MINI Hatch Electric [R56] (2020 - 2023) used car review

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By Jonathan Crouch

Introduction

It was always natural that there should be a MINI Electric variant. The 'R56' version of the brand's little Hatch model very much lent itself to full-battery motion and quick-step EV pulling power. The driving range possible between charges wasn't a particular strongpoint from this first generation model, but it'll probably be fine for urban folk, who'll appreciate this car's enthusiastic take on life.

Models

3dr Hatch (EV)

History

It's curious that it took BMW's MINI brand so long to bring us an all-electric version of its iconic little hatch model. The Bavarians were, after all, experimenting with battery-powered versions of this model for years - MINI E prototypes were first produced as long ago as 2008.

Following that, it was always assumed that BMW's first battery-powered car would wear MINI badging but time drifted on, nothing happened and in fact it was the BMW i3, launched in 2016, that reached the EV market first. Following that, we had an electrified MINI - the Countryman PHEV - but no full-battery model. Until Spring 2020 and the launch of this car, the MINI Electric. It sold until late 2023 in first generation form. Let's check it out as a used buy.

What You Get

The MINI Electric is based on the same body shell as the 3-Door Hatch, with a number of specific differences. An embossed MINI Electric logo appears on car's side scuttles, as well as on the tailgate and front radiator grille. There was no five-door model.

The front grille - often embellished with 'Energetic Yellow' finishing also applied to the mirror caps - features the hallmark hexagonal shape but is closed, as the car requires less cooling. The powerpack was just about crammed in beneath the bonnet; you can certainly see why a bigger battery simply wasn't possible.

The visual changes over the standard car are of the detail sort, which means that unless you happen to notice this large charging flap in the rear driver's side flank, the dinky, power-packed profile remains completely familiar and, as on the standard car, came with the no-cost option of a roof that could be either body-coloured, white or black.

Inside, again, the differences over the normal MINI Hatch are minimal, so there's a reasonably premium feel with supportive seats and a rather charismatic ergonomic layout. This digital instrument screen you view through the steering wheel offers a 5.5-inch colour display with a digital speedo in the centre. A battery charge meter flanks this on the right, with a 'Performance Display' to the left, via which you can see whether the car is replenishing its energy or using various degrees of 'E-Power'. Anything else you'll want to know can be found on the dinner plate-sized central circular 6.5-inch infotainment screen, the outer rim of which lights up in various colours depending on your choice of drive mode. It works either by voice, by touching the screen or by using the lower iDrive-style controller between the seats. Whatever your preference, you'll be navigating around a circular menu with Nav, Phone and Audio options on the right, 'MINI Connected' media options on the top left and a further 'MY MINI' section on the bottom left, which is where you'll find 'Driving Information' drive data, 'Technology In Action' e-data and an area allowing you to plan charging times.

In the back, there's good and bad. Despite the scalloped-out seat backs, leg room remains very cramped indeed if there's an adult of more than average height in front of you. Most sports coupes have more knee space than this. It's some compensation though, that you do at least get reasonable levels of head and elbow room. And the boot? Well on a little three-door MINI Hatch, you won't be expecting it to be very big - and it isn't. But at least its capacity isn't compromised over that of the combustion model - which isn't always the case with EVs. Get over the rather high lip and you'll find it to be quite deep, with a good square shape and 211-litres of capacity.

What You Pay

Prices start at around £16,250 (around £18,250 retail) for a '20-plate Cooper S model with 'Level 1' trim, with values rising to around £23,450 (around £25,750 retail) for one of the last 'R56' models with plusher 'Level 3' trim on a late '23-plate. All quoted values are sourced through industry experts cap hpi. Click here for a free valuation.

What to Look For

There aren't many reported issues with this MINI Electric mechanically. You're avoiding most of the common 'R56' hatch issues with this EV model because most of those relate to combustion engine and manual gearbox gremlins. This full-battery design does however, share the complaints of its combustion counterparts when it comes to creaky dashboards and random mobile 'phone connection drop-outs. Apart from that, the electric drive system is as sound as that provided by this car's donor model, the BMW i3. And remember that the battery was covered by an 8 year/100,000 mile warranty from new. There were two recalls you should know about. The first one related to the danger of the spare wheel unexpectedly detaching from the underside. The second recall was made because the front seats of some cars were found to be prone to excessive movement.

