If you’ve been reading MotoringFile for the past year you’ll know that there’s enormous buzz around the forthcoming electric J01 MINI Cooper. It’s a ground-up electric car built on a bespoke platform offering more range, new technology and an all new look. On paper it seems like a massive improvement over the current Cooper SE. But there’s a big catch if you’re in the US.
While Europe, the UK, Asia and South American will get the J01, MINI’s new electric Cooper won’t be available from MINI USA for years. While it’s not official, it’s all but certain that MINI USA won’t be importing the new J01 electric Cooper until it expands from its initial Chinese production to MINI’s Oxford Plant in the UK later this decade. That means we won’t see that car on US shores until likely 2027. So if you want a small electric MINI, there’s only one options for the next 3+ years. Suddenly a 3 year lease starts to make a lot of sense. But we’ll come to that in a moment.
Perhaps more importantly the F56 electric MINI Cooper SE will cease production at then end of January 2024. That means in less than six weeks the car you see here will go out of production and will begin to become scarce. In other words MINI will not sell an electric Cooper for over 3 years. Sure there new U25 MINI Countryman will eventually debut in the US next fall. But if you’re in the market for the classic Cooper shape powered by electric, you will have no options.
With all of this in mind we wanted to get behind the wheel one last time with the current F56 electric MINI Cooper SE. Can it really compete with the J01 and is it still a good buying as it closes out its production? While MINI USA didn’t have a Chicago area press car in their fleet due to the holidays, there was an easy solution. They then rung up our local dealer (MINI of Glencoe) who quickly found a beautifully specced Cooper SE in the Iconic Trim complete with the gorgeous white multi-tone roof. Now all we had to do was to drive it.
Making the Case for the F56 Cooper SE
The first place we have to start is price. And by that we mean the lease price. But why would you lease? For one the deals are outrageous right now. But perhaps more importantly a 3 year lease is an ideal way to bridge the gap from this car to around the time period we expect the new J01 electric to be on sale in the US. Second a lease is a good way to financially insulate you from depreciation on a car that might be looked at as obsolete when the J01 finally reaches the US.
Let’s talk cost. MINI USA is currently offering the Cooper SE at a three year lease at just $239 per month. Keep in mind this price includes a lot of standard equipment including Navigation, Heads-up display, Apple CarPlay, heated everything, Active Driving Assistant and more. That has to be the single best deal we’ve ever seen from MINI USA and quite frankly hard to pass up if you’re even slightly in the market.
However with a car that’s about to be replaced (even if that replacement isn’t coming to the US for 3+ years) you can’t help but wonder if it’s a smart buy. If comes down to what you need in your MINI. If your requirements are a 220+ mile range between charges then there’s no question the current generation F56 Cooper SE won’t work. We’ve previously tested the Cooper SE in multiple occasions and in warm weather typically see a 120+ mile range. Based on our testing, that will degrade further. With temperatures hovering around 30F we’re seeing a range around 100 miles fully charged. But it comes back to how you intend to use it.
MINIs are typically purchased as the second or third car in the household. According to survey data, more than 75% of Americans drive on average 50 miles per day. Using our Level 2 charger installed in or garage, we were able to top off after our 36 mile daily commute quickly. And if you’re lucky enough to have a Level 3 charger in your area you can go from 10%-80% in just over 30 minutes.
In other words if you’re buying a MINI as a secondary car that is primarily used for commuting and driving around town the current Cooper SE checks all the boxes.
Another area that we thought might be a weakness is the tech. Over the last 10 years MINI has massaged the current F56 tech stack bringing it up to a modern spec with fast wireless CarPlay and a host of driver’s aids. It’s impressive until the moment you see what’s in the forthcoming J01 or the U25 Countryman. But here’s the thing – it works perfectly. Everything from CarPlay to adaptive cruise just works. This is a system that’s honed to a point that seems devoid of bugs or lags. And if you prefer the older (and quantifiably safer) iDrive controller, the F56 is your best option as all new MINIs are going to a full touchscreen system.
Surprising Technical Data That Makes the F56 Cooper SE Attractive
The data below tells an interesting story. For one the F56 Cooper SE is 363 lbs lighter than the new J01 Cooper SE. That weight gain is likely down to the amount of batteries the J01 has over the F56. But if you don’t need that extra range, you’re just carrying around extra weight.
|J01 Cooper SE
|F56 Cooper SE
|3858 mm / 151.8 in
|3850 mm / 151.5 in
|Width w/o Mirros (mm/inches)
|1756 mm / 69 in
|1727 mm / 68 in
|1460 mm / 57 in
|1432 mm / 56.4 in
|2526 mm / 99 in
|2495 mm / 98.2 in
|Curb weight (kg/lbs)
|1605 kg / 3,538 lbs
|1440 kg / 3175 lbs
|Weight distribution (Front/Rear)
|F 57% / R 43%
|F 54% / R 46%
|746 mm / 29.3 in
|757 mm / 29.8
|586 mm / 23 in
|681 mm / 26.8 in
|Luggage capacity (seats up/seats down
|210 / 800 L
|211 / 941 L
Looking closer you’ll also see the J01 is larger in every dimension. Not by much but if you like your MINIs as small as possible the F56 clearly wins there as well. Then there’s the surprising weight distribution. Here the F56 is closer to that 50/50 ideal which should give it slightly more neutral handling at the limit.
There’s more. According to the preliminary data the F56 has the same luggage space but actually more when the seats are folded down. It may sound small but it’s interesting to see how the two cars differ in their small details.
What isn’t small is the extra power the J01 has over the F56. But looking closer that power doesn’t translate into a big increase in quickness as the J01 is only a half second quicker to 60 mph.
As we mentioned above it’s the range figure that many have focused on. And there’s no question that the J01 wins there with a 250 mile range vs on the WLTP standard. But then again it comes back to that question – what do you need an electric MINI for?
In our time with this gorgeous F56 Cooper SE we really fell in love all over again with the concept of electric propulsion in a MINI. The immediate torque coupled with the quick turn-in just fits the Cooper so well. And that’s coming from someone who just ordered a JCW Clubman. But the love for both that 306 hp internal combustion Clubman and this electric Cooper SE can coexist. They solve two very different problem statements. And when it comes to that second car or perfect commuter that always makes you smile, we cannot think of a better choice than the one you can buy right now.
The key phrase is right now. Supply is currently plentiful but it won’t be for long. And that incredible $239 lease deal only runs through the end of December. So if you’re at all curious about an electric MINI Cooper and cannot wait for 2027, you’ll want to move quickly. Even better, if you’re in the Chicago area we know of a gorgeous Midnight Black example that’s available.