MINI Cooper 2020 cooper se electric first edtn
launch-review

2020 Mini Electric review

Australian first drive

A cute and compact hatch that offers electric power but retains its racing roots – could the Mini Electric be the ultimate city runabout?
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Mini Coopers have long served as a compelling compact car for city-dwelling buyers unwilling to sacrifice their sense of fun for the drudgeries of the daily commute.

Go-kart handling, pint-sized performance and playful nods to the marque’s racing heritage have all been hallmarks of Mini’s charming Cooper hatchbacks since their heyday in the swinging ’60s.

But flash-forward to 2020 and the cutest Brit on Australian roads is getting its green card – in the form of an all-new electric offering known as the Mini Electric.

Landing in Aussie showrooms from August 2020, the Mini Electric aims to up the cool factor of the local electric market with its aesthetic appeal and sporty credentials.

How do the Mini Electric's price and specs compare to its competitors?

With an electric motor powering the front wheels via a one-speed automatic transmission, plus a 32.6kWh (28.9kWh net) lithium-ion battery, the Mini Electric can generate maximum outputs of 135kW and 270Nm.

Priced from $54,800 plus on-road costs, it’s around $5000–$7000 more expensive than a base Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe or all-electric Hyundai Ioniq, but more affordable than an electric Hyundai Kona or Tesla Model 3. Perhaps most notably, it's also $14,000 more than the petrol Cooper S. As a launch offer, Mini has a $59,900 drive-away deal on the Electric, too.

There are no options available in the launch edition specification, beyond the choice of four no-cost paint and interior trim pairings, along with two no-cost wheel design options.

While the Mini Electric has a prestige badge and good looks over its rivals, the quoted range – 233km on the WLTP cycle – is noticeably smaller than other local electric offerings.

For reference, the Kona’s WLTP range is 449km, the Leaf’s is 270km, the Zoe’s is 300km (or up to 390km in the new-gen model), the Ioniq’s is 311km, and the Model 3’s is 409–530km depending on the variant.

As for the $14,000 spend on top of the petrol Cooper S, that could buy you about 9333 litres of petrol at $1.50 per litre – which would carry you through 169,690km of driving based on the Cooper S’s claimed fuel consumption. Food for thought.

How is the Mini Electric different from the regular Mini Cooper?

While it may be produced in the same Oxford, England factory as its petrol-powered siblings, can an electrified Cooper still possess the mischievous fun factor and surprising punch that’s long made it more than just your average hatchback?

From the outside, the Mini Electric looks much the same as the three-door Cooper S on which it’s based, albeit with a lot more neon, no tailpipe and some funky-looking wheels (in a design previously known as the ‘corona spoke’, which had to be changed to ‘power spoke’ for obvious reasons).

This authentic Mini look and feel extends to the interior, too. The only key change on top of the typical Cooper interior is the addition of a 5.5-inch digital instrument cluster that sits behind the wheel and looks a little like the panel on an exercise bike.

While this panel provides you with information like live battery consumption rate, remaining battery charge and digital speedometer, most of it doubles up on what’s already provided by the head-up display and 8.8-inch central infotainment screen. It’s information overload and feels like overkill.

The Mini Electric is also slightly heavier than the Cooper S thanks to its battery pack, but otherwise the dimensions are more or less the same, with a serviceable 211L of boot space available.

What is the Mini Electric like to drive?

While the Mini Electric was fully charged for the local launch drive, the estimated range shown on the instrument screen was 160km, because the onboard computer takes factors like temperature and previous consumption into account when providing a conservative range estimate – meaning you’ll rarely (if ever) see the full 233km on the screen.

As such, I felt a little tentative setting off for a full day of driving and with only a small handful of charging options available along my planned route, but nevertheless, I put my faith in the car and hit the road.

When it gets going, the Mini Electric plays a start-up sound not unlike a Pixar interpretation of a robot – cutesy and a little bit Jetsons. Other than that, however, it’s quiet… Almost too quiet.

Having recently driven the Cooper S for a long-term review, one of the things I loved most was the addictive engine growl when you put your foot down. I missed that, and would love for Mini to introduce some playful, customisable faux engine noises because the resounding silence feels decidedly un-Mini-ish.

Otherwise, the Mini Electric feels remarkably like a regular Mini on the road. That famed go-kart feel is maintained, and while the Mini Electric is technically slower than the Cooper S in the 0–100km/h sprint (7.3 seconds compared with 6.7 seconds in the Cooper S), it feels far faster.

Put your foot down and it’s as though there’s an endless pool of power available that can be accessed immediately. For example, if you zone out at the traffic lights and have to get up to speed quickly, the Mini Electric will get you there and then some – you’ll be overtaking your fellow cars in a split second.

That instantaneous pedal response is exhilarating, while the steering has a weighty, extremely sporty feel with a satisfyingly direct response, which can be firmed up even further in Sport mode.

