Yes, electric driving range is limited, but MINI’s design makes a great argument for compromise.
So, since you’re reading this review, chances are you’re an all-electric car shopper. And the 2020 MINI Cooper SE, although average in range at about 14o miles on a full charge, still qualifies as an electric car worth some obsession. This tiny electrified hatchback starts at just under $30,000 and tops out at about $37,000. And, as a bonus, it qualifies for federal and state tax breaks that could amount to $10K in incentives.
It looks almost identical to the gas-powered 2-door Mini Cooper, a brand that wears the design integrity crown as the British 60’s “Mod” icon since it was first built. Brought back to the market by BMW, the modern version includes tight German engineering that adds to its bragging rights. Yes, it’s tiny (thus the name), but its iconic design and feel is fully intact in this all-electric version. This is an important part of its overall desirability because most electric cars sport awkward futuristic body styles that buyers have to tolerate to get the advantages of gas-savings and the driving feel of a fully electric car. Not in this case.
That said, there are a few downsides that might make you more open to its competitors. The main one is that the electric driving range is not high. At 140 miles of range per full charge, the VW E-Golf and Nissan Leaf are its main competition with similar price and driving range, and for the price there are several with more than 200 miles-per-charge. However, after driving the MINI SE for a week, I’m convinced that its advantage is not as much about range, but about the difference of advanced driving, fun and techy extras usually found only in luxury cars, and the simply irresistible style of a MINI Cooper.
Who Is It For?
From a purely practical standpoint, this is a car meant for either a single person or one half of a couple. It’s certainly not the family hauler, but it is the ultimate go-cart for in-city travel. On the other hand, people (like me) who are obsessed with MINI’s style, would also be drawn to the craftsmanship, performance, and BMW-esque performance that this MINI exudes.
The appeal is not as much about age and income as it is about personal preference, design and performance sensibilities. Those, I believe, that would love this car include:
•A tiny house owner.
• A single city-dweller with a sense of iconic style. (They may choose between a MINI and a BMW I3, which share the same 181 horsepower engine)
• A young eco-sensitive student with parking challenges at school.
• An eco-friendly, athleisure-favoring art director or web designer with a city commute.
• A funky fashionista who craves a sports car but needs to fetch groceries and fit overnight bags.
• A retired Boomer with no plans to grow up anytime soon.
• A contrarian who is tired of all-electric cars looking alike.
• A driving-minded car geek who can’t afford a Tesla but wants a little street cred when it comes to performance.
What Does It Cost?
The MINI Cooper SE comes in three flavors, each with their own custom color schemes and very specific interiors but all with the same basic electric motor. When you check out the pricing, remember that your Federal Tax Credit and your State’s Credit take a big chunk off the bottom line. The way to think about the value of this car is to clearly see the refinement, tech extras, and driving quality of a BMW that can be had in a mass-market electric car price range.
- Least expensive: “Signature” starts at $29,900. This trim comes with quite a bit of bling – LED lights, heated front seats, Apple CarPlay, MINI Navigation, Active driving assistant, remote heating/cooling, remote charging, digital display cockpit.
- Mid-range: “Signature Plus” starts at $33,900. This trim gets everything the Signature has but adds a panoramic moonroof, power-folding mirrors, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, universal garage door opener, park distance control (rear), and Harman/Kardon Sound System.
- Top of the line: “Iconic” starts at $36,900. This trip gets “all of the above” plus: Leather steering wheel, front and rear distance control, parking assistant, head up display, 8.8” touchscreen nav system, wireless phone charging, SE specific Floor mats. There are also some very unique wheel designed inspired by British power outlets and looks like something out of an Austin Powers movie.
- Price of the model we test drove: About $44,900 including delivery. Keep in mind that buyers may qualify for tax incentives that will defray the cost a bit.
What’s The Inside Story?
