Limited range & performance, bulk fails to slow funky electric Cooper SE

135 kW and 275 Nm and good for 100 km/h in just on 7 seconds with about 217 km of all-electric range? Sounds familiar? Indeed, you’ve probably heard it all before. So if you’re thinking BMW i3, you are quite correct. But wait — this is a Mini? Right. Which makes it the lovechild of an i3 and a Cooper S. Meet the Mini Cooper SE. E for electric. It is otherwise identical to the petrol Cooper S, bar a few badges. And wheels some of us wonder how they ever balance them!

The Love Child of i3 & Cooper S

This is basically an economies of scale thing. One that BMW clearly hopes will make up for all those expected runaway i3 sales that never happened. Its chassis is all Mini Cooper. But its drive bits are all BMW i3. So, depending how you cut it, Mini has dumped the i3’s complex carbon shell and stuffed its innards into a conventional Mini Cooper S. Or did BMW shoehorn its i3 hardware into a more conventional Mini body? You choose.

Either way, mating a Mini with an i3 seems to have been a far more intricate project than you may imagine. For example, they managed to pack all those battery cells into the Mini’s three-door shell in such a manner that neither cabin room nor boot space were compromised in any way. The electric car is has precisely the same space as the petrol one. Impressive.

There’s nothing they could do about the weight though. The fat electric Cooper SE packs an extra 145 kg. It’s not all bad news though. The electric car’s mass is distributed further aft and spread more evenly along, and sat an inch lower in the car. So it’s better balanced. Which is good news for road holding and even a plusher ride. In short, it’s chuckable despite its noticeably extra heft. Easy to drive too. Once you’re used to the brake regeneration you can toggle to adjust.

SE is Just as Quick as A Petrol Cooper S

The heavier electric Cooper SE’s single motor delivers precisely the same 135 kW to the front wheels that its petrol sister does. But it’s no slower. It handily beat Mini’s claims to run a snappy 6.7 second 0-100 km/h sprint, just a tenth off the petrol automatic we last tested. That’s also just a tenth shy over 400m. Despite the SE already running out of speed by then. Thank instant electric torque and the clever predictive traction control SE also steals from the i3 for that.

The other Mini Cooper SE bugbear is its total lack of performance beyond 85 mph. Around where it also devours its already limited driving range at an even more alarming rate. Speaking of which, 217 kilometres range is horrible. Yet Mini is convinced that’s enough! They say that the extra batteries required to travel further on a charge would make the car even heavier and more cumbersome to drive and more expensive. Take longer to charge and lose out on cabin space too.

Mini also says that the average Cooper S travels 300 km a week. So Cooper SE fits the bill well enough that its owners would hardly notice that it is now electric after all. If you like, or need to regularly do longer trips and you enjoy driving fast, the electric Cooper SE is most likely not for you. But if you fit the average Cooper S bill, then it may very well be a realistic choice. Especially considering that they expect to sell many of these as second ‘city’ cars.

We Almost ManageD Cooper SE’S RANGE Claim

In reality, we almost managed Cooper SE’s 217 km minimum distance claim driving nicely on a warm day with climate control running and maximum brake regeneration on a full charge. Makes its pretty efficient claimed 7.7 km per kWh justifiable off its 32.6 kWh battery. So if you adhere to that 28 mile a day Mini’s Cooper S average, you may even manage a week on a charge. But push it and you’ll struggle to get a few days out. And take a generator to the track day.

Talking charging, Cooper SE comes with a home socket compatible lead. Enough to charge a half full battery overnight on cheap-rate electricity. If you have it. An optional Mini wallbox and 11 kW cable allows for a full recharge from empty in under four hours. Or 80% in two and a half hours. And if you can find, or are close enough to one, a fast-charge station will see you zero to eighty in 35 minutes.

Minis in general sell strongly and keep their prices well enough to justify their premium. People dig them for their cartoon take on an incredible legend and they’re certainly spunky, cute and fun. Yes, it may be porky, short on real world range and its top end performance just isn’t there. But this Cooper SE is a compelling ‘little’ EV in its own right that delivers on most else of what we have always loved in the standard Mini Cooper S.

SE Hints Hot Hatches Have an Electric Future

One of the Electric Cooper SE’s biggest plusses however, is that it is not trying to prove that it’s so different by wearing a ridiculous clown outfit. No, this one looks just like any other Mini Cooper S. In fact you’d be challenged to tell it apart at a glance. And that’s a huge one for us.

It’s more effective where its performance really matters, produces zero local emissions and even suggests that there is a hot hatch future beyond the electric vehicle curtain. Never mind, it’s the cheapest electric car in South Africa right now. All of which makes this a most interesting option for drivers brave enough, and who live in that 40 kilometre a day bubble, a most compelling one. Warts and all. — Michele Lupini

Images: Giordano Lupini

ROAD TEST: Mini Cooper SE
Motor: 135 kW 275 Nm electric, 32.6 kWh battery
Drive: Electric FWD
0-60 km/h         3.50 sec
0-100 km/h:       6.75 sec
0-160 km/h:       -
400m: 14.9 sec    @ 148 km/h
80-120 km/h:      4.18 sec
75-100 mph:       -
VMax:             151 km/h
Fuel:             0 l/100 km use phase
CO2:              0 g/km
Warranty/Service: 2y unl/5y 100K km
LIST PRICE:       R686K
RATED:            7
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