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First drive: MINI Electric. Image by MINI UK.

First drive: MINI Electric
All the MINI Mk3 charm, only with zero-emissions running gear.

   



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MINI Cooper S Electric

4 4 4 4 4

MINI joins the compact, stylish, fully electric city car game with the Cooper S Electric, an obvious rival for eye-catching zero-emissions machines such as the Honda e and Peugeot e-208, as well as more pragmatic fare like the long-serving Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe. But can the MINI win planet-saving converts over with its tried-and-tested familiar styling and cheeky EV-specific design flourishes, or has its parent company scuppered the Electric by giving it only short-range cruising capabilities?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: MINI Cooper S Electric Level 2
Pricing: Electric from 24,400, Level 2 as tested 26,900 (prices include 3,000 Government plug-in car grant)
Electric system: 135kW synchronous electric motor plus 32.6kWh lithium-ion battery pack
Transmission: single-speed fixed reduction-gear transmission, front-wheel drive
Body style: three-door EV city car
CO2 emissions: 0g/km (VED Band 0: no road tax to pay in perpetuity)
Range: 144 miles
Maximum charging capacity: 50kW, Type 2 and CCS Combo 2 connection; 35 minutes for 80 per cent battery charge on 50kW DC, 2.5 hours for 0-80 per cent charge on 11kW AC domestic connection, 3.5 hours for 0-100 per cent charge on 11kW AC domestic connection
Combined electrical consumption: 15.5-18kWh/62.5 miles
Top speed: 93mph
0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
Power: 184hp
Torque: 270Nm
Boot space: 211-731 litres

What's this?

If you're unfamiliar with this shape by now, you've probably been living at the bottom of the Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep for the past 19 years. It's a Mini, or a MINI in the marque's preferred shouty rendition, and a Hatch at that - which means the three-door shell. However, you cannot fail to have noticed the extensive Energetic Yellow detailing on the exterior, principally for the badging, the door mirror caps and for the sealed-over, hexagonal-shaped grille at the front. Or the 'E'-in-circle logos adorning various parts of the body, as well as embossed into the 'fuel filler' cap.

Yes, of course, it's the MINI Electric, or the MINI Cooper S Electric, if we're to believe the boot insignia. That's because, at 184hp and 270Nm, it's only 8hp and 10Nm down on the more prosaic Cooper S Hatch in the MINI line-up. However, with its 135kW front-mounted electric motor and a modest 32.6kWh (gross) lithium-ion battery pack installed underneath the back seats, the Electric is 145kg heavier than a Cooper S with the automatic gearbox fitted.

If you're good on your wider BMW Group knowledge, you'll probably recognise a lot of the MINI E's figures as being the same as those on the BMW i3s, only on the German EV the electric motor is mounted at the back and the battery is bigger at 42.2kWh. So what we have here is a BMW i3s', um, non-oily bits, front-driven instead of rear-driven and sat underneath a MINI Hatch bodyshell. It's therefore, aesthetically speaking, a hard car to judge; people love the MINI's looks, of course they do, it's why it has been such a phenomenally successful city car over the past two decades... but, at the same time, would you want the Electric model to stand out as a bit more, y'know, special? Also, was it a good decision to use the three-door frame in the first place, which has never even been close to being a triumph of clever interior packaging, and taking a little more space from already-cramped rear-seat passengers by shoving the battery cells in under a slightly higher-mounted back bench? Especially when all its key rivals are five-door machines with more capacious second-row accommodation? Tricky to say. It does look appealing on the outside, despite it being a form so familiar to all, although the 17-inch Electric Corona two-tone alloy wheels which somewhat resemble our own dearly loved three-pin domestic power sockets are definitely going to be 'leave it' in many eyes, rather than 'take it'.

You don't have to have those alloys, mind, as there are five different designs of 16- and 17-inch rims to go at instead, while buyers can even tone down the yellow splashes on the outside to just the 'E' badges and the 'S' part of the 'Cooper S' logo on the hatch's lid. Inside, yellow details continue, most notably on the start-stop toggle for the electric powertrain, while a 5.5-inch digital instrument cluster pod is new to the Electric, although it is also used now (albeit with different graphics) on the hardcore John Cooper Works GP. There's a control just to the left of the starter which increases or decreases the Electric's level of regenerative braking, while on the very right of the console the selectable mode switch reflects the car's subtly different drive settings of Sport, Mid, Green and Green+. Trim levels are also bespoke to the EV MINI, running Level 1 (24,400 including the Government's plug-in car grant), Level 2 (from 26,900) and then Level 3 (from 30,400). Our test car was a Level 2, with things like Comfort Access, a Driving Assistant Pack, a rear-view camera and front-seat heating, plus much more, added to the Level 1's standard equipment list, which is pretty decent as is.