Because I love the kitschy, iconic design (think Hello Kitty or The Yellow Submarine), MINI’s interior design makes me smile. Large, circular crafted portholes of varying sizes and functionality are designed to inform you while making you feel special. As in all MINIs, the ergonomics are driver-focused, and the dials are super easy to see and reach. Of course, there is a USB port and Bluetooth connectivity, as one would expect in a modern machine. And my test vehicle had the upgraded wireless phone charger and Harman/Kardon sound system which did justice to made my Live Tedeschi Trucks playlist.
Although many layers of information are digitally accessed from the main screen, the important, commonly used ones are not. For climate control, regular manual knobs are located just under the main screen. And this is climate control with a purpose. A two-zone air system for interior heat comes via a heat pump that takes heat generated by the motor, drive control, and high-voltage battery first through outside air, then into the cabin. It uses 75% less energy than conventional heating systems, according to MINI. As for cooling, all MINI SE trims feature the remote cooling device from your Smartphone on the MINI Connected Remote App. Yes, you can cool your car off on hot days and warm it up in the winter while you’re still cozy at home, work, or play.
Getting A Charge
All you need to know about the charging capabilities of MINI SE is that is set up for all types of charging situations. There are three:
1) A conventional household power socket (yes, they suggest it for this car) – it takes 24 hours for a full charge.
2) A MINI Wallbox (around $540), a home 240-volt outlet (which can be installed by an electrician), or public charging – it takes 8 hours of charging time from empty to full.
3) Public DC fast-charging (50 kW, only found in public places) – it gives you an 80% charge in a half-hour.
When you commit to an electric car with a limited range, I truly believe you need to have access or be willing to rent a gas-powered car for longer trips. Save yourself the anxiety attack and only use it when you know you can make the trip well within range.
Keyless Is Key
I have already sworn an oath that I will never own a car that does not have keyless entry. If you don’t yet have it, believe me, you’re in for a real treat. It’s also worth mentioning that some of the same key technology features BMW provides in its luxury cars are built into the MINI Cooper’s “keyless” key. They call it “Comfort Access,” but it’s really just the ability to open and lock your driver’s door without fishing the key out of your purse. Because the Comfort Access technology is dependent upon a battery, there is also an Integrated Key that you can use in case the battery dies and you need to get into the car. You may never need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad you have it.
Everything Looks Better on the MINI Dashboard!
The 6.5-inch round touch screen panel dominates the dash and is graphically pleasing with bright, colorful layers of infotainment and driver choices. Apple Car Play looks great and works great on it, but this model also offers navigation on all trims. Depending on the driving mode you’re in, the ring that surrounds the screen turns red for Sport Mode, White for MID, or green for Green and Green +. The main screen has a depth of information and infotainment. There are battery levels, driver assistance, check engine messages, details on range, power, temperature, mileage, etc. When you get into the navigation screens (standard on all trims), traffic detection is a plus to keep you informed of the speed (this is one of my favorite features in modern cars).
My test car was a top of the line “Iconic” trim, and I had the helpful head-up display, which comes up in a “teleprompter” style plastic card right above the steering wheel. The steering wheel has buttons for cruise control on the left and volume, hands-free voice control button and phone activation button on the right, along with arrow keys to change the style on the digital odometer display.
All the Safety Features You Want and Need
From a safety aspect, driving a small car can give you pause, so standard safety features mean a lot to quell my nerves. Well, good news. Along with German engineering comes safety. Mini Cooper SE comes with high-end safety systems like Approach Control Warning, which prevents head-on crashes by applying brakes when a collision is likely. MINI also has Daytime Pedestrian Collision Mitigation, a system that warns you when people are walking in close range to the car. There is also a system that will warn you if it detects you are fatigued. Of course, there are standard features like ABS, brake assist and stability control to keep you safe, and the MINI Cooper SE has 4 wheel drive – not the kind you climb hills with, but the kind that makes it easier to drive in slippery conditions. Also, side-impact beams and dual-stage airbags for both driver and passenger give peace of mind. My vehicle also had front and rear distance control parking sensors, and they worked great.
