MINI COOPER E AND SE REVIEW

Intro

The latest ‘new Mini’ represents an interesting change of tack for its maker – and in more ways than one. First, there’s the nomenclative departure. This fourth-generation modern Mini hatchback is now the Mini Cooper in a formal make-and-model sense (there will be no more Mini Ones or Mini Electrics etc). Second comes the technical shift: although the combustion-engined version of this car survives to mirror it as part of a broader Mini Cooper model range, ‘the all-new Mini’ is, in point of fact, electric-only (the new ICE version being ostensibly an overhauled third-generation car with a new interior). And third? Well, as we’ll come to shortly, that’s all about the fine detail of the all-electric version’s execution. This is a slightly different kind of electric Mini, we’d say: in its appearance, its positioning and its make-up. More mature- and sophisticated-feeling, and a little more versatile and usable with it, but perhaps also just a little less of a singular, fun-loving kind of car.

Design

The Mini Cooper, then, comes as a Cooper C or S, which are built at Mini Plant Oxford, and powered by combustion engines, or as a Cooper E or SE, which are built in China, at the BMW Group’s joint-venture Spotlight factory, with the help of Great Wall Motor, though in time electric Minis will come to Oxford as well.

This time, there are two electric Minis, then – and, critically, both offer bigger drive batteries and more electric range than the famously nippy-but-short-legged outgoing Mini Electric. The Cooper E gets a new nickel-manganese-cobalt battery with 36.6kWh of usable capacity, up from 28.9kWh in the outgoing car – and a WLTP combined electric range of 190 miles (up from 140 miles) – with prices starting from £30,000. That’s Mini delivering a 36% boost on usable range, and keeping peak power the same as the old car, for broadly the same value for money. Not bad.

But if you want more of any of the above, the new Cooper SE now goes that little bit further still. Here, usable battery capacity climbs to 49.2kWh; electric motor power to 215bhp; WLTP combined range to 249 miles; and the departure-point price to £34,500.

And design-wise? Well, Mini has treated the design of its three-door, heartland-territory ‘icon’ model rather carefully since it first appeared in 2001 – but this fourth-generation car is a bolder move. In pursuit of a cleaner and more upmarket look, it has taken away much of the old car’s brightwork and a few of its trademark design details.

There are no cutesie foglights, front wing badges, plastic wheel-arch extensions or chunky chrome door handles on the new car. There’s a much more restrained front grille, and the wraparound clamshell bonnet – which so famously helped to define the look of the 2001 BMW Group modern Mini, and through which the headlights of subsequent generations have cheekily poked – has gone too. The designers wanted a sleek ‘pebble-like’ look for the new car, they say – instantly recognisable as a Mini, just with less stuff.

Like much of this car (as we’ll get to), opinions seem to be divided on whether the makeover is a success, with some liking the back-to-basics look, and others lamenting some character being lost.

Interior

An apparent effort has been made to drive up the material richness and perceived quality of the Cooper’s interior, and it comes across even in base-grade Cooper Classic models (above which sit Exclusive and Sport grades - although their impact on the car is mostly cosmetic, with technical content delivered as part of Level 1, 2 and 3 options packs). 

Just as they do in the larger Mini Countryman, Mini’s recycled polyester textiles for the dashboard and door panels make a nice tactile addition, and wider fit-and-finish standards are quite high. 

The key differences, though, concern the car’s driving position and its instrumentation layout. On the former side, because Mini’s new chassis carries its lithium ion drive battery sandwich-style under the cabin floor rather than within the negative space of the transmission tunnel and under the back seats (as the old Mini Electric did), you sit an inch or two higher at the wheel than Mini regulars will be used to. The Mini has lost some of that ‘bum-on-the-deck’ trademark sporting feel, though it must be said that you still sit very low for a small hatchback.

Passenger space in the second row is slightly better than in the old Mini Electric: it’s just about fit for adults of average height over short trips, or for younger kids – although fitting child seats back there would be tough despite the presence of Isofix points.

Back up front, there’s no conventional driver’s binnacle, just Mini’s new centrally mounted OLED circular infotainment display, which conveys instrumentation, navigation mapping and trip computer data, and carries most of the car’s secondary controls.

Whether you get on with this new layout seems to be a matter of personal preference. Some testers wished for at least a small separate instrument binnacle, others enjoyed the unobstructed view through the windscreen. In any case, the Level 1 pack (£2000 on the Cooper E, standard on the SE) includes a head-up display (though it is of the inferior flip-up kind).

The central screen itself has cheery and crisply rendered graphics, and its core functions work reasonably well thanks to some useful shortcut buttons. However, some of its workings are convoluted, and there is the odd bug and a bit of input lag.

Visibility to all quarters is just about acceptable, but the way the rear-view mirror has migrated downwards from the header rail (mounted as it is underneath a pod of forward-facing ADAS sensors) to obscure a fairly large chunk of the slightly letterbox-like windscreen can make tall drivers crane their neck at junctions and roundabouts in order to see around it.

Performance

There’s plenty of power and responsiveness on tap from the electric Mini Cooper’s drive motor, regardless of whether you choose the E or the SE. More than enough, certainly, to feel fun on a tight back road, or to blitz past slower traffic.

When you do, particularly on a bumpy road, you had better have both hands firmly on the wheel, because it torque steers very strongly (the SE very slightly more so than the E).

