The new fully electric Mini, the Mini Cooper SE, hits US showrooms in March. BMW flew us down to Miami last week to drive it up and down the Florida coast, and Electrek is here to tell you whether it lives up to expectations.
The Mini Cooper SE is Mini’s first entry into the electric vehicle market…sort of. Mini made a limited-run vehicle in 2009, the Mini E, and I was one of the lucky 450 drivers in the US to have one. I drove it for two years and loved it, and it’s what got me into electric vehicles in the first place. Will the 2020 Mini Cooper SE inspire other drivers the same way the original Mini E inspired me? Let’s find out.
To start with a few headline specs, the Mini Cooper SE will start at $29,900 before US federal tax credits, which means after federal, state and local incentives, it could be available for under $20k in some markets. California, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Oregon all offer enough credits to put the Mini Cooper SE into the ~$20k price range, with other states and regions having their own incentives as well.
This price gets you a 32kWh battery good for about 110 miles of range (EPA numbers aren’t yet finalized). The electric motor is good for 181hp, 199lb.-ft. of torque, and will get you to 60mph in 6.9 seconds with a top speed of 93mph.
Electric Mini Cooper SE video review
Here’s a short video we shot while in Miami, covering just the basics:
And before we get to the words, a warning: Due to my history with this car, this is going to be a long one. Buckle up.
The start of my electric journey
If you’ll indulge me in a little retrospection, I’d like to wax philosophical about how the original Mini E inspired me to do what I’m doing today, writing these words for you here on the internet, trying to share my enjoyment of electric driving with the world.
The Mini E was the first electric car I had ever driven. As much as the original around-the-block test drive impressed me, it was living with the car for two years that really convinced me electric cars were the way to go. I was already interested in technology and the environment, but the ownership experience is what really got me.
It was a strange little car — a retrofit gas mini with the rear seats ripped out in exchange for batteries and an AC Propulsion drivetrain (the original suppliers for the Tesla Roadster 1.5) under the hood. The whole thing went from back-of-napkin concept to production in only a year, was lease-only, and only available in a couple markets.
Those of us who drove them expected issues, and some in the program encountered quite a few. There was a lot of discussion about these issues both online and at our periodic in-person meetups. But we signed up for a prototype experience, so a few problems were expected. Personally, my family didn’t have too many.
What my family learned was that, despite its quirks, that slapdash little Mini was the most enjoyable car any of us had ever had, and none of us wanted to go back to driving gas cars after having it for a while. Heck, I used to think I liked big cars, then I drove this one, and now I know I love small cars.
It insinuated itself so far into our lives that if an errand needed to be done and the Mini was already out and about, we’d delay whatever we needed to do until the Mini came back home, so we could drive it instead of one of the many gas cars in the house. Virtually all of my family’s driving miles for those two years went onto the Mini.
I didn’t even look at a gas station for those couple years. I had no idea what gas prices were. After we turned in the Mini E, I had to go back to driving my old gas Jeep for a short period of time. I pulled into the gas station down the street from my house, and instead of a pump I saw… an ATM. The gas station had been replaced by a Chase bank and I hadn’t even noticed. That’s how satisfied I was with electric, and how I had left gas behind completely.
The same was true for my drive partner on this drive, Tom Moloughney, who was another Mini E driver back in the day. We were both quite active on the forums and have kept in touch since then. Both of us enjoyed the Mini E ownership experience so much that we’ve gone on to get jobs in the electric car media space.
So the Mini Cooper SE has big shoes to fill, and at least with this reviewer, it has to compete against the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. How does it match up?
The Mini Cooper SE’s motor is good for 181 horsepower and 199 lb.-ft. of torque. This gives it a 0-60 of 6.9 seconds and a top speed of 93mph.
In a word, the Mini Cooper SE is a much more refined driving experience than the Mini E was. Pedal response has been improved significantly, and regenerative braking is much more responsive than before. Traction control is smoother and more responsive as well, and the car has a setting to allow partial wheel slip for driving in snow.
There used to be a characteristic short delay between letting off the accelerator pedal and the Mini E’s strong regenerative braking kicking in. That delay has been eliminated, producing a much smoother experience. That smoother experience is accompanied by weaker regenerative braking. The original Mini E offered a one-pedal drive experience with very strong regen, and consensus among us owners was we loved this very strong regen. BMW decided that was too much and toned it down.
