MINI Cooper Electric review

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The MINI Hatch is as engaging as ever in its latest form. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the Cooper Electric version.

Ten Second Review

The fun-to-drive MINI formula is alive and well in this, the fourth BMW interpretation of the brand's iconic small hatch. Though petrol power continues, here we focus on the EV variant, now with a dedicated platform that improves packaging and allows for the bigger battery required for greater driving range. But the looks and the drive experience will both feel satisfyingly familiar.

Background

The latest version of the marque's iconic little hatch is the fourth since BMW reinterpreted the Issigonis original at the turn of the century, but it's the older British design that it draws on most for this visual update. The underlying technology of course is anything but retro, this being a design that must straddle MINI's transition into being an EV-only brand. Which is why, though a differently-platformed petrol version of this MK5 model will be offered, it's the electric variants that were launched first and are our focus here.

Unlike its predecessor, this new-era MINI Electric gets a bespoke electrified platform, the development of which came from Spotlight Automotive, a joint venture between BMW and Chinese giant Great Wall Motor (who also make a key competitor to this car, the Ora Funky Cat). That shared development approach is important because it's enabled MINI to keep the cost of this car at reasonable levels. An essential if it's to better the sales performance of its EV predecessor, which accounted for a fifth of all the brand's production.

Driving Experience

The original MINI Electric was a bit of a bodge job - essentially a combustion-powered MINI Hatch with batteries installed instead. Forget about that now. Thanks to its purpose-designed Spotlight Automotive platform, this is now a properly dedicated EV, though it retains the kind of sophisticated multi-link rear axle that's still unusual to find on a car this small. The feeble 32.6kWh battery that so restricted the driving range of the original model gets replaced by a choice of two gutsier battery packs. Either a 40.7kWh unit for the base Cooper Electric E, which powers a 182bhp motor and provides for a range of up to 190 miles. Or a 54.2kWh battery for the top Cooper Electric SE, which powers a 215bhp motor and provides for a range of up to 250 miles, a previously unheard-of figure for an electric MINI. The 62mph from rest sprint occupies 7.3s in the E, en route to 99mph; or 6.7s in the SE en route to 106mph. A faster John Cooper Works version is planned for the future.

MINI hopes that whatever your choice, you'll be up for the usual 'go-kart' handling feel at the wheel; this still isn't the small EV you'd choose if you wanted anything approaching a cosseting standard of ride, so try before you buy. The driving experience you get is dictated by your choice between six so-called 'MINI Experience' modes, some of which are about drive dynamics (like 'Core', 'Green' and 'Go-kart'), while others are about cabin audience ('Personal', 'Vibrant', 'Timeless' and 'Balance'). Each 'Experience' mode gets its own soundtrack, with 'Go-kart' the sportiest and 'Balance' the silliest (with a 'soundscape' based on forest noises like the rippling of the stream and the chirping of crickets). The settings correspond to individual cabin lighting themes too.

Design and Build

The first four BMW MINI models simply evolved generation-to-generation. This version, in contrast, is the first since the R50 model of 2000 to base its styling primarily on the 1950s Alec Issigonis original. Like that car (and the R50), it's only to be available as a 3-door Hatch (though in time, we should also get a convertible). Customers of the previous 5-door Hatch model are to be directed either to the new generation Countryman SUV or the new Aceman small crossover (a Clubman replacement model).

Styling chief Oliver Heimler has based this latest Hatch model's penmanship around the company's current DNA-defined design language, called 'Charismatic Simplicity'. You might think it doesn't look much different; the silhouette's certainly recognisable, with its flush glazing, 'floating' contrast-coloured roof and blacked-out window pillars. But much is different too. There's a fraction less body length, the wheels have been further pushed out to the extremities of the body, the previous plastic wheel arch cladding is gone and chrome has been stripped away from the exterior. At the front, the octagonal grille is new and the trademark circular headlamps now come with three different LED lighting signatures. Oh and it's no longer mandatory to get Union Jack tail light graphics; two other patterns are available.