The Cooper doesn’t so much struggle with traction, but that is less because there’s any in reserve and more because the sophisticated traction control system is working overtime. While some front-driven EVs’ traction control systems can be easily overwhelmed, especially in the wet, the Mini’s carefully limits and releases the power in quick succession, like a sort of inverted ABS pump.

Having the brisk acceleration accompanied by a choice of imitation propulsion noises (which, depending on chosen driving mode, vary from Millennium Falcon tribute artiste to 1959 A-series Mini with a futuristic twist) will no doubt appeal to some, though we found them overly loud and irritating before long. Thankfully, they’re easily turned off.

Slow things down, and you’ll find the drivability of the electric Cooper quite well considered. There are no paddles to adjust the regen, but it does have the next best thing. You can choose from four modes in the screen: adaptive, low, medium and high. The adaptive mode works quite well, but we prefer to keep it in low, and flick the drive selector to B to engage the one-pedal mode. This is a true one-pedal mode that comes to a complete stop, and does it very smoothly indeed. In any case, the regen is very easy to control. This is on a par with Teslas, but with the option of turning it down. Brake pedal feel is also very good.

Ride and handling

The elephant in the room, or rather under the cabin floor, is the weight of the battery. More capacity does mean more weight, and that makes the Cooper E a 1540kg Mini and the SE a 1615kg one. For reference, the old Mini Electric came in at just 1326kg.

Given how battery technology has advanced these past five years, and in a car like a Mini, that came as a particular disappointment, and on the road you can detect that extra ballast.

The effects come mainly in the way the Cooper rides and deals with lumps and bumps. There is a slight snatchy heavy-handedness and pitchiness about the car’s vertical body control and a fidgetiness over motorway wave inputs that prevent it from feeling fully in touch and at one with a challenging road surface, or quite as well prepared to bolt gleefully into the middle distance as the best modern Minis have been over the years.

On the other hand, 1.6 tonnes is still on the lighter end of the EV spectrum, and it’s ultimately a function of the state of battery technology in 2024. The Mini’s damping is also well tuned enough and of sufficient quality that there’s never any real risk of the tyres’ contact with the road being compromised.

Get the electric Cooper on some smoother winding roads, and you’ll find plenty of zip and incisiveness about the car’s steering, good roll resistance and a mechanical grip level that you can lean on fairly hard.

When you properly load up the front end, a whisper of feedback will even start to make its way up the steering column. On the right sort of corner, the Mini will also display some very hot hatch-esque throttle-adjustability. The stability control helps rather than hinders you in such pursuits, as the Sport Plus is pretty lenient as it nips at the inside brakes to rotate the car.

On the UK launch, we drove the Cooper E and Cooper SE back to back, and while the differences are not night and day, the lighter E is certainly the sweeter of the two. It’s not short on power, and with less weight to manage it is able to turn in, ride and put its power down with a bit more ease.

When it comes to refinement, there's a bit of a lottery involved. Mini uses a number of tyre suppliers and your Cooper might arrive on Goodyear, Nexen, Maxxis, Hankook or Giti tyres. Swapping between cars on the UK launch, we noticed that the Goodyears produced less road noise than the Maxxis option.

MPG and running costs

Plenty of Mini Electric owners frustrated with the limitations of running an EV with a real-world range of about 110 miles will be keen to read exactly how much range has been added to this car in true day-to-day driving over its generational leap.

We’ve tested the car both in wet and dry conditions, and our experience suggests you should get 4.1mpkWh out of the SE and 4.2mpkWh from the E in mixed-road, mixed-speed use. That will drop somewhat in colder conditions, though not as much as in some rivals, since the Cooper comes with a heat pump as standard. Those numbers mean the SE should be good for 202 miles and the E for 154 miles, perhaps a little more in lower-speed urban use.

Mini claims peak DC rapid charging at 95kW for the SE and 75kW for the E. For a premium EV, that’s a little slow, but it still shouldn’t have you waiting at a charging station for a 10-80% charge for longer than half an hour. We’ve done a rapid-charging test on the Cooper SE, which took 28 minutes, with the battery managing to maintain at least 80kW until more than 50% state of charge, after which speeds gradually dropped, but the car still mustered 47kW at 80%.

When specifying your electric Cooper, you have three major choices to make. First: E or SE? If you can live with the shorter range, the E is a bit cheaper at £30,000 and is the sweeter drive. Mini reckons most UK buyers with go straight for the £34,500 SE, however.

That’s understandable given the jump in range and in light of the second big choice, which are the option packages. You choose between three ‘levels’. Level 1 includes keyless entry, matrix LED headlights, heated seats, wireless phone charging and the head-up display. It costs £2000 on the Cooper E but is standard on the SE. Levels 2 and 3 included niceties like adaptive cruise control and a panoramic sunroof, but are less essential.

Finally, there’s a Style to choose: Classic, Exclusive or Sport, but the differences here are purely cosmetic.

Verdict

This second-generation electric Mini is certainly a more grown-up electric car than the original, embarrassing its predecessor with more usable range, faster charging, better electric drivability features and more premium lustre, all without the price ballooning very much, if at all.

But for all those obvious improvements, there is a sense among some testers that with the increased ability, and mostly the increased weight, the Mini has lost some of the driver reward we might expect from it. And while, in terms of visuals and tactility, the cabin revamp is a universal hit, the new user interface concept has proven contentious.

Then again, even as is, among similarly priced compact electric cars, this is one of the natural picks for keener drivers even if we’d like to see a version with less weight. Plus, there will be more overtly sporting zero-emission Minis to come in due course.

2024-05-09T08:12:53Z dg43tfdfdgfd