sold in California, New York and New Jersey. So it was a rare and unique car. This new car, though, this will be a fully-production-ready car and one that’s even more impressive than the original.
When the MINI Cooper SE goes on sale, it will be an interesting and unique car in its segment. It’s not the first compact EV hatchback to hit the market, that would be the VW eGolf. However, MINI claims that it’s the first premium compact electric car. I love MINI, don’t get me wrong, but that’s a bit of hair-splitting from the Brits, as the MINI Cooper is a nice car but it’s barely any more premium than a Golf, if at all. Still, it’s a unique car for the segment.
Powering the MINI Cooper SE is a 135 kW (184 hp) electric motor that also makes 200 lb-ft of torque. That’s about as much as a BMW i3, which isn’t surprising considering how much of their powertrains are shared. The major difference between the i3 and the Cooper SE is the drivetrain. The BMW i3 powers its rear wheels and the Cooper SE powers its fronts. That will give it a typical MINI feel, just one with far more instant torque than ever before.
According to MINI, the Cooper SE can scoot from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in 7.3 seconds. That’s not blistering but it’s not bad, either. It’s also the exact same quoted time as the standard MINI Cooper. So it’s decently quick. More importantly, it will feel quicker than that, especially in the city. It’s 0-60 km/h (37 mph) is rated at 3.9 seconds. So it has good short area quickness. Though, it’s not a deep threat, with only a 150 km/h (93 mph) top speed. No matter, though, the MINI Cooper SE is designed to be a fun, urban city car. Not an Autobahn blitzer.
More important that speed is its agility. To be a proper MINI, the Cooper SE needs to be fun in the twisties and nippy around town. Thanks to that punchy electric drivetrain, a 30mm lower center of gravity than the standard car and classic MINI steering, the Cooper SE should be a proper riot to drive. It also gets an advanced to traction control system, dubbed DSC like all other BMWs, and it’s been designed to handle the electric torque of the new MINI. There will be four driving modes for customers to choose from; Sport, Mid, Green and Green+. The names are rather self-explanatory. Green+ is the most extreme fuel saver, as it slows down certain functions, like air conditioning or heat.
The T-shaped battery in the belly of the Cooper SE is just 32.6 kWh, which isn’t huge. However, it’s enough to give the Cooper SE a max range of 235 km – 270 km (145 – 168 miles). That may not be a ton of range, and it’s barely any better than the nearly ancient i3’s but it’s enough to be usable everyday. Plus, the MINI Cooper SE is an urban city-crawler, not some long-distance GT car. The positive about having a small battery is charge time. Charging at 11 kW, the MINI Cooper SE can go from near flat to 80 percent in two and half hours. On a DC fast charger at 50 kW, it can do that in just 35 minutes. For drivers who want a bit more range added back into the battery, MINI Cooper SE customers can vary the amount of regenerative braking, optimizing their fuel savings.
From the outside, the MINI Cooper SE is a good looking car but it’s sadly not as funky as the its own concept. It honestly just looks like a MINI with yellow accents. Thankfully, MINI kept the concept car’s wheels, which look fantastic. The inside is similar, as it looks mostly like a standard MINI Cooper, just with some new digital gauges bespoke to the electric model.
As-standard, the MINI Cooper SE comes with two-zone climate control, navigation and a ton of interesting color options. So you don’t have to spend a fortune to get one in a fun color. However, this new electric MINI won’t be as cheap as it gasoline counterparts.
We can’t wait to drive the all-new MINI Cooper SE when it finally debuts later this year. After having driven the classic that’d been redesigned to fit an electric powertrain, we’re fully convinced that electrification is the way to go for MINI. The new Cooper SE is the future of the brand and the future looks bright.