by Gerhard Horn
The Mini Cooper Electric Hardtop is the most faithful interpretation of Alec Issigonis's original concept. Sir Issigonis imagined a small car with a unique engine that was both fun to drive and economical. BMW's first-generation Mini, with its supercharged engine, got it mostly right, but the Mini just kept on getting fatter and more expensive. Eventually, we got the abomination that was the Paceman, but even Mini would like to forget that particular mistake.
The Mini Cooper SE is the new people's car. Retailing at just under $30,000, the Mini Cooper EV is the most affordable electric car available in the USA. And thanks to the compact body and power delivery of the 184-horsepower electric motor, it's massively entertaining to drive.
Newly released for 2021, the Cooper SE is Mini's second attempt at going electric. The first Mini EV was available as a lease-only in 2009, but it was seriously rough around the edges. In our opinion, that first Mini EV was more an experiment than anything else. This means that there really is no previous model to compare the SE to. It will face no restrictions in terms of sales, apart from the access to electric charging stations in your area. It uses a single electric motor, good for 184 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque, and has a maximum range of 110 miles.
The Mini is the most affordable EV currently on sale in the US. The 2021 Mini Cooper Electric car has a price of $29,900 MSRP. The Signature Plus trim adds $4,000 to the price, while the Iconic trim adds $7,000. These prices exclude the $850 handling and destination fee. However, it is worth noting that most states will offer federal EV credit incentives that help to bring down the overall cost of owning one of these sparky speedsters.
See trim levels and configurations:
Single Speed Automatic
Mini's "go-kart-like handling" is the biggest load of marketing hogwash ever fed to the motoring media. And the sad thing is, most people tend to gobble it down without a second thought. No modern Mini has go-kart handling, and neither did the original. The only go-kart attributes it had were an extremely low seating position and a penchant for oversteer if you lifted through a corner. So yes, most Minis handle brilliantly, but they're not go-karts. Rant over.
Because an electric motor is lighter than a turbocharged gas engine, the weight distribution is better. To make room for the battery, Mini added an extra 0.7 inches of height to the Cooper SE, but the location of the heavy battery pack actually gives it a lower center of gravity. The suspension is also stiff, and Mini fits high-performance summer tires as standard.
The Cooper SE is a tremendous amount of fun to drive. You can chuck it into a corner and power out like a hero. Thanks to the Goodyear tires, there's enough grip to turn it into a tripod.
If only the fun lasted. While the Mini uses the upgraded electric motor from the i3S, it uses an older battery pack. It's worth mentioning that some reviewers found that sustained hard driving will eventually overheat the engine. Perhaps its limited range is a positive attribute from this skewed angle. It will run out of juice before the battery gets hot.
There are four driving modes to choose from, namely Sport, Mid, Green, and Green+. Sport mode works fine but overheats the car too quickly. Mid is a nice in-between, and Green will help you maximize range. Green+ deactivates a few creature comforts like climate control and seat heating to further enhance mileage.
The Mini Cooper SE had the potential to be a great car. An epic one, even. Back in 1999, the original Mini was named the second most influential car of the century. This wasn't some silly made-up award, either. Instead, it was a two-year global process involving 133 respected automotive journalists.
Mini's first electric car could have made history again, but instead, it's just another standard Mini product weighed down by outdated battery technology. It's an iPhone 4 in an iPhone 12 world. We now also know BMW has the technology to build the i4, which has a claimed range of 300 miles.
Let's forget about the excellent handling, impressive packaging, and iconic design of the original for a second and focus on what made it so special. The first mass-produced car was the Ford Model T, but Mini refined the process to create an enjoyable, lovable, and practical car everyone could afford. In addition, it offered freedom of mobility.
With the latest Cooper SE, Mini got the price right, but that's about it. The 110-mile range doesn't offer freedom. If anything, that's going backward.
There is only one model, but you can add the Signature Plus trim for $4,000 or the Iconic trim for $7,000. We'd stick with the base Signature SE, though. Adding either of the packages increases the price too much for the Mini to make sense. Both the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3 offer double the range at nearly the same price. You'd have to be a serious Mini fanboy to justify the purchase.
From a price point, the Cooper SE and Nissan Leaf S 40 kWh are incredibly close. However, the Nissan is a lot more practical and offers an additional 40 miles of range. In addition, it has seating for four grown adults and a proper trunk. The Leaf is essentially a grown-up hatch that just happens to be electric. It also has a more comprehensive safety suite, which adds intelligent lane intervention, rear auto braking, and adaptive cruise control.
Still, we can't deny that any Mini purchase has some emotional element attached to it. Unfortunately, the Leaf can't match the heritage nor the sheer grin-inducing fun that goes along with owning a Mini.
Given that most Mini customers want some style as standard, the Hyundai Kona is a better match for a rival. It's not as iconic as the Mini, but since Hyundai didn't have to work within the confines of heritage-inspired design, the Kona is good-looking and practical.
It's also good fun to drive, nearly matching the Mini's talents. Furthermore, it also gets a 19.2-cubic-foot trunk, usable rear seats, a seven-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and an impressive array of driver assistance systems. The final nail in the Mini's coffin is the Kona EV's range of 258 miles, making it worth the much higher starting price.
To put it bluntly, the Kona EV is what the Mini should have been.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Mini Cooper Electric Hardtop: