Car reviews - Mini - Hatch - Cooper SE
Zippy electric powertrain, smooth power delivery, cabin ambience, electric torque vectoring, comfortable rear dimensions
Room for improvement
Restricted range, firm ride, plentiful cabin plastics, low-res digital instrument cluster, lack of useable interior storage
Mini joins zero-emissions fray with punchy but handicapped full-electric SE Hatch
17 Jul 2020
WE CURRENTLY live in an age that represents a significant turning point for the global automotive industry, one where vehicle manufacturers are slowly making the shift from the tried-and-true internal combustion engine into the exciting new world of electric powertrains.
The latest brand to join the shift is Mini, which has waded into the EV market with a modified version of its three-door Cooper hatch, which arrives Down Under in the single Electric Hatch SE specification.
With a 135kW powertrain and a claimed 233km of range, the Mini is more potent than most rivals, but with less driving range.
So how does that combo stack up in the real world?
First drive impressions
As mentioned, only one grade of the Mini Electric will be offered for now – the $59,900 plus on-roads SE, which unsurprisingly is based on the spec of the petrol-powered Cooper S.
Obviously, the hallmark feature of the Electric is its zero-emissions powertrain which teams a 32.6kWh lithium-ion battery to a 135kW/270Nm electric motor on the front axle, for a claimed driving range of 233km on the WLTP cycle.
The powertrain is an upgraded version of the set-up underpinning the BMW i3 hatch, with improved battery chemistry for recharging and power delivery.
Its outputs are able to trump most of the Mini EV’s rivals, such as the Hyundai Ioniq Electric (104kW/265Nm), Renault Zoe (68kW/220Nm), Nissan Leaf (110kW/320Nm) and upcoming Fiat 500 (87kW), however its 233km range leaves a little to be desired.
Mini Australia claims the reduced range will not be a problem due to most of its prospective buyers set to use it in short-distance urban applications, however for peace of mind a range of at least 300km would be greatly appreciated, especially in a country as vast as ours.
On our drive route, we found that the claimed 233km seemed to be an accurate assessment, with no serious dip in driving range coming at any point despite a diverse range of roads and driving conditions.
The advantage of the Mini’s motor is the extra power, with the British brand doing a good job of handling the fun, go-kart-like brief expected of most Mini models.
Its extra output is noticeable in real-world situations, particularly its punch from around 15-60km/h in which the instant torque availability is particularly noticeable.
Even accelerating from standstill to 100km/h is done with what feels like very little effort, with the hushed drive of the electric motor making the landmark figure feel quicker than the claimed 7.3-second sprint time.
Throttle response is smooth and power delivery well calibrated, making it an easy car to drive in any situation, urban or rural.
The electric motors also do a good job of applying power mid-corner, giving the SE a feeling of grip especially when exiting bends, helping the go-kart feel despite a 100kg weight penalty over its petrol counterpart.
Torque vectoring systems tend to struggle more in wet weather, with heavy acceleration met with scrabbling front wheels in low-grip situations.
The heavier set-up of the SE also can result in some prominent understeer during hard cornering in slippery conditions, with the EV less happy to be thrown around in dynamic situations.
Steering nevertheless feels sharp and direct, which combines well with the torque vectoring to alleviate some of the problems caused by the heavy battery.
As a sportier offering, ride quality is a little on the firm side, which is not a problem when driving on smooth and well-maintained urban streets, however venturing out onto rougher roads causes the car to skip and jump about.
The Electric SE features two-stage regenerative braking, which can either be toggled to a more subtle braking feel or a harder response that can essentially allow one-pedal driving.
Moving inside the cabin, the full-electric Mini is not dissimilar from its petrol counterparts, with much of the same switchgear and features, and even the same dimensions given the EV version is built on the same platform, with the EV powertrain supplanted in.
The cool toggle-style switches are carried over, as are the circular dashboard design, forward-set A-pillars and 8.8-inch infotainment system.
In the current stage of EV development, fitting a zero-emissions powertrain can often drive the price of a vehicle upwards, resulting in costs being saved in other areas.
In the case of the Mini, that seems to have manifested in the large amount of cabin plastics, with the interior of the car trimmed in an abundance of black plastic that extends to the A/C cluster, steering wheel buttons, dashboard, centre console and door trim.
This combines with the manually adjustable front seats to give the Mini Electric’s cabin a slightly low-rent feel – at least for a car with a nearly $60,000 pricetag.
The SE’s infotainment system is projected onto an 8.8-inch screen housed within the circular dash, which provides a funky and unique design element.
Operation of the system is largely simple, however it does feel like a slightly less sophisticated version of BMW’s OS, and we think Mini would be better off simply borrowing BMW’s latest system for itself.
One new feature is the all-digital 5.5-inch instrument cluster display, which provides useful readouts around energy useable and remaining range.
However, the resolution and colour saturation of the screen seems inferior to most of its rivals, and the lack of customisation feels like a missed opportunity.
Despite only having two side doors, the SE features seating for four, with the rear seats providing a respectable amount of space for adult occupants.
Both front and rear seats are comfortably sculpted, and are upholstered in soft leather with heating function as standard.
Only 211 litres of storage space is available in the rear due to the charging cables being stored underfloor, however that can be expanded to 731L with the rear seats stowed. We only wish they could fold flush into the floor, however it is hardly the end of the world.
Overall, the Cooper SE is an exciting foray into the world of EVs for Mini, and a taste of what is surely to come across various model lines from the British brand.
Leveraging BMW’s EV expertise will allow Mini to create more and more heart-racing zero-emissions models, and further the brand’s legacy of fun, sharp-handling vehicles.
The biggest drawback with this first one is its range, which for the Australian landscape will likely be a deal-breaker for anyone who doesn’t live in an inner-urban environment.
Nevertheless, it is a strong first pass at an EV with a funky and trendy attitude that leaves us wanting more. Let’s just hope the next all-electric Mini can manage at least 300km before we have to plug back in.
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