You might find the interior more noticeably different, though like every MINI, the cabin's centrepiece remains a familiar large circular central display - here 9.5-inches in size. Now though, it's the only one; there's nothing to view through the re-designed steering wheel except the new textile-trimmed dashboard panel - though a head-up display can be specified. The minimalist fascia is largely shorn of buttons and the gear selector has been relocated to a toggle beneath the central screen (rather nauseously now known as the 'MINI Interaction Unit'). You sit low, which adds to the promised 'sporty' feel. And the previous round vents are replaced by slimmer ones.

The seats lack the previous model's adjustable thigh bolster but remain decently supportive. You won't be expecting much in terms of rear seat space - and you shouldn't; they're still very much for small children only, which is as it should be because if you wanted rear seat space, you'd have chosen a Countryman or an Aceman. What has changed (thanks to better packaging and the new platform) is boot space, up to 200-litres - extendable to 800-litres with the rear backrest folded.

Market and Model

Prices start at £30,000 for the 40.7kWh Cooper Electric E; it's £34,500 for the 54.2kWh Cooper Electric SE. And MINI boasts that both variants are its most connected cars ever, courtesy of a revised 'My MINI' app; and a "Hey MINI" personal assistant voice control system, via which owners can choose digital depiction of a British bulldog named Spike as their screen avatar of choice. There are three available trim levels - 'Classic', 'Exclusive' and 'Sport' - and all are well equipped. The knitted textile dashboard gets a two-tone houndstooth pattern with 'Exclusive' trim and a multi-coloured finish with 'Sport' spec. The black synthetic leather sports seats get perforated trim with 'Exclusive'-spec and contrast red stitching on 'Sport' models. You'll need to avoid base spec to get a contrast-coloured roof, a 'Spray-Tech' top which blends three different colours.

Key available features include 'Park Assist Plus' parking set-up, 'Digital Key Plus' (which allows you to unlock the car with your smartphone) and the 'Remote 360' surround view monitoring system. On longer journeys, the Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go function, and the 'MINI Driving Assistant' enhance comfort. The 'MINI Interaction Unit' central screen offers 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto', but only the former fills the whole circumference of the 24cm-diameter OLED round display. Third-party apps like Spotify now fit and work in it too.

Cost of Ownership

We gave you the battery range figures in our 'Driving' section - 190 miles from the Electric E model's 40.7kWh battery; and 250 miles from the Electric SE variant's 54.2kWh battery. Various tools help you maximise range: the 'Green' 'MINI Experience' mode - and a charge-optimised routing function for the navigation. Opting for the rangier variant gets you an increase in charging speed from 75kW to 95kW. Neither figure is particularly impressive, but at a rapid DC public charger, a 10 to 80% spell of replenishment can be completed in 30 minutes. AC home charging as possible via the usual 7kW or 11kW wallbox options.

By using MINI Navigation, the vehicle will ensure the high-voltage battery reaches the ideal temperature for efficient charging in advance, thus reducing charging time. Customers can also optimise charging for their schedule, setting charging start times, active charging windows, and target battery capacity by departure time. Finally, drivers can instruct that the interior cabin is air conditioned by a set departure time. The 'My MINI' app provides a convenient overview of the vehicle status and charging process, including current battery status, charging-optimised route plan and charging history.

Summary

If you can avoid the carping conclusion that this is the MINI Electric we really ought to have had from the very beginning, there's lots to like about the company's second generation EV small hatch. The brand hasn't attempted to broaden this model's customer demographic by making the car bigger, or the ride less unyielding. But dedicated MINI Hatch followers will probably rejoice to see that. Better a MINI that knows its market.

And if you fit that product remit but wished the original model had a longer operating range and a bit more technology, you're well served here. You could argue this to be the most characterful MINI model BMW has yet made; it's certainly a refreshing antidote to many of the other rather vanilla EV offerings in this segment. And a properly modern interpretation of the Issigonis original.

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