When BMW’s Mini announced that it would finally bring back the Mini Electric a full decade after the car had been previewed in limited release for potential EV owners, there was some excitement in the air. The Mini has always represented a fun, exciting, and compact car that could be quite popular in an EV form.
The record scratch moment came when it announced a range of barely 110 EPA miles and that its 32.6 kWh battery size was actually smaller than the Mini E demonstration car that people loved a decade ago.
Fast forward to this week when I finally got to drive, and to my surprise, really enjoy, the Mini SE…
The Mini design is a classic, and anyone that knows just a little about cars instantly recognizes it in its current form, enlarged from its classic ’60s style debut. The car has accents inside and out that speak not only to its British heritage but also its quirky nature as a city car. Its diminutive size allows it to navigate small city streets and park in spaces that much larger cars can’t.
The British company went through some hard times and was eventually purchased by BMW. As someone not familiar with driving Minis, I definitely feel the Bavarian influence in driving it.
Mini SE delivery
I’m about 30 miles north of New York City where it was brought from so I got the Mini with about 75 miles of range on it. I immediately wanted to take it to the Adirondack Mountains north of my home, but had a little range anxiety about making it back. So I put it on the Juicebox for an hour and it was then mostly full, showing about 105 miles.
Let’s get range out of the way
The Mini SE range would be more than enough for most people’s daily commutes and my week of testing proved the EPA range as largely accurate. However, that 110-mile range means you can’t reliably go on even medium-length trips without having to stop every 90 minutes for a 30-minute 50kW charge. While it could be done, why would you choose to?
But with its small size, firm suspension, and tiny back seat, the Mini was never supposed to be a long trip car. In my original assessment, I didn’t consider that into my calculus of its value.
BMW Mini Cooper CE is a monumental disappointment on many levels. But if you consider that over a decade ago, the Mini E had a better motor and similar power pack, they should fire the CEO https://t.co/OZsr9t3X9whttps://t.co/N5Jd2VDpqX
— Seth Weintraub (@llsethj) July 9, 2019
I’m here to say that I was wrong above, not just in calling it “CE,” but also because the Mini isn’t a road trip car to begin with, so its range fits in with its utility.
Mini SE interior
The Mini is low to the ground, so getting in is a bit of a drop compared to the SUVs most people are driving these days. Once in your stitched leather bucket, seat however, the Mini feels great, as if the car is built around the driver. I’m 6 feet tall but I imagine anyone under 6’5″ would feel comfortable driving this.
There are a bunch of knobs and switches on the dash. The lowest row in the middle holds the power up button, something that might take a minute or two to find for the uninitiated driver. It is bright yellow!
One thing I like here is that the Mini has a normal gear shifter, not a weird dial like the i3. The steering wheel feels great and has sound controls on the right side and cruise control settings on the left. The speedometer and power gauge behind the wheel is easy to read, but the heads up display’s tinted glass distracts slightly.
The sound system is great and it is very straightforward hooking up CarPlay via Lightning cable to the Mini’s small display. The touch display is mediocre and required more than one tap at times. Air conditioning was more than adequate even on 90F days.
Front passenger space is also surprisingly roomy, although a fight can ensue over the center elbow rest like in a movie theater with similar proportions.
The back is where it gets a little tight and claustrophobic. I don’t think I’d recommend it to any full-sized adults for any length of time. My sons, 9 and 11, had no problems.. until I moved my seat back into a comfortable position, which backed into the ankles. In this case, the driver has to bend the knees a bit. Oh and one cup holder and zero center armrests…
Dual front/back sunroofs definitely alleviated some of the claustrophobia and made for a majorly fun family driving experience. The white stitched leather helped the car stay cool even as it was burning up outside.
Mini SE exterior
It’s hard not to love the Mini aesthetic. Indeed, a few car buyers would likely buy this car based on its appearance alone, without diving into the spec sheet. The SE package just adds to it with its tennis ball yellow rearview mirrors, techie hub caps, “Plug E” decal on the front faux plastic grill, and Union Jack rear tail lights.
Mini SE charge port
As I’ve said before, a good litmus test of rigor in EV engineering is the charge port. Here, I’d give the Mini SE a 50% passing grade. While the port is easy to access and has a well-positioned CCS combo port, it has those little plastic dongles that I’d rip off on day one of ownership. BMW should take another few hours of design work here and embed the port covering into the charge door. It is so easy to make right and something owners use every day.
Mini SE charging
I wasn’t able to check the CCS combo charging speed because the EVGO in my area was occupied and the nearest alternative was outside of the 27-mile range I had on the car at the time. I wanted to test the charging from a low starting point.
Instead of waiting, I went home. Others have tested and gotten to within a rounding error of the 50kW fast charging speed and confirmed Mini’s 80% charge time of around 36 mins. Because of the short range, the Mini can fully charge on its 11kW level 2 in under four hours. Which is nice, I guess.
Mini SE performance
The real fun begins one you get the car on the open road. Although this is basically a BMW i3 powertrain, the lower stance, wider tires, and firm suspension means it corners nicely with very little roll. The heads up display means you don’t have to look down to realize you are speeding.
Zero to 60 happens in under seven seconds and feels quite quick as the short video below shows:
While the BMW i3 is a RWD car, the Mini is FWD, which I didn’t initially appreciate. But in practice it works. Having driven a Chevy Bolt for three years, the 181 horsepower/199 pound-feet of torque felt familiar. While I won’t admit to achieving it, the Mini also shares the same 93-mile-per hour top speed as the Bolt as well.
One particular thing bothered me on the Mini more than I thought it would. The small windshield made it hard to look up at traffic lights. If you are first at a light, you have to crank your head a bit to see it. Not a dealbreaker by any stretch, but something I hadn’t thought of.
I was wrong to initially dismiss the Mini based on its range alone. 110 miles is still a valuable range for many use cases:
- A second commuter weekend/city car
- 1-2 person household car
- Empty nester car
- College student car
What it isn’t is a trip car. But as I said, the Mini was never a trip car.
And if you are at BMW making EV range/cost decisions and a 110-mile range gets the car below $30,000, I think you make that call. Would a 250-mile range Mini with less interior room make more sense for upwards of $40,000? I don’t think so.
After incentives, this is a $20,000 car in quite a few places in the US, making it a very tempting option for those groups mentioned above. It is a fun, exciting EV option and I can highly recommend the experience.
If you are looking for a great deal on a Mini SE, find one at your nearest Mini Dealer here
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