EV’s have come a long way in a relatively short time. Just a few years ago, your choices were mostly a Tesla or a Nissan LEAF. Other manufacturers were test-marketing cars, but the choices were limited.
We now have electric vehicles offered in pretty much every price point from the Chevy Bolt, start at $26,595 up to stratospheric vehicles like the Lucid, Porsche and Mercedes all easy eclipsing the $100k mark.
The truth is, if EV’s are really going to make a big dent in the marketplace – government efforts notwithstanding – they’re going to have to be affordable. But just because an EV is affordable doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck driving a golf cart. Enter the all-electric Mini Cooper SE. So can an EV Mini charm us like the rest of the lineup, or will we be pulling the plug? Let’s find out.
Charmed, I’m Sure
Well, if first impressions are everything, call us smitten.
The best news is the SE looks exactly like the rest of the Mini family. No “Spaceship, look at me, I’m an EV!” The SE is offered exclusively in the 3-door hatchback body style, and that’s actually our favorite – the mini-est of the Minis. It’s got that classic charm and bite-size proportions that just feel uniquely Mini.
Large round LED headlights with integrated driving lights and rings that change color and flash when signaling, give the Mini a friendly face, while a large grille with a solid crossbar add to the charm. We even like the S-trim hood scoop, although we’re not sure it does much in an EV.
The 3-door has the best proportions to our eyes, and our tester’s Chili Red paint with white roof and mirror caps is classic sportiness. And the standard panoramic moonroof lets the sunshine in. We also loved the 17-inch Roulette spoke wheels – giving an athletic air and adding a little bling.
The rear is more of the same. There’s more to love with standard “Union Jack” taillights, familiar winged Mini badging, and contrasting lower fascia – er, no tailpipes, though! The back hatch is the only place you’ll find any mention of the EV-ness of the SE, with a unique yellow circular badge with a plug-in motif. The message is clear – this is a Mini, despite the powertrain.
Smart, Stylish, Sporty
Inside, like the outside, gives little away that this is an EV. And again, we don’t mind that one bit. First, the Mini was already a great place to spend time. And second, it makes a very easy transition for buyers from gas to EV vehicle.
Open the door and you’re greeted by Mini’s ultra-supportive, heated front driver sport seats, covered by optional Punch Carbon black leather in our tester. Also, like other 3-door models, the rear seat is tiny. Maybe for small children…but just maybe. Better off to flip the seats down and enjoy the larger cargo space. Speaking of cargo space, while the Mini’s hatch is not the largest, there’s no loss of space with the conversion to the EV powertrain – so if it worked for you before, it would work here.
Up front is where you want to be, though. Grab the fat 3-spoke steering wheel, and you’ll se a cool 5.5-inch digital gauge cluster that looks like a smartphone tipped on its side. It’s well thought out, and serves up charge level, driving range (probably the two most important things to an EV driver) nav, and other info.
Helping to set a nice vibe is color-adjustable ambient interior lighting – it even adjusts to the driver-mode setting. We loved how it bathed the cabin in red when in Sport mode! And speaking of soaking it all in, we also loved the sound of the harman/kardon premium audio system – great speakers plus a small cabin equals big sound!
And even though the instrumentation is pretty complete, out tester had the optional heads-up display that reduced the need to look away from the road.
Like other Mini’s starting in 2022, info-tainment is now handled by a larger 8.8-inch touchscreen, with a new user interface and useful stuff including Apple CarPlay, Satellite Radio and built-in Mini Navi. You’ll also find EV specific screens in the system, for charging selection, usage, and all.
Another feature unique to the EV model is an app that lets you dial up your desired temp before you get in. This is really handy, especially when the vehicle is charging, since heating and cooling can be big battery drainers.
Speaking of toasted buns, the SE has a unique heat-pump that uses 75 percent less energy than a traditional electric heater – smart!
Below the touchscreen is a handy dual-zone climate control system and below that another Mini favorite, shiny chrome toggle switches that wouldn’t look out of place on a WWII British fighter plane. One giveaway you’re in an EV, the center toggle switch that starts up the vehicle is in bright yellow (matching that exterior badge), replacing the red toggle in gas-powered vehicles.
A Whole ‘Nother Kind of Fun
The drive is unexpected, but delightful. We’ve driven a variety of EV’s, from the ones that have thrilled us like BMW’s i4 and Kia EV6, to pleasant runabouts like the Kia Niro EV. So, we wondered which side the Mini would fall on.
Call us thrilled! It starts with a powerful 181 horsepower and 199 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s very close to the Cooper S with 189 horsepower, but it’s a very different experience. We loved the instant torque from the EV, the near silence and complete lack of vibration. Expect 0-60 mph from the SE in the mid 6’s, but like other EV’s it feels faster. And in something as low-slung as a Mini it feels much faster!
Another EV fun zone is regenerative braking. The Mini gives you two modes, and in the more aggressive one, you get so much braking you only have to back off the accelerator and you slow down quickly and even come to a complete stop. That’s a trip!
So, let’s talk about the EV questions you’ll probably have. Range? Mini says an estimated range fully charged of 110 miles. We’re scratching our heads because the best we saw was in the mid 90’s. And frankly either number is on skinny side of comfort. Our recent test of the Mazda MX-30 had about the same range, and the same concerns.
Charging? Well, small batteries do charge quickly, though and Mini says the car’s battery can be fast charged to 80 percent in 35 minutes. If you’re using home AC charging at 7.4 kW that takes about four hours. Just plug in directly to you home outlet and you’re talking overnight.
We were also thrilled with the Mini’s ride and handling – we found the SE to be surprisingly supple and comfy. And with the batteries keeping the weight low in the chassis, you feel even more go kart-like than the gas-powered minis. The lack of engine vibration even creates a purity of feeling the steering that’s just delectable! All in all, the SE is a ball to drive, and yet it’s also the most comfortable and relaxing of the 3-door variants. Very cool.
Will the EV’s Price Shock Me?
Yet another nice surprise – affordability. The SE starts at $33,900, quite reasonable for a loaded EV. Our tester added Leather seats ($500), Driver Assistance Group ($950) and White roof ($500). Add in Destination at $850, and we rang the bell at $36,700. We’re not sure where the government kickbacks will apply at the moment, but even so, we think this is excellent value. Your closest competitor, a comparably equipped Cooper S, comes in at $36,975.
Competitors are an interesting lot. We loved the BMW I4, but that came in at $64,820! The Kia EV6 came in at $48,710. The truth is, just like the gas-powered models, there’s nothing really like the cheeky little Mini!
Everything we love about the Mini, plus thrilling EV performance and eco-friendly feel goodness. The 2023 Mini Cooper SE is the affordable sports car of the future – today!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.