The all electric MINI Cooper SE is a parts-bin car that defies expectations and is greater than the sum of those borrowed parts. Developed at lightning pace over the last couple of years, MINI begged, borrowed and perhaps stole from BMW, slapped it on the F56 platform and created one of the most engaging MINIs in years.
Lets just back-up. Ten years ago BMW missed an incredible opportunity to dual path a range of electric MINIs with the introduction of BMWi – the all electric sub-brand from BMW. Having just come from the successful trial of the electric MINI E, the brand had primed its fans and learned enormously from the car. Yet BMW decided that the billions invested in electrification would begin at BMWi.
Fast forward to 2018 and BMW announced they were making a pivot and producing an all electric MINI. But the kicker was that they would use the existing F56 platform and leverage the BMW i3 power unit. MINI has brilliant engineers, but that didn’t sound promising. Which is why the electric MINI Cooper SE is such a revelation to drive.
That Range Though
Designed for cities is also another way of saying the range of this car isn’t Tesla like, but the 110 miles quoted by the EPA isn’t the whole story. In my time with the car, I drove equal parts city and highway, and came away with at least 125 miles of range (on a 60 degree day). And while we’ve seen major differences in the BMW i3 in cold temps, the engineers responsible for the MINI Cooper SE promised me that that large delta doesn’t exist on this car thanks to the newer generation batteries and the way the car manages them.
Those batteries also make it more efficient than the i3 getting 3.8 miles per kWh compared to 2.9 (if that helps you sleep better).
Can 110-125 miles really work as a daily driver? MINI USA tells us that most MINI owners have 2-3 other cars in the garage, and for those people the MINI stays true to its brief of being an urban runabout or weekend car. But for those who rely on one car the Cooper SE has drawbacks.
Charging can be quick, but only if you find a fast charger. How fast? on a DC 50 kW it takes 35 minutes to charge 80% and 64 minutes for 100%. On a MINI Wallbox in your garage it takes 2.5 hours (AC 11kW) and 3.2 (AC 7.4 kW) to hit 80%. For the full 100% it takes 3.5 and 4.2 hours, respectively.
For daily use that means the MINI Cooper SE should easily accomplish 99% of commutes. And with some planning could do shorter road-trips assuming a 110 to 125 miles range.
Based on our (admittedly quick) first drive, for the vast majority of miles most MINIs do, the Cooper SE could be ideal. Why ideal? Because of the way it drives.
The Electric Cooper SE is a Weapon
Point and shoot. It takes approximately 50 feet to figure out that this is the quickest MINI ever 0-30 mph. While that might sound like some weird consolation prize, it’s a game-changing attribute. The performance isn’t Tesla like, but for a car like the MINI with a quick steering rack and a short wheelbase, it’s game-changing.
So acceleration is great. Not surprising. What was surprising is the way it handled. With its 32.6 kWh lithium-ion battery wedged as low as possible, the Cooper SE is endowed with the lowest center of gravity ever on a modern MINI.
What that means is, despite a ride height that’s an inch higher than normal, this thing is immediate in its direction changes and is extremely progressive at the limit. In fact it is the most balanced MINI I have ever driven, and with a 50/50 weight distribution it makes sense.
About that weight. A standard Mini Cooper S weighs in between 2,700 and 2,800 depending on options. The Cooper SE is over 300 lbs heavier at 3,153 lbs. Yet due to the extra weight’s location performance hardly feels stunted in city traffic. And even up to triple digits speeds the Cooper SE constantly surprises in the way it builds speed.
What You Give Up with the Electric Cooper SE
One of the more shocking things about the Cooper SE is its lack of compromises in design. MINI has aimed for a more modest range, lower costs and (crucially) no intrusions into the cabin for battery packs. This means we get the exact same F56 in electric for than you do with petrol – including the under the floor storage compartment.
That decision to not intrude into the boot or back seats means that MINI made the conscience decision to lower costs and range.
In some ways that aligns the Cooper SE with the original Mini’s brief of a small, affordably priced little go-kart of a car designed specifically for the cities and suburbs. So while the Cooper SE has traded off long-range it’s leaned into the classic Mini mentality more than any modern MINI product.
MINI Cooper SE Pricing
The 2020 MINI Cooper SE will start at $29,900. That’s before the $7,500 federal tax incentives and before other state incentives that will likely apply. That means for most, the MINI Cooper SE could cost (after tax deductions) just over $20,000. For a car of the quality, design and performance that the MINI Cooper SE will offer, it’s an eye opening price and one that makes it perhaps the best value of the MINI range.
Let’s Talk Conclusions
At this point you likely know where stand with MINI’s first production electric car. Engineers and designers have taken bits and pieces from the i3, the F56 and a bunch of BMWi learnings to create a surprisingly compelling car. So compelling that it makes you immediately optimistic around the brand’s transition to all electric.
What the SE does is reinforce what makes the MINI brand so special. It’s performance coupled with utility and value positions it the same way that BMC positioned their classic Mini 61 years ago.