Drive Modes Fit Your Driving Style
With three drive modes and single pedal driving (keep reading) that can regenerate the battery by routing energy back into it, you can change the dynamics of your car based on your mood. A switch on the dash gives you four dynamic modes that each have their own purpose. My favorite mode was Mid Mode. It had just the right combination of braking on the pedal as performance when you need it. Sport mode was a bit “rough” as would be expected from a MINI – you feel every bump in the road. I’m more of a comfort junky but not so ready to give up all controls to the Green or Green+ modes.
The drive modes maximize the single-pedal driving technology at work in this car. The MINI Cooper SE, like many other electric cars, uses the accelerator pedal to both accelerate and slow the car. Press it to accelerate, lift off to brake. It takes some getting used to but it uses less battery and can even replenish your some of your battery power.
- Sport Mode: Gives you consistently sporty driving agility and takes away energy-saving limitations.
- Mid Mode: Gives you balanced tuning. For me, it was still a little constricting on the pedal braking.
- Green Mode: Makes the car do the most regenerative work, pulling back on acceleration, and making the car brake very hard upon pulling back on the pedal.
- Green + Mode: Gives you the least acceleration power, the most regenerative braking, and makes the car basically uncomfortable to drive. For me, I’d save this for when I had range anxiety and had to crawl home.
Soundless Performance, Awesome Start-Up Sound
Taking this electric car on a drive is a joy ride. Tight cornering? Check. Crazy-fast acceleration? Check. Oh, and the silent engine and space-age sonic whirring when you start the motor? Priceless. What fun is having an electric car if you can’t geek out on the futuristic features? Once you get used to the pedal feel and build up muscle in the front of your leg from pulling back your foot to brake on the same pedal that makes you go, driving this car is a thrill. With the weight of the battery firmly holding the base of the car steady, corners are easier and feel completely solid at any reasonable speed. It’s just plain fun to drive fast and tight with absolutely no noisy residue. Just like keyless entry, you’ll have a hard time going back to gas power.
Interior Comfort And Space
Think of it this way: MINI Cooper SE has more cargo space than a Mazda Miata, but it’s just as iconic and sporty. A great feature is that MINI has finally figured out how to put the battery under the vehicle and not take up all the trunk space. It’s also configured nicely to make the rear seats fold down for luggage and anything else you might buy at Costco (within reason). The Iconic trim features some very stylish “Chanel-style” leather seats that are as comfy as they look; Signature and Signature Plus models offer leatherette seating and all come with a panoramic moonroof option, which opens the space nicely.
Color Palette And Luxury Extras
The car I drove was the “Iconic” trim, and that means the extras included a larger 8.8” nav screen (others are only 5.5”), MINI Park Assist, MINI Heads-Up Display, wireless phone charging station in the console, and Parking Distance in both front and rear, which beeps when you get too close to the curb. Adding the Moon Roof and super awesome “Chanel style” quilted seat design, this top-of-the-line version places this MINI into the premium or even luxury category. Only you can decide if it’s worth an additional $7K to get these features.
The Iconic also adds color to the regular choices of grey, silver, black, red, BRC (British Racing Green) and Enigmatic Black, which is actually not black but, rather, a luscious navy with metallic specks only available on the Iconic model. A very cool feature in this color palette is the clever use of bright greenish/yellow mirrors and tiny front bumper accents in the same color to hint at its EV soul. It’s a matter of personal taste, but I think it makes the SE stand out as something different.
Ten Things We Liked About The 2020 Mini Cooper SE
• Its MINI-ness.
• Driving excitement.
• Interior design aesthetic.
• When a hatchback is also a sporty car.
• Refinement and technology usually featured only in luxury brands.
• Luxury extras available like Park Assist and larger nav screen.
• Its clever “hello” and “goodbye” song.
• Chanel-style crisscross faux leather seating in the Iconic trim.
• Low beams and high beam lights that switch on and off automatically.
• Keyless Go key.
What We Listened to in the MINI Cooper SE
The silent engine and thrilling drive demand a great playlist. This is what sounds fantastic on the Harman/Kardon sound system.
Disclosure: Mini Cooper provided the SE for this test drive. All opinions are my own.