Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 9, 2021
MINI’s first foray into the all-electric vehicle market starts with this, the Cooper S E. It’s a zero-emission, three-door hatchback boasting a 32 kWh lithium ion battery, 183 km of claimed driving range, 181 hp, a 0-100 km/h time of 7.3 seconds, and an eight year battery warranty. Better yet, MINI says they have managed to retain all the fun, charm, and driving zest that makes the regular gasoline-powered MINI so appealing.
Are they correct? Well the driving range is quite limited and rather uncompetitive when you compare it to its obvious rivals: the Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model 3, and even the aging Volkswagen e-Golf, all of which carry loftier ranges. Our real world driving that took into account brake regeneration only nailed us 170 km on a full charge, and we stayed far away from the energy-sucking highway as well. If your daily commute is short, or if you have access to a wide range of charging stations at work or where you run your errands, the range is very usable. Chances are you will have a second car for those longer road trips anyways but be prepared to keep an agonizingly close watch on the battery level via the gauges or phone app.
The price commanded by the MINI Cooper S E is quite high considering its diminutive stamina, listing at $40,990, and a solid spec like our test vehicle rang just under $50,000, putting it into entry-level sports car territory like the Golf R or Civic Type R. On the flip side, the MINI could also be viewed as inexpensive when compared to longer-ranged rivals like the Tesla Model 3 or Volvo XC40 Recharge. But we firmly believe that the electric MINI’s premium features, luxury amenities, and excellent build quality do justify it to an extent.
The interior is identical to the gasoline-powered MINI with a new steering wheel for 2022, wrapped in the same tastefully thick leather as the one in the 4 Series. The leather is not as grainy, chunky, or as concave-shaped as the MINI’s outgoing wheel, and feels much more natural under grasp. The shape is cleaner than before with new buttons that control the infotainment, though the plastic paddle shifters remain the same - while they look great, they unfortunately feel lower class. And for the first time ever, the MINI Cooper is now available with a heated steering wheel, handy for those frigid winter mornings.
The 8.8-inch infotainment unit is carried down from BMW and it utilizes both touchscreen and rotary dial input, but the system is mapped a little differently to give it some youthful charm and some distinguishable flair. The circumference of the center unit continues to light up depending on input - turning up the temperature makes it glow red, while turning it down turns it blue. The plastic buttons that lie underneath the screen however feel incredibly low-rent, giving off that squeaky feedback when pushed. The outgoing layout with the dedicated grooved buttons felt better and was much easier to use. On a side note, Apple CarPlay is available but it still does not support Android Auto.
The rear passenger windows are massive, making the cabin feel airy and more spacious than it really is. Rear seat room however remains limited, and there is no actual way of fitting anyone behind my six-foot self’s driving position. Best left as token seats. The 5-Door would be a better option for those wishing to occasionally ferry their friends or family but the electric MINI is only available in a 3-Door configuration.
The range might be small and its price might be high, but I’ve always believed that the MINI platform was the perfect size and footprint to be an all-electric vehicle. Like the Fiat 500 and Volkswagen Golf, its compact packaging heavily appeals to green-minded city drivers navigating through tight streets, with nothing but fairy dust coming out of the exhaust pipes.
This electric MINI drives exceptionally well. With 181 hp from its drivetrain donated by the BMW i3s, the MINI produces about the same output as the regular Cooper S, and while the numbers may not appear enticing on paper, you must remember that all of that horsepower and torque are available the instant you prod the gas pedal.
Spiky on takeoff without running out of breath until you hit 100 km/h, the MINI feels light and agile on its feet. Though, the bulky amount of torque tends to overwhelm the front wheels when you decide to take a corner at speed, as they struggle to grip and bite down hard, resulting in a wandering steering wheel that can’t quite capture the lateral grip of a MINI JCW. The ride is firm but perfectly usable, and it remains wonderfully flat around a corner even with its raised ride height to aid underfloor battery clearance. And thanks to a low center of gravity, this electric hatchback captures enough driving spirit to warrant that MINI badge.
There are some aesthetic features to tell it apart from the regular MINIs as well. The charging port is in the same spot as the fuel cap in the gasoline variant, but with an electric plug badge engraved on it instead. There is no engine under the front hood but there’s still a non functional hood vent installed to make it appear sportier. At least they have sealed off the actual front grill to improve aerodynamics. There are also unique wheel designs and yellow mirror caps for further differentiation.
The MINI Cooper has always been the perfect platform for an EV, and while we doubt this generation of MINI was designed with electric mobility in mind, their engineers somehow stuffed in a large battery and still managed to make it a bundle of joy to drive. The driving range needs a large dose of the blue pill, and the price might be a little out of reach for some considering its stamina, but there’s enough charm, premium features, and real world potential for this zappy electric hatchback to appeal to MINI lovers and green-minded city commuters.
Model: 2022 MINI Cooper S E
Paint Type: Moonwalk Grey
Base Price: $40,990
Price as Tested: $49,340
Length/Width/Height (mm): 3,845 / 1,727 / 1,432
Curb weight (kg): 1,365
Powertrain: Permanent-magnet synchronous AC + 32 kWh lithium ion battery
Horsepower: 181 hp
Torque: 199 lb-ft
Transmission: Single-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD