With battery-powered vehicles coming at us left, right and centre, it’s a little odd that BMW has taken so long to bring us the MINI Electric (called ‘Cooper SE’ in other markets) – particularly as BMW has been experimenting with electric versions of its iconic little MINI for over a decade when a handful of electric MINI prototypes were first let out to play in the late Noughties.
Anyway, BMW decided that the i3 was to be their first Group all-electric vehicle and released it in 2014. MINI, meanwhile, had to make do with the larger Countryman plug-in hybrid as their first (at least part-) electric model.
Larger electric car rivals are plentiful these days, but the MINI Electric is one of a new crop of smaller electric cars like the Peugeot e-208, Vauxhall Corsa-e, the imminent Fiat 500 EV and the aforementioned BMW i3. One of the MINI’s most important rivals will be the Honda e – a totally new model which offers similar range but focuses much more on being a high-tech and unique buying prospect compared to the contemporary MINI Electric.
A few days before our world turned upside down by an undercooked bat, I popped up to MINI UK HQ in Farnborough to spend a few hours with ‘LRO’, a Level 3 MINI Electric presented in ‘Enigmatic Black’. Here’s what I thought…
The MINI Electric is based on the familiar three-door hatchback and is distinguished by embossed logos on the side sills, unique wheel design to look like a plug, tailgate and front radiator grille. The latter is closed off as you’d expect from a ‘motor’ that requires no cooling.
At the rear, the bumper is smoother and free of any exhaust pipes. The car’s black plastic wheel arches have been slightly reshaped too, as the MINI Electric sits a little higher than the standard petrol and diesel models. Regular cars offer between 15 and 18-inch alloy wheel options, while only 16s and 17s are available for the electric MINI. The charger is located behind the regular fuel filler cap.
I think the yellow accents on the test car are quite well balanced and not too over-the-top. However, these can be removed, as can those retro-styled ‘Corona Spoke 2-Tone’ alloy wheels if they’re not your thing.
Again, familiarity is buzzword inside the MINI Electric as much of the interior is carried over from the rest of the range. It’s just as classy as you’d expect from a MINI and feels well-built, with lots of soft-touch materials and retro design features.
One feature that’s unique to the Electric is the 5.5 digital display in place of conventional dials behind the steering wheel. This provides the usual necessary information such as speed as well as details on the battery’s charge levels and range remaining. It doesn’t look as sharp as similar systems deployed by rivals, but at least it’s not overloaded with information.
While there’s plenty of space in the front, things aren’t quite so good in the back. As mentioned, the MINI Electric is only available as a three-door, meaning passengers will have to clamber into the rear seats. And once they’re there, it’s all quite gloomy. The rear seats really are for kids or occasional adult or light luggage use only.
The MINI Electric’s boot is unchanged in capacity over the regular three-door MINI, so you get 211 litres, which is around 100 litres less than both a Peugeot e-208 and Renault Zoe.
As such, you really can’t fit much inside, and although there’s a false floor that helps eliminate any loading lip, some of the space beneath is taken up by the car’s charging cables.
All told, you’ll be able to squeeze a single large suitcase or a couple of carry-on cases inside. However, fitting a set of golf clubs or a large pushchair isn’t possible without first folding down the 60:40 split rear seats, when 731 litres becomes available.
Trim grade and equipment
Selecting which MINI Electric is best for you is as easy as 1, 2, 3 – literally. The line-up is made up of Level 1 (£24,900), 2 (£26,900) or 3 (£30,000) models – if you want more equipment or more luxury, you move up a trim.
Plenty of equipment comes as standard, including a 6.5-inch central touchscreen with navigation, along with MINI Online, Apple CarPlay, and Real Time Traffic Updates. Outside you get grey door mirrors (optionally yellow, along with the horizontal blade on the front radiator grille) and the choice of a body-finish roof, plus black or white. Full LED lights, auto lights and wipers, driving modes and dual-zone automatic air-conditioning are standard, equipped with a heater that uses 75% less energy than in the regular car.
