• First Drive: 2020 Mini Cooper SE

First Drive: 2020 Mini Cooper SE

The Mini goes Electric…again.

Dan Heyman By: Dan Heyman January 28, 2020

Miami, FL — When you really think about it, the Mini Cooper SE (yes; “E” does mean “electric” in this case) pretty much had to happen, right? After all, Mini’s been dabbling in various “e” platforms since about ’07 with the very limited-run Mini e, then again in 2017 when the Countryman S E plug-in hybrid was released. Indeed, you had to think that eventually, Mini would want to e-ify its most popular model, the three-door hatch.

Then there’s the whole fact that the Mini is and has kind of always been a “trendy” car, even though it takes its inspiration from a car that was popular not necessarily because it was so hip, but because it was so smartly packaged and affordable. Which may have made it “hip” in the end, but I digress. The modern Mini has a lot more competition than did the classic so it needs to stand out for different reasons. It does so with retro styling, cool colour choices, and funky interior bits. Not to mention an athletic chassis set-up and peppy turbo motors.

Today, though, styling and a zippy chassis doesn’t do as much for a car’s trendiness as they once did; it’s all about EV power and alternative fuels so it was time for one of the world’s trendiest cars to get on that bandwagon in a big way.

First Drive: 2020 Mini Cooper SE

It comes equipped with a 32.6 kWh battery mounted in its floor and since the Cooper SE sits higher off the ground than the basic 3-door, interior space isn’t affected because the battery is able to sit lower down. So there’s 211L of storage space with the rear seats up, and 731L once you drop them down. Passenger space isn’t affected either, which is good because the back seat isn’t the roomiest place to begin with. Power, meanwhile, is rated at 181 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque fed to the front wheels through a 1-speed direct drive transmission. Which should make for some pretty zippy acceleration thanks to immediate power delivery. More on this in a minute.

The styling changes are obvious but not retina-searing; the yellow motif that starts on the lips of the 17” wheels seen here (16s are standard) continues to the badges on the front fenders, the “S” on the “Cooper S” badge on the tailgate, and culminates with a pinstripe that bisects the front grille. You’ll find it sprinkled on various parts of the interior as well – the floormat, dash insets, and gear ever. Like the exterior, it’s subtle enough but then again thigs are all relative in that Mini interiors aren’t all that subtle to begin with. The result, for the Mini SE, is an interior that you can tell is a Mini; a somewhat special Mini, but a Mini nevertheless.

First Drive: 2020 Mini Cooper SE

First Drive: 2020 Mini Cooper SE

I have to say, though: it is a cool-looking car, this. Say what you want about those ultra-futuristic 17” wheels seen on my tester, but they are daring and I’m surprised to see something this avant-garde make production. There are, of course, more traditional styles to choose from but these do fit the quasi-futuristic, electric ethos to a “T”. The rest of the detailing, meanwhile, especially in the gray colouring seen here is good; that colour really makes those yellow accents pop, but in just the right way. The Union Jack embossed into the taillights, meanwhile, is standard on all SE trims and provides the icing on the styling cake and helps the Mini fit in among the murals found throughout Miami’s Wynwood art district.

Actually, just mentioning the interior’s yellow bits is a bit of a short-sell in that the SE gets one pretty main feature that no other Minis get, and that’s an all-digital gauge cluster shared with the BMW i3 (which, as it happens, also lends the SE some of its mechanical bits). Your traditional stuff is there – speedometer, a trip computer, etc. – but there’s also a power flow meter to let you know what’s going on under your seat and ahead under the hood. You can also ask the infotainment display (there are two options: a 6” and optional eight-incher) to display your power flow. It makes it a little easier to track your range; the European NCAP ratings find the Cooper SE can do 230-270 km on a charge, but here in Canada, where the rating system is a little stricter, it’s more like 177 km.

First Drive: 2020 Mini Cooper SE

First Drive: 2020 Mini Cooper SE

First Drive: 2020 Mini Cooper SE

That’s a pretty big gulf to be sure but when you take into account that so many Canadian drivers spend their time in adverse conditions that will sap range, you can understand why. Either way; that figure does mean that the Cooper SE has less range than the Chevrolet Bolt or Volkswagen e-Golf, which is a strike against the Mini to be sure. Luckily, it comes with DC fast charge capabilities as standard and that will get you from 0-80 per cent battery capacity in about 35 minutes. A wall-mount charger will also be sold alongside the Cooper SE and while there’s no official pricing on that yet, you’ll likely be looking in the range of  $1,300 plus installation.

Speaking of pricing: the SE starts at $39,990 for a “Classic” trim, then on to Premier Line trim for $44,990 that adds 17” alloys, panoramic sunroof, Harman Kardon audio, power-folding side mirrors, and rear park-distance control. The top-spec Premier+ Line, meanwhile, comes in at $47,990 and adds the larger touchscreen display, head-up display, wireless charging, and leather upholstery. This, of course, comes before the government rebates for EVs offered in the various Canadian markets.

First Drive: 2020 Mini Cooper SE

We’ll get to efficiency in a minute, but what does 40 grand-plus get you in the performance department? Well, as expected, power delivery is immediate from throttle tip-in on. I’m serious when I say that I was pushed back in the seat on hard acceleration, the SE feeling much more like a performance car in these situations than its compact three-box styling suggests. The acceleration can be toned down a little with a switch to either the “Green +”, “Green”, or “Mid” drive modes as they put efficiency above all else, meaning throttle inputs are neutered a little, the pedal feeling that much spongier.

If you want to offset your heavy foot, however, you can choose between two brake regen modes in order to do so. If you select the more aggressive of the two, it will really feel like you’re pressing the brake pedal. It will take you all the way down to zero if you so wish, meaning you can do some one-pedal driving if you so choose. It took me a while to get the timing right, but I eventually did manage to stop on the line by just releasing the throttle at the right time when at city speed.

First Drive: 2020 Mini Cooper SE

First Drive: 2020 Mini Cooper SE

What that means, though, is there can be some pretty jerky progress when in this mode which is why it should really only be used when at low speeds. I kept it in low-drag mode most of the time, but did experience a noticeable difference in distance travelled as opposed to battery distance remaining when I used the low-drag mode. In the high-drag mode, we were looking at about a 1:1 kilometers driven/kilometers remaining but in low drag mode, it was more like 1:5. Best to keep that in mind, especially if you’re driving in more adverse conditions than we were in sunny-but-temperate Miami.

Then again, even today, after all these years of EV development, they are still very much cars of the city. In the city, the regen opportunities are plentiful and you can go days without having to charge your EV. The Mini itself, meanwhile, is very much a city car so the two compliment each other just fine. It’s still not really a road trip car – fast charge capability or no – but Mini hasn’t ruled out the possibility of more range down the road. With the pace at which battery development is occurring these days, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

2020 Mini Cooper SE three-door

BODY STYLE: Three-door hatchback

DRIVE METHOD: Front motor, front-wheel drive

ENGINE: 32.6 kWh battery, 181hp, 199 lb-ft of torque

TRANSMISSION: single-speed direct drive automatic

CARGO CAPACITY: 211L, 731 L w/rear seat folded

EV range (NRCan): 177 km

PRICE:  $39,990 (Classic); $44,990 (Premier Line); $47,990 (Premier + Line)

WEBSITE:  www.mini.ca