Obviously, you'll need to check the charging system. If the car won't charge, it could be a problem with your home electrics (or those at the public charge point you're using). Check the charge light to make sure that electricity really is going through the charge port. And make sure there really is charge in the socket you're using to power from - plug something else into it to see - say, your 'phone. If that charges OK, it could be that your charging cable is demanding too much power, so try another power source. Another problem could be that the circuit may have tripped due to a circuit overload. Or perhaps there could be a problem with the charge cable: this needs to be cared for properly. Repeatedly driving over it (as previous owners may conceivably have done) will damage it eventually. Make sure you do a charge-up before signing for the car you're looking at. When you do this, make sure that when you plug in to start the charge cycle you hear the charge port and the cable locking and engaging as they should; that's all part of the charger basically confirming with the car's onboard computer that everything's good to go before releasing power. But if the charging cable fails to lock as it should, then that won't happen. If there is a failure to lock, the issue could be actuator failure, caused by a blown fuse.

Otherwise, it's just the usual stuff: check the wheels for scratches and the interior for child damage. And insist on a fully stamped-up service history.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2020 MINI Electric excl. VAT) Front brake pads are in the £16-£45 bracket. Rear brake pads start at around £28, though you can pay around £64 for pricier brands. Front brake discs start in the £57 bracket and range up to around £120 - it's around £36-£98 for rears. A wiper blade costs from around £6. Headlamps sit in the £200-£261 bracket. And a rear wing repeater lamp is around £30. Parking lamps in the front bumper go for around £91 each. And a rear lamp will cost you around £97.

On the Road

The car shoots away from rest with appropriate MINI and EV alacrity, with a notable lack of wheelspin, even in the wet. 37mph takes under four seconds and 62mph is crested in 7.3s. So we're talking near-MINI Cooper S levels of performance, though as with all EVs, the maximum speed is restricted - in this case to just 93mph. But then, when was the last time you drove over 93mph? The car sits 18mm higher off the road than a Cooper S to give the battery more clearance, but the centre of gravity is lower because more of the powertrain's mass (T-shaped and fitting beneath the back seats and along the transmission tunnel) is concentrated further down. That powertrain consists of a 181bhp electric motor driven by what by EV standards is a pretty small battery - just 35.6kWh in size. That explains the relatively meagre driving range, WLTP-rated at between 140-145 miles. You can conserve energy by selecting the 'High Energy Recovery' setting you can activate via a toggle switch near the starter tab, which maximises brake regeneration - dramatically so, to an extent that you'll hardly ever need to use the brake pedal. There are also 'Green' and 'Green+' drive mode settings that'll also improve frugality - though at the cost of performance.

On the positive side, the relatively compact nature of that battery has two advantages. First, that this car is lighter than most small EVs, so is much more fun to drive. Sure, it's not quite as 'chuckable' as an ordinary combustion MINI Hatch and there are some slight downsides with ride quality and steering feel, but it's far more fun through the twisty stuff than most other small EVs of its kind. For MINI regulars, that'll matter. The other advantage of this car's relatively small battery pack is that it delivers pretty quick recharging times. Charging from empty with the typical 7.4kW wallbox you'll need to install in your garage will take 3 hours and 12 minutes. With a public AC charging 11kW point, charging would take 2 hours 30 minutes; and using a public DC rapid charger, it'd take just 36 minutes. MINI reckons a typical electricity tariff, you'd be paying around 4p per mile to run this Electric model, with is around 2.5 to 6 times cheaper than an equivalent car with either a petrol or a diesel engine.

Overall

The original Mini, designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, was born out of the Suez crisis oil shortage and the demand for affordable motoring. The first cars rolled off the line at Oxford in the summer of 1959 and so began a global success story which has spanned six decades. As the world faces new environmental, social and economic challenges, so perhaps the arrival of this MINI Electric in 2020 was just as opportune.

We have some reservations about this first generation model's rather limited driving range capability, but if you're going to be regularly town-based anyway, that may not be too much of an issue. And this car's spirited handling will make up for much. Sir Alec Issigonis would have been fascinated by this model. And maybe you will be too.

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