10/9/20 UPDATE: This review has been updated with test results.
Most people don’t need 200 miles of range. That’s the essential premise of the 2020 Mini Cooper SE, which offers a mere 110 miles of EPA-rated range from its 28.9-kWh battery. Assuming your daily commute and the charging infrastructure comports with that range, there are multiple benefits of the small-pack approach: lower weight, more cargo room, and most important, a lower price. The Cooper SE’s $30,750 entry point makes it less expensive than even the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, a car that’s way less fun to drive and barely goes any farther on a charge. All of a sudden, Mini owns the budget-EV performance niche. After the $7500 federal tax credit, the Cooper SE costs $23,250, and that’s a mighty nice price for something that’ll do zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, regardless of how it’s powered.
Of course, there are sometimes additional state credits, too. Colorado knocks off another $4000, bringing the SE’s price to a decidedly low $19,250. (Don’t worry. They’re making up the revenue by taxing sales of recreational marijuana.) Taking a page from Tesla’s financial-justification playbook, Mini also figures that over six years, the SE will save the average United States driver $4446 in fuel costs. All you FIRE devotees can hate the financial downsides of new cars all you want, but the Cooper SE makes a strong case to skinflints.
The Mini SE also happens to be a rather appealing car. Borrowing the motor from the BMW i3s, the Mini puts down 181 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque through its front wheels. Despite its power deficit compared to a Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf Plus, or Kia Niro EV, the Mini beats all of them to 60 mph, proving that weight matters. At 3099 pounds, the SE is 486 pounds lighter than the Bolt.
At your next dinner party, go ahead and regale your friends with the fact that the Cooper SE does 30 to 50 mph in 2.3 seconds. It’s strong off the line, although there does seem to be some electronic torque cutting in effect until you’re rolling. Even when you turn off the traction control, it refuses to fry its tires off the line. Yes, we tried. And the electrified Mini is one of the rare cars that begins hitting its speed limiter before the end of the quarter mile. The SE’s 14.8-second run at 91 mph could’ve been slightly quicker if the 93-mph limiter didn’t interfere.
Steer the Cooper SE onto an on-ramp, and it hangs on ferociously, generating a respectable 0.85 g on our skidpad test. The small, 12-module battery helps minimize the usual EV weight gain, and the T-shaped pack’s mounting position (between the front seats and under the rear seats) works wonders for both its center of gravity and weight balance. Mini also boasts the SE’s 58/42-percent front-to-rear weight distribution is considerably better than that of a Cooper S, which carries 63 percent of its weight up front. And, despite riding 0.7 inch higher than a Cooper S—to provide clearance for the battery—Mini claims the SE’s center of gravity is 1.2 inches lower. Also, unlike most EVs, the Cooper SE is shod with fun rubber: Goodyear Eagle F1s Asymmetric 3 rubber, a max-performance summer tire.
There are few exterior cues that the Cooper SE is electrified. Certain trim pieces are highlighted in Energetic Yellow, a color from the Mucinex palette that can be deleted. The Iconic trim has asymmetric three-hole wheels that are both distinctive and, we assume, aerodynamic. And there are a few stylized plug badges on the grille, flanks, and hatch. But mostly, the Cooper SE looks like all the other Coopers on the street. It even has a hood scoop.
Inside, the stop-start toggle is emblazed with that greenish yellow and flanked by toggles for brake regeneration (you can opt for one-pedal driving or a more traditional coast-down setting that’s similar to an internal-combustion vehicle’s) and a Sport driving mode. An oval matte-finished display above the steering wheel shows speed, state of charge, range, and power use or recuperation at any given moment.
Making a Case
While road trips aren’t the SE’s forte, it does come with standard SAE Combo 50-kW DC fast charger that can bring it to an 80-percent charge in a claimed 36 minutes. And, in a welcome acknowledgement that not every household has a charger, Mini includes a TurboCord that can work with either 120- or 240-volt outlets. Plugged into the latter, you can top off a full charge in eight hours. A Level 2 charger will do the deed in four hours. You can also pre-heat (or cool) the car while it’s plugged in, via a phone app.
Sometimes a low base price applies only to a stripped-down model that nobody really buys, but the Cooper SE’s entry-level Signature trim includes almost everything anyone would want: LED headlights, heated seats, navigation, Apple CarPlay, heated mirrors and washer jets, black leatherette upholstery, camera-based automatic emergency braking, and 16-inch wheels. Signature Plus ($34,750) adds 17-inch wheels, power folding mirrors, rear-park distance control, a panoramic moonroof, and an upgraded Harman-Kardon sound system. The Iconic trim ($37,750) brings a head-up display, a bigger central touchscreen, and wireless charging (for your phone, not the car), along with some trivial frippery such as a leather steering wheel that’s different from the standard leather steering wheel. The only common option that’s conspicuously absent across the board is adaptive cruise control. You know, the Leaf offers adaptive cruise control.
Not that we imagine too many people considering the Cooper SE will be cross shopping the Leaf (or Bolt, Kona, or Niro). The Mini Cooper SE is a different sort of electric car, one predicated on the assumption that you don’t need to drive 200 miles on a charge and that you enjoy driving. Thus, the compromises that we’ve come to expect in the name of extended range—slave-to-aero styling, rock-hard tires, porcine curb weight, higher price—are nixed from the beginning, rendering the rest of the car better in every way. If you don’t have too far to go, this might be the best electric way to get you there.
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