What Is It?
2020 Mini Cooper SE: The First Mini EV Bets on Style Over Range
Forget the Giant Batteries, This Lightweight EV Is Trying to Keep Things Mini
Mini enters the electric-car fray with the new battery-powered 2020 Mini Cooper SE. It's an EV that bets more on style than on outright range or power.
The new Mini's single electric motor puts out 181 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque. That's more than the Cooper's base gas engine but less than some notable all-electric competitors.
We don't have EPA range estimates yet. But on the European cycle, the Cooper SE manages between 146 and 168 miles on a charge. EPA range estimates are often stricter than the European standard, so those numbers could fall a bit. It seems likely the Cooper SE will come close to its corporate cousin, the BMW i3 (which now has 153 miles of maximum all-electric range), but fall well behind mainstream competitors that offer more than 200 miles. For reference, the base 2019 Nissan Leaf is rated at 150 miles of range.
The Cooper SE is capable of DC fast charging at up to 50 kW, enabling an 80% charge in 35 minutes. Some high-priced EVs can accept even more power. But among the Mini's likely price peers, only the Tesla Model 3 does better.
The 2020 Mini Cooper SE will also come standard with navigation, partially as a way to combat range anxiety. The nav system can be set up to display a range circle, so you can easily see how far your current charge will take you. Mini says the nav system will also be able to suggest a "green" route that minimizes energy consumption. Standard app connectivity will let you monitor your vehicle's range and charging status from your smartphone.
A handful of small design tweaks distinguish the Cooper SE, but for the most part it just looks like a Mini Cooper. The asymmetrical wheels are the most obvious visual change, and honestly they look pretty good. They've got a bit of a retro-futurist vibe to go with Mini's overall retro appeal. Otherwise, the main difference is that the SE sits 0.7 inch higher to make room for its battery pack.
The interior receives a few changes as well, but only in terms of adding unique displays tailored to the needs of an EV. Otherwise, the cabin will be pure Mini Cooper, including the cargo space, which remains unchanged.
Mini claims an unladen weight of 3,009 pounds — 319 pounds heavier than a gas-powered Mini — which is quite light for an EV. The Nissan Leaf weighed in at 3,548 pounds on our scales. The lighter weight, combined with multilink rear suspension, will hopefully let the Mini keep its fun-to-drive character. Certain EV fans will also be happy to know that Mini says the Cooper SE will be capable of single-pedal driving thanks to adjustable regenerative braking.
Why Does It Matter?
The alternative-fuel future is imminent, no matter what anyone says, so it's no real surprise to see a new EV entry on the market. The Cooper SE is interesting because it comes to market with less range than most competitors, but it offers that Mini style some shoppers find irresistible.
So far, the EV conversation has largely been dominated by range anxiety. We've often said that if you're not planning on road-tripping your EV, maximum range is less of an issue than the buyer's ability to charge daily.
The Cooper SE will be an interesting study in how the evolving EV market is evolving. The question is whether shoppers will value the Cooper SE's style and features enough to look past its less-than-competitive range.
If the Cooper SE succeeds, it could indicate the beginning of a shift in the growing EV audience toward more traditional shopper concerns such as looks and brand recognition. If massive range numbers become less of a concern, we could start seeing more affordable EVs with smaller battery packs.
What Does It Compete With?
Right now, our favorite affordable EV is the Hyundai Kona Electric, which is more powerful and has more range than the new Mini. On top of a max range of 258 miles, the Kona Electric produces 201 hp and way more torque than makes any sort of sense (290 lb-ft).
On our test track, that power translated to a 6.6-second 0-60 mph run for the Kona (with traction proving the limiting factor). Mini claims a 0-62 mph (because it only published 0-100 km/h times, those metric jerks) time of 7.3 seconds. That slots it right between the Kona Electric and the standard Leaf, but we won't know for sure how it measures up until we can test it ourselves.
The Leaf is another EV standby, and as of this writing, it still holds the crown for best-selling EV of all time. Its attractive price point and ease of use make it a favorite, although funky styling and ergonomics are weaknesses. The Mini Cooper SE looks to make a more emotional appeal than the pocket-protector-practical Leaf.
Then there's the elephant in any EV room, the Tesla Model 3. The Model 3 has range and power advantages along with cachet among the electrorati, but the price of entry remains relatively high. We'll have to wait and see where Cooper SE pricing falls, as Mini products often come with premium markups.
The 2020 Mini Cooper SE relies on Mini style rather than outright range or power for its appeal.