Level 2 cars come with part leather-look, part fabric upholstery, keyless entry, parking sensors, rear view camera, heated seats, driving assistant pack and an interior lights pack, while the top of the line Level 3 (which received the most pre-orders) has park assist, a Harmon-Kardon sound system and a head-up display. You also get a panoramic roof, matrix LED headlights and an 8.8-inch infotainment screen in the most expensive model as part of the ‘navigation+’ pack.
Powerplant, performance and range
There is just the one powertrain offered on the MINI Electric – a 32.6kWh battery pack paired to a 184hp electric motor and maximum torque of 270Nm. It’s the same powertrain offered in the BMW i3, but here it powers the front rather than rear wheels.
The official range is given as 141 miles, but a more realistic 120 miles should be expected, depending on the weather.
From rest, 62mph takes just 7.3 seconds, but as with all EVs, the maximum speed is restricted – in this case to just 93mph. The car’s centre of gravity is lower because more of the mass is concentrated further down. Weight distribution is quite different to a normal MINI hatch too, the battery’s bulk dictating a 54/46 front-to-rear ratio rather than the usual 60:40-split.
To get the most from the electric motor’s torque, you’ll need to master the various driving modes – ‘Normal’, ‘Green’ and ‘Sport’. The digital dashboard provides information on the current flow of energy and the range, as well as offering ways of increasing range by deactivating comfort functions or boosting energy regeneration.
On the navigation map, a circle that indicates the car’s range can be shown. When the route guidance starts, it displays the fastest and shortest route and also suggests a GREEN route involving the lowest level of power consumption.
The MINI Electric’s charge port is where the fuel filler is on regular MINIs and using a domestic three-pin socket it’ll take around 12 hours. If you have a wallbox fitted at home, the charging time falls to three hours and 12 minutes. Alternatively, a rapid public charger will do the job in just 36 minutes. All of these are charging from 0-80%, as the final 20% takes a bit longer.
MINI has partnered with energy provider Ovo to offer buyers 5,000 free miles when they opt in to the company’s ‘EV Everywhere’ home energy package. Energy provided is 100% renewable and the free miles come from charging at home. Also included is a free Polar Plus membership, giving access to over 7,000 public charging locations.
If you want a wallbox at your house, you can get a MINI-specific one, or a BP Chargemaster option as the carmaker has partnered with them as well.
On the road
In true MINI fashion, the Electric feels nimble and quick, particularly around town. Like other EVs, there’s no waiting for the revs to build or the automatic gearbox to drop down – as soon as you hit the accelerator it surges forward with next to no noise. It’s huge fun and exactly as a MINI should be.
The steering is superb and the Electric’s low centre of gravity means it feels extremely agile. This is an electric car for people who enjoy driving. However, MINIs are generally on the firm side and the extra weight of the batteries means the Electric rides rather harsh on broken British roads. Potholes thump through the car, particularly with the 17-inch wheels of my test car.
Drivers can choose from two levels of regenerative braking. With this in the more extreme mode, it’ll slow down quite heavily as soon as you lift off the accelerator, pumping energy back into the battery and meaning you’ll barely have to use the brake pedal around town.
The MINI Electric has not been crash-tested by the safety boffins at Euro NCAP. The regular MINI hatch received four out of five stars when tested way back in 2014.
In terms of safety equipment, the MINI Electric boasts six airbags, ISOFIX child-seat mounts front and rear, a passenger airbag deactivation switch, a tyre-pressure-monitoring system and various electronic systems to improve stability and grip.
All MINIs come as standard with MINI Teleservices and MINI eCall, which can alert the emergency services if the car is involved in an accident.
The MINI Electric is a ‘happy feeling’ little EV. It delivers on pretty much everything we like about a standard MINI but without those dastardly emissions. Okay, so the Electric’s practicality is somewhat impinged by it only being available as a three-door…and in true MINI fashion, it rides quite firmly and its driving range of 120 miles could be better.
However, it has funky looks, is very easy to drive even with a healthy dollop of enthusiasm. Plus, it’s quiet, has a high quality interior and a very simple trim line-up.
By Wayne Gorrett
Available now, from £24,900 (includes PiCG of £3,000).