Ars Technica released their review of the Cooper SE and they have some concerns regarding the car.
The talk about the SE's price, range, interior design and firm ride as areas of concern. The also point out how fun the car is to drive and how it's a great city car.
The last part of the article sums it up best. "At the end of the day, the SE is not a BEV for everyone. But for city dwellers looking for a fun electric ride".
We can't say we weren't warned. When Mini first shared technical details about its new Mini Cooper SE battery electric vehicle last summer, it didn't hide the fact that the little hatchback would only carry 32.6kWh of lithium-ion on board. At the time, I speculated that the car's 148 to 167 mile (235-270km) European range would translate to about 130 miles (209km) once the EPA got hold of the numbers. As it turns out, I was being optimistic. In fact, the EPA calculates the range of this new BEV at just 110 miles (177km), a figure that is probably low enough to get some of you to stop reading any further.
Perhaps an easier way of expressing that idea would be "Mini by name, mini by nature." If you're looking for a BEV to fill the role of a family car, shuttling 2.4 kids and taking annual road trips, look elsewhere. But almost no one who wants those things would look at a Mini Cooper in the first place. The cars might be a lot bigger than Alec Issigonis' groundbreaking machine from the swinging '60s, but they're still dwarfed by most other four-wheelers, and people buy these cars because they look cool and they're fun to drive, not for the last word in practicality.
And on that front, there's ample reason to like the Mini Cooper SE. My supposition from last year regarding the high probability of the electric Mini being a good car to drive was spot-on. Minis are supposed to be fun, and this one is, with direct handling and plenty of torque. Its electric motor drives the front wheels, the way a Mini should, and with 181hp (135kW) and 207lb-ft (270Nm), it's just about the same in the power and torque stats as the conventionally powered Mini Cooper S. At 3,009lbs (1,364kgs) it's only 10-percent heavier than the internal combustion Mini, too, and thanks to a T-shaped arrangement for the battery pack, you don't actually lose out on interior space in the switch to electric mobility—although this being a Mini, there wasn't a huge amount of that to begin with.
Mini is owned by BMW, and so we can see the influence of the i3 in the way you drive this car with just the accelerator pedal. It's a different driving experience to the Kia Niro EV I tested last week, but the experience is so intuitive that, within the first half-hour, it felt entirely natural.
You can toggle the amount of energy regeneration that occurs when you lift your foot off the pedal, but it only goes between high and low. For cruising along, there's a slight detent in the travel of the accelerator that lets you coast—you quickly learn where this is thanks to the power gauge on the little main instrument display. Push more, and the torque comes almost instantly. Push less, and you start to shed velocity. Lifting off the pedal entirely will bring you to a complete stop, but since there's no brake-hold feature, you will need to put your foot on the brake at a stop light, particularly if you're on any kind of gradient.
One thing I have to note is how stiff the suspension feels. Although the car actually rides an inch or so higher than a conventional Cooper S, the ride is firmer than many a supercar. Consequently, you quickly learn to alter your line to avoid potholes and bumps to save your spine from being rattled.
There are four different drive modes, and they'll be familiar to anyone who has driven an i3. Sport gives you the most power and torque, with the trade-off that it will also deplete the battery that little bit faster. By default, the car will be in its middle setting, but you can also toggle into Eco or Eco+ to eke out a couple more miles of range, with the understanding that the accelerator pedal remaps to limit the amount of power and acceleration on tap (and in Eco+, it does things like kill the AC and limit top speed to 65mph/105km/h).
How far do you really drive in a day anyway?
In my hands, the Mini Cooper SE's range worked out to be about 1 mile per percent state of charge. For running errands and the like, that proved perfectly practical. As I still currently lack a way to charge EVs at home, I made a couple of trips to the nearest DC fast charger, the same Electrify America station I used with last week's Kia Niro EV.
The electric Mini will fast-charge but only at a maximum power draw of 50kW. However, with such a small battery, this translates to pretty quick turnarounds—I went from 35- to 80-percent SoC in 20 minutes the first time and from 25 to 95 percent in 38 minutes on the second occasion. Using an AC charger, the Mini Cooper SE can draw a maximum of 7.4kW, which should refill your battery in under four hours. But expect something closer to eight hours if you have to plug into a 110V socket.
My main complaint about the Mini Cooper SE isn't actually related to its meager range. The car is competitively priced at $29,900 and still qualifies for the full IRS tax credit of $7,500, so it's an affordable way to go fully electric, even if you shell out the extra $7,000 for the Iconic trim, which adds all the toys.
Rather, it's the interior design that bothers me. The main instrument display is fixed to the steering column, so if the wheel rim obscures part of the display for you, changing the angle or reach of the wheel probably won't solve that. And while toggle switches and the like felt interestingly retro when the Mini brand was first revived two decades ago, now they just feel contrived. And I really don't like the way the infotainment system literally squishes a rectangular screen into a round hole on the dash. (Speaking of infotainment, it will also feel familiar if you've been in a relatively recent BMW. Apple CarPlay is standard, but there is no Android Auto support for those of you who like your cellphones from Google.)
At the end of the day, the SE is not a BEV for everyone. But for city dwellers looking for a fun electric ride, I'd probably recommend this one over the smaller-battery Nissan Leaf.