Any added weight from the heavier battery goes unnoticed, and the car’s lower centre of gravity means it handles beautifully around corners and feels nimble and capable at higher speeds.

While you aren’t as protected in the cabin from road irregularities as larger cars, the Mini’s suspension – which has been specifically re-tuned to account for the different powertrain – keeps things reasonably well cushioned for a compact car.

It really is like driving a quiet, comfortable go-kart.

Much like its petrol-powered counterparts, the Mini Electric makes use of the space available in terms of visibility – the low, wide rear windshield gives you great rearward access, while the forward visibility is only slightly obscured by the annoying placement of the small rear-vision mirror.

And like its petrol-powered counterparts, those rear seats are more of a box-tick than a proper seating solution – front-seat occupants are the real winners when it comes to leg and head room.

The major difference regular Mini devotees will notice when driving the Mini Electric is the presence of regenerative braking – a function that slows the car in between acceleration in order to recoup lost energy from the battery.

This phenomenon can be dialled up or down to your liking. On lower settings, it’s barely noticeable, but on higher settings it slows the car immediately as you take your foot off the accelerator, essentially allowing the Mini Electric to be driven with only one pedal, no brakes required.

If you’re paranoid about range and keen to get as much juice out of the car as possible, this regenerative braking is a great option, but can take some getting used to and make speed management on freeways a bit more challenging.

How do you charge the Mini Electric?

Mini claims the car’s battery consumption is around 15.5–18.0kWh/100km, and our real-world consumption was on the lower end of this range at 15.7kWh/100km.

Additionally, Mini reckons its average owner drives around 37.5km per day – meaning you theoretically should only have to charge the car every four to five days or so if you fit the description of ‘average owner’ and are getting a range of around 160km on a single charge.

During my launch drive, a morning of driving around mostly suburban roads with speed limits of 70km/h or less saw the battery run down from 100 per cent to 70 per cent charge – or from 160km to 113km of range – by the time we arrived at our lunchtime charging stop (around two hours on the road in total).

The Mini Electric comes with its own 5m-long charging cable and a CCS Type 2 plug where the petrol cap would usually be. This plug works on everything from a regular wall socket like the kind at your house, which will take all night to fully charge the car, to a 50kW ‘rapid’ charger Mini claims will get you to 80 per cent charge in just 35 minutes.

There’s also the option of a 7.4kW charger (which is usually the power of the wall boxes you can install in your garage), which will get you to 80 per cent charge in three-and-a-bit hours.

During my launch drive, I trialled the ‘in between’ option – a free 22kW ‘fast’ charger at a public car park and, over the course of a half-hour lunch break, it added 16 per cent of charge, or 31km of range. Good for a peace-of-mind top-up and not much else.

A quick freeway sprint saw the battery charge run down faster than the morning’s suburban stints, losing 16 per cent of charge, or 6km of range, in just under half an hour of driving – warranting a pit stop at a rapid charger in the parking lot of a university.

This is what really made a difference – a mere 10 minutes plugged into a rapid 50kW charger and the Mini gained an impressive 22km of range or 13 per cent charge. If only there were one of these on every street corner (there isn’t).

What equipment comes standard on the Mini Electric?

As standard, the Mini Electric receives a head-up display, dual-zone climate control, reverse camera with semi-autonomous parking assistant, front and rear sensors, wireless Apple CarPlay, (but no Android Auto), wireless phone charging, adaptive LED headlights, an 8.8-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, AEB with pedestrian detection and heated leather seats.

Somewhat strangely, it’s missing further active safety and driver-assist features like active cruise control, lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitoring, which should normally come standard on a car at this price point (in my opinion).

There's no way to add them either, with the launch edition not available with any optional driver assist or safety packs and no current plans to introduce other specification grades to the range.

The Mini Electric comes with Mini’s three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, while the battery pack has a separate eight-year/100,000km warranty.

What’s the verdict on the Mini Electric?

For city dwellers with short and sweet commutes and access to off-street parking and public charging points, the Mini Electric is certainly a competent city car with a sense of fun and, of course, added green credentials.

Yes, it’s not cheap, but electric cars tend to be on the more expensive side anyway, and the Mini Electric handles beautifully, looks great, and has enough standard equipment and X-factor that most buyers will be able to justify the spend.

Longer road trips will take some planning to ensure charging access, while the lack of certain active safety features feels like a strange oversight, but it’s range anxiety that could prove most prohibitive for potential buyers.

Charging an EV is still no easy feat for Australian drivers due to a lack of infrastructure, and while the Mini’s range and consumption estimates prove accurate (particularly for suburban driving), that 233km can feel a little limited.

All in all, the Mini Electric is a blast to drive, and makes for the perfect inner-city runabout for those with another car to do the heavy lifting.

While 200-odd kilometres of range should allow for a week’s worth of suburban stints, drivers may feel as though time is of the essence if they venture away from charging points. And it’s here where the Mini Electric’s biggest boon – its infectious fun factor – could prove its downfall. Because, after all, time flies when you’re having fun.