How does it drive?

MINI has decided, like Honda with the e and Mazda with its MX-30, to espouse the 'city EV commuters only require small battery packs' line. A 32.6kWh unit in this car has supposedly been fitted because it keeps the MINI E's weight down, in turn keeping the expense of the overall vehicle to more acceptable levels. The pay-off of that is a maximum range of 144 miles, which in reality is going to be more like 120 miles. At least recharging times are quick on the MINI's maximum 50kW connection, 80 per cent of the battery capable of being replenished in just 35 minutes in such circumstances.

But it is going to be that range figure which is the crux of the matter for potential customers. Obviously, the MINI is up on the deal compared to the Honda e and the MX-30, both of which gamble even more vigorously with the short-range philosophy, but the similarly attractive and far newer (as a car architecture) e-208 can claim more than 200 miles on a charge, while the pioneering Leaf and its Zoe spin-off both go even further again. To be fair to the MINI Electric, we have defended other EVs which have opted for smaller battery packs recently, so it is not some outlier in this regard. Yet, to our surprise, we got into our Level 2 test car with three-quarters of a battery charge in play and its range was showing as a mere 73 miles. On a reasonably warm day. Hmm.

The good news, if you're still reading this because the MINI Electric's limited one-charge territory doesn't put you off, is that the company's decision to go with the smaller battery pack has reaped dividends in keeping much of the MINI Hatch's excellent driving manners intact. Although it is heavier that its petrol-powered Cooper S sibling, the Electric feels nimble and agile by EV standards because its centre-of-gravity is lower than that in other MINIs. Couple it to the wonderful rush of instant-hit torque, as you get in many of the best electric cars, and the zero-emissions MINI is a little hoot to drive. It makes a whirring, whooshing noise when you're working its powertrain harder, rather than piping in any silly noises which we might have expected from this particular car company... although the needless gimmickery isn't totally absent on the MINI E, as it makes a sound like an old Warner Bros cartoon character being electrocuted every time you start it up. That aside, though, we've got few qualms with the 184hp propulsion unit.

Further, we like the way it handles and we also like the way it rides, although it is a touch firmer and jigglier on rougher surfaces than other MINIs, perhaps a direct corollary of the bulk of its mass being mounted low down in the car. The refinement is also epic, as you'd expect of this sub-premium marque of a premium marque, and the Electric is as easy to drive and place on the road as any conventionally powered MINI, with significant one-pedal driving possible if you ramp up the sweetly judged regenerative brakes to their maximum recuperation setting.

OK, rear-seat space is down a tad and while the boot is quoted as the same 211 litres as a regular MINI Hatch with all the chairs in play, the outright volume is reduced to 731 litres if you fold the back bench away. But if all you want from a city EV runaround is two seats, lots of style and punchy performance, the MINI Electric seems well-geared to your needs.

Verdict

All the packaging constraints of a MINI Hatch and its three-door nature are perhaps one thing counting against the Electric model, while the sub-150-mile range is another metric that on paper looks risky and undernourished. However, the MINI Electric doesn't claim to be a long-distance EV; rather, it's a stylish commuter conveyance for semi-urban dwellers. That the third-gen MINI is getting long in the tooth now won't detract from the fact that this is still a strong overall zero-emissions package and one which will have a high level of desirability for fans of the British marque. What we're hoping for is that maybe, for the next model of MINI, the Oxford company will install the impressive electric running gear in some of the more practical models in its line-up, consolidating this intriguing proposition further.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 27 Oct 2020



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2020 MINI Electric Level 2. Image by MINI UK.2020 MINI Electric Level 2. Image by MINI UK.2020 MINI Electric Level 2. Image by MINI UK.2020 MINI Electric Level 2. Image by MINI UK.2020 MINI Electric Level 2. Image by MINI UK.

2020 MINI Electric Level 2. Image by MINI UK.2020 MINI Electric Level 2. Image by MINI UK.2020 MINI Electric Level 2. Image by MINI UK.2020 MINI Electric Level 2. Image by MINI UK.2020 MINI Electric Level 2. Image by MINI UK.








 

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