By the end of this year, the BMW Group will have to hatchbacks that shake up the status quo; the BMW M135i and the MINI Cooper SE. The former is a front-wheel drive-based hot-hatch, something BMW has never made before, and the latter is an all-electric hatch that’s mostly different from what MINI has made before (the original MINI E was more of a test-bed for future electric performance, rather than a full-on production vehicle). However, it’s actually the MINI that I think will be the more fun, more exciting car.
The all-new BMW M135i xDrive is an interesting car because it is front-wheel drive-based but its xDrive all-wheel drive system can send power to the rear wheels when needed. So it’s a grippy little hot-hatch with a very healthy 302 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. While I personally haven’t driven the M135i, because it isn’t sold in America, I have driven its mechanical twin, the M235i Gran Coupe. Surprisingly, I actually thought it was quite fun to drive and didn’t run to grab my pitchfork. It’s a car I liked quite a bit, actually. So I’m not one of those front-drive BMW haters.
Yet, despite that, I think the MINI Cooper SE is going to be the better buy and the car to get more excited about. That might sound a bit crazy, especially when you look at the specs (MINI only makes 181 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque). But hear me out.
While the BMW M135i is quick, and more fun to drive than many enthusiasts might expect, it’s only fun under the sort of circumstances that are illegal on the road. It surprises when you’re pushing it too hard for public use. However, the MINI Cooper SE will be fun and lively at normal speeds and even around-town speeds. That’s because of its electric torque and nippy handling. MINIs have always been fun to drive and, having driven the new generation of front-drive BMWs, are more fun than their Bavarian counterparts. So add electric torque and instantaneous response and you get a car that’s not only efficient but very fun.
There’s also the way both cars look. While the M135i has a bit of a pig-face and could just as well be a Hyundai hot hatch, the MINI Cooper SE is distinctly a MINI and has some very cool touches, such as its unique, EV-looking wheels.
On top of the way they look, the MINI Cooper SE is also the future. But it’s not just the future because it’s an electric car that lacks an internal combustion engine. It’s the future beacuase it’s an electric hot-hatch. It’s the sort of car enthusiasts are going to be buying in a decade. Because of that, owning the electric MINI will feel like being part of a movement, rather than just buying yet another fast hatchback.
The BMW M135i is a better car than most enthusiasts think it is. But I personally think the MINI Cooper SE is going to be the affordable hatch to get from the BMW Group. It’s not going to light your hair on fire, performance-wise, but — as with all great MINIs — that won’t matter. Instead, it’s going to be a fun, happy little hatchback that’s going to be more enjoyable to own than BMW’s own hot hatch.