The Mini Cooper SE has two regen modes, but neither is as strong as the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Bolt, both of which offer good single-pedal experiences. Thankfully, the Mini defaults to the stronger regen setting, and the lower setting can be turned on by flipping one of Mini’s characteristic toggle switches under the center display.
The Mini offers four “drive modes” — Sport, Mid, Green, and Green+. The modes change throttle mapping, and Green modes also reduce power for the climate control system. The car seems to default to Mid, though it might be possible to change this in the settings (we didn’t get a chance to delve very deep — but if this setting isn’t there, BMW should add it). The car helpfully changes estimated range numbers on the dash display when you switch from one mode to the next.
These drive mode settings are mostly just ways to enforce more efficient driving habits on people who can’t help themselves from stomping the accelerator. Personally I have an easy time driving efficiently when I want to, so I would likely just leave it in Sport all the time and just slow down when I needed to stretch the range a bit.
The car is quicker 0-60 than the original, though it seemed slightly less “punchy” on acceleration. Perhaps this is because I’ve become accustomed to other, higher-performance EVs in the intervening time, but it feels like the refinement of the car has removed a little of the rawness of the original. Power naturally drops off at higher speeds, but it still pulls well, even on the highway.
The Mini Cooper SE suffers from a little torque steer, as is the case with many front-wheel-drive electric cars with torquey motors. But like everything else, this feels much improved from the original (which had pretty massive torque steer).
There wasn’t much chance to test the Mini’s handling, as the drive route was mostly a straight line up and down the Miami coastline in crowded daytime traffic. It does have a slightly lower center of gravity than a gas Mini, by about an inch, which helps to add cornering stability.
The car weighs 3,153 lbs — representing a slight weight savings from the original. The weight distribution has shifted forward a bit compared to the original, since there’s no longer a huge battery taking up the backseat. As a front-wheel-drive car, it’s probably better to have a little more weight over the front axle, to increase traction and reduce the chance of wheel slip on acceleration.
Range, efficiency, and charging
The Mini Cooper SE has a 32.6kWh battery pack, with 28.9kWh usable (my Mini E had 35kWh and ~30kWh usable). EPA numbers aren’t yet finalized, but this should be good for about 110 miles of range.
We weren’t able to do a thorough test of efficiency or charging, as this first drive was just a short drive up and down the coast of Miami in quite a bit of traffic. In these easy conditions, we were on pace to easily beat 110 miles of range in these conditions, driving about 70 miles total and using only 50% of the battery.
The Mini Cooper SE received some efficiency improvements, mostly through shedding weight and some underbody changes. The car’s characteristic boxy shape gives it a Cd of .30.
Another aerodynamic improvement comes from the cool wheels available with the $33,900 “Signature Plus” trim level. These have an interesting radially asymmetric design that somewhat resembles a plug, and have the side effect of reducing aerodynamic disturbance from wheel motion, which should increase overall efficiency slightly.
For when you need to stop to sip electrons, the Mini is capable of up to 50kW DC quick charging with a CCS plug. This is starting to look a little dated compared to other cars offered today, which are often capable of 100-250kW or even more. But considering the Mini only uses 28.9kWh worth of battery capacity, 50kW might be enough.
The car will charge at 50kW all the way up until 80% capacity, rather than tapering early like many other electric cars do. This lets it reach 80% in about 35 minutes when starting from 0%.
The Mini Cooper SE comes with a 120V occasional use cable and a “TurboCord” for 240V charging. The TurboCord can deliver up to 3.8kW and charge the car in about eight hours. If you install a 32 amp level 2 home charger, you can charge at about double that rate, 7.4kW, for a four-hour charge. Like most electric cars, if you plug in when you get home (or when off-peak rates start at your house), your car should be ready to go in the morning.
Prospective owners who live in cold environments will be happy to know that the Mini Cooper SE has an energy-efficient heat pump for much improved climate-control efficiency. Some electric cars have significantly reduced range in the cold, but the Mini should be able to keep more of its range on those cold days. The ability to pre-condition the battery through the Mini Connected app should help with this as well.
