by Karl Furlong
Electric vehicles are undergoing a dramatic image makeover. Where they were once viewed as friends of the trees but also soulless and awkward, Tesla has since been joined by the likes of Jaguar and Porsche, adding some much-needed flair to the sector. All offer desirable badges, plenty of style, and great performance, but their vehicles are also expensive: enter the all-new Mini Cooper Hardtop Electric. Starting at under $30,000 - and that's before tax credits are applied - it's one of the most affordable EVs around. With nippy electric power and Mini's legendary handling, there is nothing awkward or soulless about this hatchback. It is also well-equipped and as cheeky to look at as ever. On the downside - and it's hard to ignore this one - the Mini's truncated driving range works out to just 110 miles, far below that of other EVs. It's also a small car, so space is at a premium. But for solo city slickers who want to enter the electric vehicle fray, there is hardly a better option out there.
The Mini Cooper Hardtop Electric is a new addition to the Mini family for 2020. Dubbed the Cooper SE, it's the brand's first-ever fully electric vehicle - of course, that's if you discount the Mini-E, a trial electric hatchback that was leased to a limited number of private users back in 2009. The electric motor produces 181 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque, making it possible for the Mini EV to hit 60 mph in a swift 6.9 seconds. Mini estimates a range of 110 miles on a full charge, with the EPA's combined MPGe figure working out to 108. The 32.6-kWh battery pack can be charged up to 80 percent in 36 minutes at a fast DC charging station. For the rest, the Cooper SE employs the brand's familiar funky styling, and three sub-trims provide access to differing levels of features.
See trim levels and configurations:
Single Speed Automatic
Fundamentally, the Cooper SE looks much like any other Mini. Its squat and abbreviated proportions make it ideal for urban commutes, while the short overhangs and all-round greenhouse are classic Mini. Depending on the trim, vivid yellow accents set the SE apart from its gas-powered siblings, while some versions have quirky alloy wheels said to be inspired by British power outlets. Wheel sizes are either 16- or 17 inches, depending on the trim. All models have LED headlamps along with the charging connection cap featuring an embossed Mini Electric logo - just in case you zone out and try to throw some unleaded in there. Higher-spec models get power-folding side mirrors and a panoramic moonroof.
Like other Minis, the SE is as compact as it gets, with a length of just 151.4 inches - this is, however, marginally longer than the regular Mini Cooper hatchback three-door. The wheelbase measures 98.2 inches, height is 56.4 inches, and width excluding the side mirrors is 68 inches. The Cooper SE's curb weight works out to 3,153 pounds, making it over 300 lbs heavier than the Cooper S hardtop with the automatic transmission.
Mini's range of colors for the Cooper SE comprises six unique shades, although the lower two sub-trims only have access to five of these. The colors are White Silver, Moonwalk Grey, Midnight Black, Chili Red, British Racing Green Metallic, and MINI Yours Enigmatic Black Metallic. The latter shade is only available on the Iconic variant. Unique to the Cooper SE are mirror caps painted in Energetic Yellow, but for buyers who find this option a bit too flashy, the mirror caps can also be painted in a color called Vigorous Grey, which sounds like a bit of an oxymoron.
With a 0-60 mph time of 6.9 seconds, the Mini Cooper SE is an excellent example of instant electric power delivery. Coupled with the Mini's small size, this is the ideal car with which to take quick gaps in traffic. From standstill to 40 mph, the SE's acceleration is especially potent, as power tapers off gradually after that. Eventually, the SE will manage a top speed of 93 mph. The electric motor produces 181 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque, and it's paired with a single-speed fixed ratio automatic transmission. Power is sent to the front wheels. By comparison, the more expensive Chevrolet Bolt EV will get to 60 mph a few tenths quicker than the Mini, while the Nissan Leaf lags behind both. The Cooper SE easily feels the most fun from behind the wheel, though.
Sourced from the much more expensive BMW i3, the Mini Cooper SE's electric motor churns out 181 hp and 199 lb-ft, the latter available immediately. The single-speed transmission transmits power to the front wheels. The 32.6-kWh lithium-ion battery explains why the Cooper has a much shorter range than other small EVs like the Chevrolet Bolt, which has a 66-kWh battery pack.
Although a bit slower to 60 mph than the Cooper S, the Cooper SE's unique power delivery makes for a different, but still entertaining, driving experience. Being the first one to be stopped at the traffic lights is almost a good thing, as it's easy to leave unsuspecting drivers in much more powerful cars behind from a standing start. The electric motor also holds its own on the highway, despite the low 93-mph top speed. Passing power is good, too, with 50-75 mph taking around 4.6 seconds.
The electric version of any model line isn't often touted as the most dynamically gifted, since the battery adds excess weight. However, Mini has positioned the SE's battery pack deep in the floor of the hatchback, and this actually helps it achieve a lower center of gravity than the gas-powered Cooper. However, it's still ultimately heavier than a Cooper S, and although the SE retains the fast and precise electric power steering that makes it a delight to thread through bends, it's not the most dynamically adept within the Mini range. Compared to other small EVs, though, it's got a fun factor that they can't compete with. The ride is rather firm, although damping is good so the SE is easy enough to live with on a daily basis.
There are four drive modes to choose from: Sport, Mid, Green, and Green Plus. Although each mode doesn't dramatically alter the Mini's driving characteristics, there is a perceptible difference in throttle response between Sport and Green Plus. Green is a good bet for daily driving, as it provides a welcome balance between power and efficiency. Independent of these driving modes are two modes for the brake energy recovery system. In the more aggressive mode, it's possible to enjoy one-pedal driving as the Mini will decelerate as soon as you take your foot off the pedal, often slowing down enough to negate using the brakes. Once you get used to it, it's another element of the driving experience that adds to the Cooper SE's unique appeal.
According to Mini's estimates, the Cooper SE will manage a range of 110 miles on a full charge. Combined EPA ratings indicate figures of 115/100/108 MPGe on the city/highway/combined cycles. Other small EVs have a far superior range, though, with a 259-mile range for the Chevrolet Bolt EV (127/108/118 MPGe) and Nissan also claiming a range of over 200 miles for the Leaf EV. Within the confines of a city, the Cooper SE will be fine, but longer trips will need to be carefully considered.
The quickest way to charge the Mini Cooper SE will be via a Level 3 DC fast charging station, with the ability to get the battery up to 80 percent in just over half an hour. There are currently around 17,500 Level 2 and 2,600 DC public charging stations in the US, a number that continues to grow.
At home or at a public AC charging point, Level 2 charging via a 240-volt power supply will take around four hours for a complete charge. If all you have access to is a 120-volt plug point, expect to leave the Cooper SE plugged in all night - this won't get the battery up to 100 percent by the morning, but should be enough for the average commute to and from the office.
Like the exterior, the Cooper SE's cabin boasts the same youthful design, but there is substance to it, with high-quality materials and sturdy build integrity. The familiar circular section in the middle houses the infotainment screen, a few audio controls, and the hazards button. A row of glossy toggle switches lower down are familiar, too, but in the electric Mini they allow drivers to switch between its unique driving modes. Ahead of the driver rests a 5.5-inch digital instrument cluster, displaying battery charge level and other information. Every model gets heated front seats and dual-zone climate control, with higher sub-trims adding extras like rear park distance control, a panoramic moonroof, and wireless charging. Along with a rearview camera and dynamic traction control, the Mini Cooper SE also gets eight airbags to protect occupants in the event of an accident.
While the battery pack has a comfortable resting place in the floor, the same can't be said for all four occupants in the Mini. Those in front will be fine, but rear occupants will struggle to squeeze into the back seats and, once there, they'll find extremely limited space for their legs. Headroom is in short supply, too. That said, cramped rear space has never stopped the two-door Cooper from selling well, and for couples, it'll be just fine. The funky upholstery choices and interior colors haven't detracted from front seats that are both supportive and comfortable. Because the doors aren't too long, front-seat ingress and egress are easy even in tighter spaces. Visibility is a strong point, too, as the side windows are tall and, because the car itself is so short, it's easy to gauge where it begins and ends when parking.
