The Mini Cooper SE Is A Great Little Electric Car, Except…

Mini began selling its new full-electric two-door Cooper SE last month and, in our recent weeklong test, we found that it embodies every bit of the brand’s DNA, with a truly fun-to-drive nature, for what seems like not a lot of money. It starts at $30,750 with the mandatory destination charge, which effectively comes out to $23,250 if you qualify for the $7,500 one-time federal tax credit granted to electric vehicle buyers. It’s even less if you live in a state like California or Colorado that provides its own incentives. 

By comparison, a conventional Mini Cooper 2-Door Hardtop starts at $24,250. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, the average Mini Cooper SE owner will save $3,250 over a five-year period running on kilowatts instead of petroleum, driving 15,000 miles annually at current average rates. And that doesn’t count reduced maintenance costs electric cars enjoy by eliminating the need for oil changes, belt and hose replacements, radiator flushes, and the like. A typical scheduled maintenance visit consists of little more than inspections, a tire rotation, and new wiper blades.

That’s all true with any electric car, but what sets the Mini Cooper SE apart is a heaping helping of sheer personality, combined with a pleasingly playful nature. There is, however, a catch that we’ll get to later.

As with the rest of the line, it’s impossible to mistake the SE for anything but a Mini Cooper. The car’s signature boxy shape features a nearly horizontal roofline, and is tempered by subtle curves. There’s a large (in this case solid) grille and oval-shaped LED headlamps up front, with Union Jack LED taillights at the rear. The SE, however, carries subtle styling differences from the conventional 2-Door Hardtop, including front and rear bumpers that are nominally redesigned for improved aerodynamics, highlights inside and out in what Mini calls “Energetic Yellow,” and (sorry Mini) some of the oddest looking wheels we’ve ever seen.

The Mini Cooper SE’s interior is likewise distinctively cast, with a high-quality look and feel. An oval-shaped electronic instrument panel features a digital speedometer, with graphic displays for charge and power levels, along with other pertinent scrollable data. There’s a round center-mounted pod that features a display for the car’s infotainment system, which is operated via a control knob between the front seats. The coolest touch here is the row of aircraft-like toggle switches at the bottom of the center stack. 

Front seat room is adequate, with nicely supportive seats, though rear legroom is prohibitively tight, especially with the front buckets adjusted rearward. Cargo space is limited, but expands to more useable proportions with the rear seatbacks folded flat. Building the SE in a four-door configuration, or basing it on the larger Clubman or Countryman would have expanded its utility, but would have warranted a higher sticker price.

The Mini Cooper SE comes well equipped for the money. Standard features include navigation, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay interfaces, forward collision warning, proximity key/push button start, heated front seats, and the Mini Connected telematics system. Our tester included the $7,000 Iconic Trim package that added amenities like a panoramic sunroof, a Harmon Kardon premium audio system, a head-up display and more, which brought the cost up to $37,500.

The real cherry atop the proverbial sundae, however, is how the SE drives. Given that an electric motor puts all of its torque to the pavement instantly and continuously, the SE’s acceleration is quite brisk. With 181 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque on tap, it can sprint from 0-60 mph in 6.9 seconds, and it actually feels quicker than that. What’s more, it does so in near silence, as there is no engine noise or exhaust rumble. Top speed is 93 mph, and it gets the electric equivalent of 108 mpg in combined city/highway driving.

Out on the road, the SE takes the Mini Cooper’s inherent go-kart-like cornering and ramps it up a few notches without introducing a harsher ride in the process. Mounting the car’s battery pack beneath the passenger cabin affords a lower center of gravity, which in turn automatically bolsters its handling abilities. We found the Cooper SE to be pleasingly playful and eminently tossable around some hairpin turns and winding roads hidden away in the Western Suburbs of Chicago. It feels planted to the pavement at all times and provides good feedback to the driver via its chubby steering wheel.

And now here’s the bad news. The Mini Cooper SE’s operating range on a charge is EPA rated at a mere 110 miles, which could be a deal breaker for those with longer commutes or owners who intend to venture far beyond their immediate areas. Ranges of well over 200 miles are fast becoming the norm among electric vehicles these days, with only a scant few remaining that hover around the 100-mile mark.

Still, 110 miles is sufficient for modest daily commutes, and would not necessarily be a barrier to young urbanites with access to charging. As for that aspect, if you’re interested in a Cooper SE you’ll want to have 240-volt service installed in your garage to take advantage of what’s called Level 2 charging. That enables a full charge in around eight hours, or four hours if you also have a 32-amp home charger installed. A public Level 3 DC Fast Charging station can bring the SE’s battery pack from near zero up to 80 percent capacity in 40 minutes. It could take as long as 24 hours to fully replenish the battery from standard 110-volt current.

The bottom line here is that, despite its range limitations, the Mini Cooper SE is a great electric car. Its quick and nimble nature makes it a blast to drive, it’s inherent quirkiness is endearing, the car is reasonably priced, and as a bonus, it produces zero tailpipe emissions. What’s not to like?

Source: forbes

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