I’ve long been a proponent that range is not the only spec worth mentioning on an electric car — or even necessarily the most important one. EVs shouldn’t be measured purely by how big their battery is, with “more range” meaning “better.”
If you don’t need a huge battery, a car can be better with a smaller one. It can be lighter, cheaper, and allow for more EVs to get on the road (and more gas cars to get off it) in a battery-constrained manufacturing environment like we’re in now. There is absolutely a place for shorter-range EVs like the Mini, especially when the price, driving experience, and other amenities fill the right niche.
Since the drive was a little short, there wasn’t much opportunity to test the various technology bits the Mini has to offer.
All Mini Cooper SE trim levels come with Apple CarPlay, but like other BMWs, Android Auto is not available (though it might come next year). However, the Mini Connected app, which allows owners to check on charging, remotely turn on climate control, and precondition the battery, is available for Android users.
Unlike most electric cars these days, there are no semi-autonomous driver aids available on the Mini. Traffic-aware cruise control is not available on this car. The only thing close to this category is park assist, which is available on the top of the line $36,900 “Iconic” trim level, and which we did not get to test.
But the coolest gizmo was the heads-up display. This pops out of the dash in front of the driver and shows speed, speed limit, and navigation information in a clear but unobtrusive way. This is particularly helpful for complicated directions, as in the case of the second picture above.
And it certainly sounds like a high-tech gizmo when you turn the car on and off:
Design and practicality
The Mini Cooper SE keeps the same classic exterior design of the gas Mini, and there’s no problem with that. It’s been a popular shape since its inception, and even though it has unfortunately gained a lot of pounds since the early days, it still has that same small and fun character as it always had.
The electric Mini has gained several design elements to differentiate it from the gas model. Most obviously, the grille is mostly closed, with only a thin slit for air intake. This improves aerodynamics, as electric cars make less heat than gas cars and don’t need air intake for combustion. The Mini Cooper SE does maintain the small hood scoop, which differentiates Mini’s gas “S” trim from the base model 2-door hardtop.
I’m really happy to see that Mini has kept the cool logo from the original Mini E, which looks like either an E or a plug, depending on how you look at it. This logo shows up several places on the car’s body, though unfortunately the huge yellow roof sticker, which always attracted a lot of interest for me back in the Mini E days, is absent.
Mini wanted to tone down the exterior accents a bit with the new Cooper SE, because they “didn’t want it to look too electric.” They even offer owners the choice of removing the yellow badging accents in order to make the car even more stealth. The mirrors, in particular, come standard in gray and yellow can be added as an option (pick this option! I loved my yellow mirrors!).
When we originally drove the Mini E, many of us owners thought the car didn’t look electric enough, and went out and bought “ELECTRIC” stick-on badging from the local auto parts store or websites.
So personally I’d ask Mini for more electric accents, but hey, the car still looks great anyway. Here’s a quick gallery of some interior and exterior design elements:
All of Mini’s test vehicles sported the same exterior color, but the electric Mini SE will be available in a variety of classic Mini colors like British Racing Green and Chili Red, among others.
Interior controls are delightfully retro, as is common in Minis. The gear shifter is between the seats, instead of a steering wheel stalk or this weird thing from the i3. There are a lot of physical switches for common settings, so as not to require drivers to dig deep into the center screen UI (which, like most BMWs, is clunky).
And there are the very fun LED accents around the center screen that give extra feedback when volume/temp/fan speed and other controls are adjusted:
As for practicality, the Cooper SE is obviously greatly improved from the Mini E due to the addition of rear seats. The seats are small, but nobody expects huge legroom from a Mini anyway. The point is, there are four seatbelts, which is more than two. Yay!
There’s also some cargo space in the rear, which BMW helpfully demonstrated can hold not one, but two suitcases:
So you might as well ditch your pickup truck at this rate because this thing is positively cavernous. Take that, Rivian!
But seriously though — it’s not meant as a cargo hauler, and it’s got the cargo space you’d expect. Most of us need less cargo space than we think we do, anyway. As a grocery-getter, it works. As an around-towner, it’s great. And you can park it anywhere.