In the cabin, the Cooper SE features the same pleasing mix of high-quality plastics and other materials as found in other Minis. Each sub-trim - Signature, Signature Plus, and Iconic - has a unique interior style, although the base sub-trim doesn't have access to as many personalization options. Leatherette and leather upholstery choices are available within the range in colors like Carbon Black and Satellite Grey. Like the exterior, some controls have distinctive yellow coloring on them which brightens up the environment. On the higher-spec trims, the classy seats can be had with quilted stitching, and there are carbon fiber-effect accents. On the Iconic sub-trim, a special MINI Yours leather steering wheel is fitted, while other models have a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Measuring 7.5 cubic feet, the Mini Cooper EV's trunk is the definition of squeezed, and owners will often be folding down those rear seats. Doing so will increase cargo capacity to a more useful 25.8 cubes, which is what will need to be done to accommodate large suitcases and the like.
Interior storage isn't remarkable, either. Although you get the usual glovebox, cupholders, and center console bin, none of these compartments are particularly large.
Considering its wallet-friendly price tag, the Mini Cooper EV isn't badly equipped at all. The base sub-trim, Signature, has dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, a rearview camera, LED headlights, remote heating and cooling, remote charging, the digital display cockpit, and keyless entry. Eight airbags also help to keep occupants protected if the worst happens. Moving up to the Signature Plus adds a panoramic moonroof, power-folding mirrors, auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors, and a universal garage door opener to the mix. Plus, it gets rear park distance control. The Iconic variant has all of these features along with a head-up display, parking assistant, front/rear park distance control, and wireless phone charging.
The BMW connection works in Mini's favor here, as its standard infotainment system is both fast and easy to fathom. As standard, a 6.5-inch touchscreen is positioned in the center stack, allowing access to standard Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth connectivity, while an auxiliary audio input can also be used to play music. Navigation is standard, too, but Android Auto isn't available. Moving up to the mid-range Signature Plus sub-trim adds a more powerful Harmon Kardon sound system, replacing the basic six-speaker unit, while the Iconic trim gets an upgraded 8.8-inch touchscreen navigation system. Using a smartphone app, drivers can control the interior's temperature remotely.
While the regular 2020 Mini Cooper was recalled for missing rear side trim crash pads, it appears that the Cooper EV hasn't been affected by this problem.
Owners encountering any issues with the 2020 Mini Cooper Hardtop Electric have the peace of mind of an inclusive four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty. Added to this is an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on the battery, along with four years of roadside assistance. Scheduled maintenance is covered for three years or 36,000 miles, and there is a 12-year/-unlimited-miles rust perforation warranty.
The regular 2020 Mini Cooper achieved a spread of Good scores from the IIHS in the agency's evaluation of the hatchback's crashworthiness, so the EV model should perform similarly well in a crash. However, the headlights were rated as Acceptable at best and Poor at worst, varying by trim. Front crash prevention missed out on the top Superior rating, but still achieved a reasonable Advanced score.
Mini has crammed eight airbags into the cabin, ensuring excellent protection for occupants in the event of an accident. The hatchback also has LED headlights, a rearview camera, dynamic traction control, and ABS brakes.
All models get the Mini Active Driving Assistant, which includes both forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. The Signature Plus adds rear park distance control, while the range-topper gets front/rear park distance control and a parking assistant.
The 2020 Mini Cooper Hardtop Electric swifty eliminates two common grievances with electric-vehicle ownership: a high price and a lack of style for more image-conscious shoppers. The second aspect is more challenging to quantify, but as other automakers higher up on the price scale have proven, people will buy EVs if they're stylish and enjoyable to drive. The Cooper SE hits those targets easily; it feels chuckable like every other Mini, and it's got loads of charm. Starting at under $30,000 and before tax credits are applied, no other EV on the market offers the same mix of value and driving fun. However, for all it does right, the Cooper SE's appeal will be limited by its 110-mile range. Most other EVs can travel a lot further on a full charge, even if you won't have as much of a good time doing it. This also creates logistical issues for those extended cross-country trips. But if you spend all of your time in the city, or if you want a second car for the daily commute, the electric Mini is a winner.
The electrified Mini Cooper SE starts at an MSRP of $29,900 for the Signature sub-trim. The mid-range Signature Plus costs $33,900, while the Iconic goes for $36,900. All prices are exclusive of tax, licensing, registration, and destination fees, the latter amounting to $850. Currently, the Mini Cooper SE qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit, further improving its value proposition. State-specific tax incentives will also apply in some cases, which Mini says will range from $500 to $5,000 in states like California, New Jersey, and New York. HOV lane access and toll reduction are among the benefits that customers can utilize. However, as these benefits change fairly regularly, it's best to contact a tax specialist to determine the full extent of potential savings in your location. Notably, Mini says that in some cases - whereby multiple tax credits apply - qualifying buyers can get a new Mini Cooper SE for below $20,000, which represents incredible value.
The 2020 Mini Cooper SE is available in three sub-trims: Signature, Signature Plus, and Iconic. All versions are powered by an electric motor producing 181 hp and 199 lb-ft, sending power to the front wheels via a single-speed automatic transmission. The 32.6-kWh battery can be recharged to 100 percent in four hours using AC charging at up to 7.4 kW. Using DC charging, an 80 percent charge can be achieved in little over half an hour.
The base Signature sub-trim has 16-inch wheels, heated mirrors, LED headlights and fog lights, and keyless entry. Inside, there is a digital driver's display, Carbon Black leatherette upholstery, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, and navigation with a 6.5-inch display.
The Signature Plus adds rear park distance control, a more powerful Harman Kardon sound system, a panoramic moonroof, and auto-dimming interior/exterior mirrors.
Topping the range is the Iconic sub-trim with a head-up display, a larger 8.8-inch touchscreen navigation system, front/rear park distance control, a parking assistant, and wireless phone charging.
Mini's sub-trims provide the main means of distinguishing between different Cooper SE models, with each being mechanically identical but offering different creature comforts. The Signature starts things off with its active driving assistant, heated seats, and cruise control, with the Signature Plus adding a panoramic moonroof, rear park distance control, and a better Harman Kardon sound system. The Iconic gets an 8.8-inch touchscreen navigation system, a head-up display, and the addition of front park distance control. As usual for a Mini, buyers can choose from several interior color and trim choices.
Even the base Signature offers a lot of car for the money. If you qualify for significant state tax credits, it's possible to get the top-of-the-range Iconic model - with its more upscale features like a head-up display and nice interior trim - for a really appealing price of under $30,000. But each sub-trim represents a good deal, so it's worth working through the range of features and deciding whether you really need to go above the well-priced Signature variant, which has standard features you won't find on a base gasoline-powered Mini.
When it was launched, the BMW i3 was one of the most appealing EVs around. It still looks and feels like something from the future, but the pricey BMW has gradually had its advantage eroded by cheaper EVs. Now, the Cooper SE represents an in-house challenge to the i3. At a starting price of $44,450, the i3 is nearly $15,000 more expensive than the base Cooper SE, but it does have a carbon fiber body shell. The base i3 is marginally slower to 60 mph and also has lengthier charging times due to its larger battery, even though the two cars can be charged at the same rate. On the upside, the i3's range - especially the Range Extender versions - will carry it further on a single charge than the Mini. Both cars handle well, with the i3 exhibiting surprisingly tidy cornering considering its height, but the Mini is more engaging overall. There is much more space in the i3's cabin for rear-seat occupants, though, and its trunk is twice the size of the Mini's. If you need a compact EV with more space, the i3 will make more sense. But if you can live with a small trunk and rear seat, we'd happily recommend the Mini instead.
In a runway contest, the Cooper SE wins this battle hands-down. The Bolt isn't ugly, but it doesn't come close to matching the Mini's street cred. But these are cars, and comparisons are not won on aesthetic appeal alone. To that end, the Bolt's 200-hp electric motor (with 266 lb-ft of torque) sees it outgun the Cooper SE to 60 mph. More importantly, the Chevrolet's range on a full charge totally outshines the Mini; 259 miles to 110 miles is quite a trouncing. In the cabins, the two trade blows once more, with the Cooper SE's materials and standard feature count leading the way, but the Bolt fighting back with far more cabin space and a bigger trunk. The Bolt costs over $6,000 more at a base level, though. Besides the price, all signs point to the Chevy being the more sensible option. But we still want the Mini more.
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