Electric cars certainly have their appeal. They produce no emissions, they’re quiet, efficient, and powerful. I especially like the ones that look and drive like their gasoline counterparts, the VW e-Golf for example.
Now, there’s a new EV from Mini—the Mini Cooper SE—and I can’t help but get excited about it. The tiny British-German hatchback is the perfect candidate for an electric drivetrain and as an urban runabout EVs make a lot of sense.
I’m no EV fanatic, let’s set the record straight. I love the rumble of a V8, the zing of a good straight-six, and the raucous rip of a high-revving 4-cylinder. Each provides a unique sensory feast no electric motor can ever match.
But even I cannot deny that an ICE motor with its complex valve assemblies and hundreds of moving parts feels instantly outdated the second you drive an electric vehicle and experience smooth and instant power from a motor the size of a toaster.
I’ve driven my fair share of EVs over the last few years but I’ve never taken one home for a week as I do with most other vehicles I test. For one, I live in a condo with underground parking and no access to a plug point. And in my busy, tightly scheduled life I wasn’t sure how I would squeeze in charging time for an EV. Not being able to charge at home overnight was by far the biggest barrier for me.
That’s all changed now as more and more EVs enter production and charging infrastructure continues to expand. Near where I live, a number of DC fast or Level 3 chargers have popped up. They charge your car in minutes instead of hours and are the closest equivalent an EV has to a gas station pump. The more of these that come up, the easier EV adoption is going to get.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this 2021 Mini Cooper SE but it ended up being one of the biggest surprises of the year for me.
It starts life as a normal 3-door Mini Cooper but under the hood an EV drive unit replaces the gasoline engine. A 32.6 kWh battery pack consisting of 12 modules in a T-shaped unit resides deep in the floor pan helping lower the centre of gravity, while not intruding on passenger or cargo volume.
The motor, swiped from the BMW i3, produces 181 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque. As with all electric cars, it produces nearly all of its torque the second you set off, giving this little Mini the feeling of being much more powerful than it actually is. The maximum range from a fully charged battery is rated at 177 km, and it can charge at a rate of up to 50kW when hooked up to a Level 3 charging station.
Mini specifies a charge time of just 35 mins to get from 0 to 80 per cent, when using a fast charger. If you plug in to a standard 110V outlet, it will take 26 hours while most level 2 charging stations will do the deed in about 4.
On the outside, it looks like every other Mini. Electric yellow accents, a few plug point symbols, and a smooth grille cover are your only clues that this is something a bit different. Inside, there’s more yellow trim, a semi-digital gauge cluster, and standard navigation.
Everything seems fairly normal, but after just a short stint behind the wheel it feels like a revelation. On start up, there’s no creep and you have to prod the e-pedal to get going. Once underway, torque is instantaneous and plentiful. Floor it and your upper body will get pushed back into the seat like your driving a high-powered sports car. Release the go pedal and the Mini will instantly start slowing down and feels like someone just pulled hard on the e-brake. With the proper technique, you need never use the actual brakes. This heavy amount of regen braking helps convert kinetic energy back into electricity to charge the battery. A toggle switch allows you to set the regen to a lower level if you prefer.
When you approach a corner and turn the steering wheel you realize that you’re still driving a Mini. That means nimble handling, negligible body roll, and sharp electrically assisted steering packaged in a diminutive little hatchback. As an urban car or commuter it is just about perfect. You do feel the extra weight from the battery pack but this car is all smiles and might be the most fun I’ve had behind the wheel of an EV.
It’s super-efficient as well, registering around 18.7 kWh per 100 km after a week of spirited driving during sub-optimal winter-like conditions. That 177 km range is also fairly accurate, dropping to about 160 km with outside temps just below zero. It has a heat pump that helps conserve energy and the aggressive regenerative braking when used properly could even help that range climb closer to the 200 km mark.
I charged it using Level 3 chargers exclusively, never spending more than 20-30 minutes at a time plugged in.
The Cooper SE is not perfect. It could benefit from more range, the cargo area is tiny, and a starting price of $39,990 means it isn’t cheap either. But even at that price, it’s cheaper than just about every other EV out there, and whole lot more fun. When you factor in the federal rebate the Cooper SE becomes even more attractive.
Mini is not going to be making many of these, as it’s their first go at it. But as a proof-of-concept they nailed it. If I were in the market for a Mini, this would be my choice without a doubt.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.