There are so many times I took the Mini E to a parking-starved neighborhood and ended up parking directly in front of where I needed to be, simply because everything was a parking space to me. In situations like this, a small car is an absolute godsend. So many people think of practicality as a matter of cargo space, but smallness is practical, too. If you spend much time in cities, you’ll love this car’s maneuverability.
But… it’s a retrofit
The dark cloud hanging over the Mini Cooper SE is that, like so many electric vehicles on the market, it’s a retrofit. The car was designed to run on gas, then later the powertrain was torn out and replaced with electric motors and batteries.
This is a testament to the ease of converting a car to electric drive. Motors are small and easy to package and batteries can fit under seats or floorboards or in driveshaft tunnels, so engineers can often work with existing vehicle chassis and improve a car to run on electricity without having to rebuild entire vehicle lines.
Retrofits mean that auto manufacturers can get an EV onto the market faster. There’s lower tooling costs, less disruption to current revenue streams, it’s easier to convince executives and investors, and so on. So on some level this is necessary, and it helps get electric cars on the road and replacing gas cars faster, which is a great thing for all of us.
But there will always be some compromises made in the design process, where a ground-up EV will end up having better vehicle dynamics, the small touches will be more thought out, it will perhaps be more spacious (e.g. frunks), et cetera. It’s easier to make a great EV when you don’t have one foot still stuck in the door of the “gas mentality.”
This is why the original Mini E only had two seats, because the backseat was taken up by batteries. Luckily, in the intervening 11 years, Mini managed to add those backseats back, and now we’ve got an electric Mini that has exactly the same amount of interior space as a gas Mini. This is good.
The “gas mentality” was shown, though, when a BMW rep was describing the drivetrain to us, and used the words “hybrid battery” when describing the powertrain. This was surely just a slip of the tongue, perhaps even caused by speaking in a non-native language, but nevertheless it seems indicative that the phrase “hybrid battery” is commonly bandied about at BMW, whereas “battery electric” is rare.
So far, BMW only makes one BEV car, the i3 — and for the first several years of its existence, most i3s were sold as plug-in hybrids anyway with the optional “range extender.”
And the navigation system also betrays the fact that gas still runs the show at Mini and BMW. Here’s a shot of the nav system in the new all-electric Mini Cooper SE, giving us all sorts of helpful information about where we can refuel our car:
How curious. I didn’t know Chevron and Mobil were in the EV charging game.
So maybe we can chalk this up to it being a new car, and the software not being ready yet. They just made a simple mistake, easy to fix. But this car comes out in about a month, and as mentioned above, BMW has been selling fully electric cars with built-in navigation since the i3 came out in 2014 (or 2011, if we count the ActiveE).
Apparently, the i3 also still shows both gas and charging stations in the nav system by default, even if you buy the BEV-only model. How has nobody bothered to flip a switch in their software to default to “fully electric car” yet?
The argument could be made that they just want to give everyone as much information as possible and it’s easy to turn these things off, but I’m pretty sure that charging stations are not shown by default in the navigation system of a gas-powered BMW. And I’d be very happy to be wrong about that. Readers, if you have a gas BMW, please go check on this and report back to us below.
These sound like small slights, but they’re indicative that, at multiple points in the design process, multiple people just aren’t paying attention. You would never get routed to a gas station in a Tesla, because there’s no point in getting routed to a gas station in a Tesla. You’d never hear Tesla engineers talking about the car’s hybrid systems, because they don’t make hybrids. They set out to make a great electric car, and they made a great electric car because that was the goal all along. Splitting your focus like this inevitably leads to compromises.
The hope on the horizon is that Mini’s electrified sales are growing quickly, with their plug-in hybrid Countryman making up 5% of global sales, despite being only one model and not globally available. 18% of Countryman global sales are plug-in, or 20-30% in most EU countries, and 80% in Scandinavia. So Mini is perhaps getting clued in to the fact that their customers like the idea of electrified vehicles.
Mini bosses have also suggested that Mini could go all-electric by 2030, and there have been some rumors that this could even happen sooner than that. With new vehicle development times being several years long, this means Mini might start thinking in a fully electric way in just a few years. But they should have started thinking this way a few years ago already.
BMW’s lost decade
This dovetails into my main annoyance about this car. That annoyance is the model year attached to it: 2020.
As you may have caught on to by now, I drove the Mini E in 2009 and loved it. Most of us who drove it loved it. My friends who I let drive it loved it. It was quirky and it wasn’t ready for primetime, but it was close. It could have been ready for primetime, with some more effort.
BMW took what they learned from the Mini E and incorporated it into future vehicle programs. They came out with the ActiveE in 2011, another lease-only electric vehicle program based on the 1-series platform. Then came their first ground-up, non-retrofit EV, the i3, in the 2014 model year.
They really did have an impressive lead on the rest of the industry. In 2014, the only notable ground-up EVs available were the Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Model S, and the BMW i3 (the Mitsubishi i-MiEV also…existed). And the BMW, in some ways, might have even been the best-engineered of the bunch. Its extensive use of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) allowed a curb weight of just 2,600lbs for a four-seater with plenty of headroom.
But then… nothing happened. One of the large German auto manufacturers simply sat on their hands. There was an occasional anonymous, unserious plug-in hybrid with 14 miles of electric range, and there were a few improvements to the i3. But no new models. The CEO even stepped down because of lack of EV progress (but the new guy might not be much better).
The i3 has been selling steadily since it came out, and the battery has steadily improved, leading buyers to shift more toward BEV rather than PHEV over the years. And BMW does sell more “electrified” cars, as a percentage of their sales, than most companies — around 7% of US sales are electrified. But that counts those anonymous plug-in hybrids, too.
In the meantime, lots of other EVs came out from other manufacturers, and it would be very hard to argue that BMW has any sort of lead on pure electric vehicles now — or that they’re even in the conversation, given that the i3 was designed at least partially as a PHEV.
Let’s hope this new electric Mini changes that. Despite the minor improvements from the Mini E in terms of specs, the package is a lot more complete and refined than it was in 2009. It took too long to get here, and this car should have been out years ago, but at least it’s finally here.
And in one way they’re still beating other manufacturers. Many automakers have been saying that 2020 would be their big year that they debut their new electric vehicles and start selling them in numbers. But now, all we’re hearing is delays.
Mercedes isn’t bringing the EQC to the US til 2021. Honda won’t bring their Mini-like Honda e city car to the US “because there’s no demand” (how do you know that if you haven’t even tried? well, except for the boring Clarity EV…). The ID.3 is the same story from VW, with possible rumored delays in Europe, too. Even Ford is taking it easy on first-year deliveries of their awesome Mustang Mach-E, and diverting most of them away from the US.
So if the Mini actually hits the road in March (and it’d be quite late for delays to be announced, so we expect it will), then they deserve credit for being one of the few manufacturers who actually follows through and keeps their promises this year.
We’ll see how production allocation goes and if they can actually deliver this car in numbers, and whether the dealers will push it enough. It looks like a good value price and options-wise, so it should sell well if BMW wants it to.
But that lost decade doesn’t really matter to people who are considering this car now. What matters is that the car is here, now, and people like you can go and get it a month or two from now. And surprisingly enough, despite the specs not changing a lot in the last 11 years, it still offers a good value and fits well into a particular niche that isn’t really served by other cars in the US.
Even though the Mini has comparatively low range versus other current electric offerings, its price and option level is still reasonable when compared to other electric cars and, particularly, when compared to a gas-powered Mini.
Mini has always considered itself a “premium” brand, and their cars tend to be more expensive than other similar cars. For example, gas Fiat 500s start near $16k, whereas gas Minis start at $23k. They do this and still sell well because, well, Minis are really fun cars, and they’re cute, and people like that.
Compared to the closest electric competition, the electric Mini is both cheaper and better-equipped than the aging electric Fiat 500e, which is meant to get an update in about a year. It’s also cheaper and more powerful (but with a little less range) than the Honda e, which isn’t coming to the US anyway. Plus, Honda are being jerks about electric cars, so how good could the Honda e turn out anyway if the company isn’t serious about making it?
So while the Mini is missing some features compared to the currently available, serious effort, similarly priced Nissan Leaf (ProPilot Assist, lower range, Android Auto, less spacious, etc.), there will definitely be people who prefer the Mini to the Leaf because of the Mini’s “fun/cute” character.
(This is not to say the Leaf isn’t fun to drive – it’s just not a Mini. The Leaf actually deserves credit for being fun to drive. See our Nissan Leaf review and Nissan Leaf Plus review for more on that)
This means the Mini fits well into a spec niche on the low end of the electric vehicle range. Now it just needs to work on getting gas converts.
And it should be able to do that, too. BMW told us several times that the electric Mini Cooper SE compares quite favorably to a similarly equipped gas Mini. The US configurator is not yet open (here’s the UK one), but descriptions of each option level are available on Mini USA’s website.
It’s not a perfect 1:1 comparison (for example, “Signature” Cooper S comes with 17″ wheels, whereas you need to get “Signature Plus” on the Cooper SE for 17″ wheels), but the prices are generally roughly the same between gas and electric for similar option levels, within a thousand dollars or so.
That’s before government incentives, which means that after taking those incentives into account, the electric Mini is much cheaper than a similarly optioned gas Mini. Once the car has been out for a few months, expect to see some crazy lease deals, especially in states with good incentives. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the base model available in the mid-$100s per month with little money down (after taking into account state rebates).
Better yet, gas Minis haven’t always been known for their reliability (though they’ve made big positive strides in recent years), and most of their issues have historically come from the powertrain. With an electric car, most of those powertrain problems should be eliminated, making cost of ownership lower.
The Cooper SE comes with pretty good warranty and service coverage in the US, too:
- 12 year unlimited mileage rust perforation limited warranty
- 8 year/100,000 high-voltage battery warranty
- 8 year/100,000 high-voltage battery capacity warranty (in the event net maximum charge capacity drops below 70% its original nominal capacity when new)
- 4 year/50,000 mile limited bumper-to-bumper warranty (includes motor and motor electronics)
- 4 year /unlimited mileage roadside assistance program
- 3 year/36,000 mileage scheduled maintenance
Note: the 70% battery capacity warranty is a nice touch from Mini. Not every EV guarantees a minimum level of battery capacity, though this practice is becoming more common these days (e.g. Leaf, Model 3). Many other cars still only warranty against total battery failure.
Further improving on cost of ownership, Mini estimates that an owner could save an additional $3,700 over six years by driving electric instead of gas.
So with this value proposition, the electric Mini Cooper SE may not compete on specs with the hottest new EVs hitting the road (or with the the industry-dominating Tesla Model 3), but it certainly holds its own in terms of value, in terms of comparisons to similar gas cars, and in terms of fun.
It doesn’t need to compete against those other EVs, as long as it can carve out a niche for itself. And I believe it has.
Verdict — would it work for you?
Of course, you’re the only one who can answer the question of whether it can work for you. I can only give you my thoughts, and all the information I have about the car, as I’ve done here.
A vast majority of US Mini owners have multiple cars in their household. Recall that my family got along with the Mini E for two years as our primary vehicle — and not just the primary vehicle for one person, but for everyone in the house. We had access to other vehicles, but those mostly sat.
So some might say, “The Mini Cooper SE would make a great second car,” but I contest that. The Mini Cooper SE makes a great first car… for a household that has more than one car.
You will have more fun driving this than virtually any gas car, you will find it more convenient to park, you will find it more pleasant to not have a vibrating noisy engine under you, you won’t be creating smog, and you won’t be belching money and poison out of the exhaust pipe while idling in traffic. When you see this next to other cars that might be in your driveway, you’ll want to take the Mini, rather than the other car. Trust me, try it. You’ll see.
And if it’s the first car you choose, then that makes it the household’s first car, and the other car is the “second car.”
For some owners, city dwellers who don’t drive far, or who use different modes of transportation for long trips, or who can handle charging at 50kW or renting a car on the few occasions they need more than 110 miles of range in a day, this car could work as an only car. But mostly, this is going to be a great run-around car for families with multiple cars and multiple drivers.
And for those families, I’d put money down that there will be debates over who gets to drive the Mini around that day. For us, it was generally decided by whoever was driving the furthest, or whoever was going to show it off to the most people.
So give this car a try. If your experience is anything like mine, it’ll change the way you think about driving.
But leave those yellow accents on. They’re fun.
If this review helped you make a decision, feel free to use our affiliate link to contact a local dealer. The electric Mini hasn’t been added to the lineup yet, but it should be there soon.
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