The 2009 MINI E was the company’s first electric model.
The MINI E was essentially a converted Cooper Hardtop with a range of around 100 miles per charge that was available only for lease at a whopping $850 per month.
It was intended to be more of a real-world test of the technology than a true production model. Just 500 were offered in a handful of states, then rounded up and returned at the end of their terms.
Fast-forward a decade and MINI has finally introduced a real-deal all-electric car that you can buy and keep. The MINI Cooper SE is … well, essentially a converted Cooper Hardtop with a range of 110 miles per charge, but there’s more progress than that makes it sound.
Instead of packing its battery in the rear seat and cargo area like the original did, the new 32.6-kilowatt-hour pack fits mostly where the gas tank used to be, so there’s no encroachment on cabin or cargo space. Under the hood, a 181 hp electric motor driving the front wheels replaces the internal combustion engine and transmission, and the no-longer-needed grille is covered by a bulging plastic cap.
Aside from all of that, an asymmetrical wheel design, a nifty digital gauge cluster and some dayglow colors splashed about, the Cooper SE is pretty much the same as the rest of the Hardtop lineup.
Pricing is also lot better than the MINI E. It starts at $30,750, which makes it the least expensive electric car, but it also qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit and various local incentives that can reduce that by an additional $5,000 in some states.
The Cooper SE makes a quick sprint to 60 mph in about seven seconds and is also quick to charge. At a public DC fast-charging station, 80 percent of the battery can be replenished in 36 minutes, but it’ll take four hours at a more common Level 2 charger.
No, that won’t get you very far, let alone the over 300 miles that a Tesla Model 3 can go, but the argument for this type of electric car is that if the battery was bigger it’d cost a lot more and most people don’t drive more than 30 or 40 miles a day, anyway.
But sometimes you do, and that’s where things get tricky. While I found the 110-mile range to be spot-on accurate, there aren’t too many of those fast chargers around and, when you’re on the bubble with a low charge, decisions have to be made. This is unfortunate, because the Cooper SE is the kind of car you’d want to drive a lot in a carefree kind of way.
Floor the accelerator and the power comes on hard enough to slam your head into the headrest, which is softer than most, perhaps for this very reason. There’s plenty of torque steer tugging at the wheel when you do, but the Cooper SE may be the best handling MINI in the lineup. It didn’t skimp on the tires, which are grippy Goodyear Eagle F1 performance models instead of the rock-solid eco-friendly type often fitted to electric cars, and its low center of gravity keeps it flat through the curves. The requisite MINI to go-cart comparisons has never been more accurate.
The interior has the same premium trim you get in other Hardtops and can be optioned with goodies like a a head-up display and a wireless charging mount in the armrest to go with its wireless Apple CarPlay phone integration.
The Cooper SE also has standard automatic emergency braking, but that’s basically it as far as driver aids are concerned. Features like adaptive cruise control and active lane-keeping assist are not available. This takes a little of the modernity off this mod-looking little car, but an available self-parking system that can steer it into a spot does go a long way toward making it a perfect city car. That is, if you can find a city that’s perfect for it.
Unlike in Europe, where people also drive less, there aren’t many in the U.S. with easily accessible and affordable public charging stations, so you really need a home where you can plug it in to charge overnight. At least it won’t take up much room in the garage when you do.
2020 MINI Cooper SE
Base price: $30,750
As tested: $37,750
Type: 4-passenger, 2-door front-wheel-drive hatchback
Motor: Single electric
Power: 181 hp, 199 lb-ft torque
MPGe: 108 combined