The 2021 Mini Cooper SE is Fun But Short on Range
With just 177 km of range, It's not the electric car for everyone
The 2021 Mini Cooper S Electric (or SE as it’s officially known) is actually not the brand’s first fully electric vehicle. There was another electric Mini Cooper a few years ago but that was limited to just 450 or so examples and was a lease only. This one you can actually buy and there’s more than just 450 examples. So how good is it?
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Motor – Like all other Mini Coopers, the SE delivers its power to the front wheels. The electric motor produces 181 hp & 199 lb-ft of torque (135 kW & 270 Nm) at an instant. Because of the instant torque, the car feels spritely off the line just like any other EV. It is a bit heavier than the gasoline Cooper S at 1,430 kg (3,152 lbs) but 0-60 takes just 3.9 seconds. Ok, so it doesn’t actually do 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds but it does do it to 60 km/h which is what Mini Canada has posted on their website. The 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) is done within a more realistic 7.3 seconds. Top speed is 150 km/h (93 mph) which is more than enough for most people’s needs.
Batteries & Charging – This Mini Cooper SE was not designed to be a bespoke electric vehicle like the Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Bolt. Mini’s engineers took the gasoline Mini and stripped the motor, transmission & fuel tank and replaced them with electrical components. As a result, the battery pack had to be fitted wherever the engineers could find space; primarily where the fuel tanks was & along the center of the car. The battery pack is a small one at just 32.6 kWh and it provides enough juice for up to 177 km (110 miles) of range. I drove this car in December which meant colder temperatures and the on-board computer calculated a maximum range of around 172 km (107 miles) with a full charge & climate control off. When turning on the climate control, the maximum range dropped to around 167 km (104 miles).
Charging the 2021 Mini Cooper SE can be done with a 110-Volt wall outlet but it takes around 8 to 10 hours to fully charge from flat. From a level 2 charger, it can take up to 4 hours. But from a level 3 DC fast charger, the Cooper S Electric can be charged in as little as 35 minutes up to 80%. After that, the charge rate drops as it is typical of all EVs.
Braking – Like many other EVs, the 2021 Mini Cooper S Electric can stop via regenerative braking or traditional disc brakes. By default, the more aggressive regen braking mode is enabled. In this mode, you can drive the Mini Cooper SE by using only the accelerator pedal. Regen braking is strong enough to bring the car to a complete stop so long as you judge stopping distances well. At the flip of a switch, the Cooper can have a less aggressive regen braking mode in which case it feels more like letting off the throttle in a gasoline powered car. The disc brakes stop the Cooper SE without much fuss. Brake pedal feel is very good with a firm brake pedal and good initial bite. Automatic emergency braking is standard on the Mini Cooper SE.
Handling – While the Mini Cooper SE is roughly 200 kg (440 lbs) heavier than the gasoline powered Mini Cooper S, it still feels spritely around twisty roads. The battery pack lowers the center of gravity so the Cooper SE feels planted around corners. As well, the suspension was re-tuned to account for the extra weight of the battery. The quick steering and the more centralized weight distribution makes the Cooper Electric still feel like a go-kart when zipping around busy city streets.
However, if you stomp on the accelerator pedal when exiting a corner, you can feel quite a lot of torque steer. This is even more evident when setting off from a stop under full acceleration applications. The Mini Cooper SE relies heavily on the traction control system to keep the car going where the steering wheel is pointing thus it intervenes consistently. Turn it off and the front wheels just spin endlessly until the speed slowly builds up a bit and the eco tires don’t get overwhelmed by the torque. So if you want to go fast, you have to be gentle with the accelerator pedal.
Ride Comfort – With its short wheelbase & slightly firmer suspension, you’d think that the ride of the 2021 Mini Cooper SE is compromised. But for the most part, the ride is actually pretty good. Granted, there are instances where the ride feels like you’ve broken a piece off the suspension but on most city streets, the Cooper SE doesn’t feel jarry or overly rough.
Interior Space – When gasoline powered vehicles get transformed into hybrids or EVs, they tend to lose some interior space to accommodate the batteries. The Ford Fusion Energi is a perfect example of this. But the Mini Cooper SE has the exact same interior volume as the gasoline powered Mini Cooper.
The front seats are not only comfortable but have ample room for taller drivers like myself at 6’4”. The seats are not power seats as that would take up more precious head room. The back seats, however, are woefully small. Not even children would want to sit in the back seats. You’re better off dropping the rear seats and using the space for cargo. With the seats down, the Cooper SE has 1,048 L (37 cu-ft) of cargo volume & with the seats up, it’s 246 L (8.6 cu-ft) of cargo.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – Like many other electric vehicles, the Cooper SE is a quiet car around city streets. It’s only when the speed builds up that you start to notice more wind and tire noise intruding into the cabin. It’s not overly intrusive though so you can still have a conversation with the person next to you without yelling.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – The 2021 Mini Cooper SE is available in 3 trims; Classic, Premier, & Premier+ (Signature, Signature+, & Iconic in USA). The base trim is nicely equipped with heated seats, 16-inch alloy wheels, navigation, keyless start, automatic climate control & LED headlights. This fully loaded Premier+ trim adds a head-up display, wireless phone charging, front & rear parking sensors, & 17-inch alloy wheels.
All of the gadgets work as they are supposed to but unfortunately if you’re an Android user like myself, Android Auto is not available. Only Apple CarPlay is available. Also lane departure warning or lane keep assist are not available.
Interior Design – The interior look and feel has not changed between this electric version and the gasoline version. Apart from how the car sounds when starting it, the only way you can tell that you’re in the electric version is from the fluorescent accents around the shifter & the digital instrument cluster. The Cooper SE has the same looking dashboard, door panels, & seats as the regular Cooper. As well the materials feel more premium than in other EVs like the Chevy Bolt.
Exterior Design – Just like the interior, the exterior remains similar to that of the gasoline powered Cooper. The most noticeable difference is the grille as this one doesn’t really have one. It’s just a big piece of plastic for improved aerodynamics. As well, the hood scoop is fake just like in the gas powered Cooper S. In the back, the half Union Jack brake lights remain and there is no tailpipe. As for the wheels, this particular demo vehicle came equipped with a winter set of wheels & tires. Normally this Premier+ trim would have the 17-inch “Power Spoke” wheels which were formerly called “Corona” wheels. But because of recent events, it was a good decision for Mini to change the name of those wheels.
The 2021 Mini Cooper SE starts at $39,990 CAD ($29,900 USD) while this top spec Premier+ trim is $47,990 CAD ($36,900 USD). That is a lot for an electric vehicle with less than 200 km of range but with government & provincial incentives, the price can be dropped by quite a bit. Obviously this varies from province to province & state to state but here in Vancouver, BC, you can get a Mini Cooper SE with up to $8,000 CAD in rebates.
So is it actually worth buying? Overall it’s a fantastic city car and I really enjoyed my time in it. But as a primary vehicle, it’s hard to justify purchasing it with such a short range. It would be almost impossible to take a road trip with it and if you do, you need to do a lot of planning & have a lot of spare time for charging along the way. This is strictly a city car and as such it would be a great second car in addition to a gasoline or hybrid primary car.