Electric Mini switches expectations with fair results
Mini has electrified the Cooper hatch and Phuti Mpyane took it on an exclusive pre-launch drive
By now we are all familiar with the Mini Cooper. Now there’s a new full electric Mini Cooper SE. From a looks and driving experience there’s little to differentiate to its conventional cousins. It’s still a nippy little hatch with a confined but snug cabin and a relatively usable boot.
It’s available in two grade walks, Small or Large, and the latter spec is easily recognised with 17-inc h Corona alloy wheels whose shape is influenced by a Euro electric socket. Because Minis are hugely customisable you can option a darkened and conventional looking set. The Small grade walk gets 16-inch alloys as standard.
The new Mini Cooper SE electric drivetrain is lifted straight off an earlier generation of BMW’s i3 electric car with 94Ah lithium-ion battery capacity. Outputs are 135kW and 270Nm and it’s attached to a one-speed transmission.
It has four driving modes — Green Plus, Green, Mid and Sports. The eco-friendly modes work by limiting power from the motor and work in conjunction with the vehicle’s brakes or when coasting downhill to recuperate lost energy and charge the battery. There are two regenerative braking levels using a switch on the row of toggles on the dashboard.
Mid mode is neutral and offers a balance of range and performance. Sport mode unleashes the drivetrain’s maximum power output for a 0-100km/h sprint in 7.3 sec. Top speed is rated at 150km/h.
An 80km round trip between BMW SA’s headquarters in Midrand to the outskirts of Pretoria using freeways and urban routes proved its efficacy as a city car. It’ll doddle in happy comfort behind a slow bus and because the full quota of engine torque is available instantly, it can shoot off rapidly to exploit overtaking opportunities.
It also reaches highway speed limits with absolute ease and an integrated cruise control helps in this application. But it’s not one to take on long trips to the seaside.
Initially, Mini had promised a pure electric drive range of about 235km but the car will go to market with significantly decreased expectations of 217km, according to Mini SA. Conditions such as topography, climate and driving style affect the distances you can achieve.
That kind of range points to fair liveability for the urbanite, and the car comes with all of the charging cables needed. Mini says it will charge fully overnight on a household wall socket or you can use existing public charging infrastructure.
The battery pack is spread out in a neat T-shape underneath the vehicle’s floor to achieve an ideal 50/50 weight distribution. Though the Cooper SE rides 18mm higher than regular Minis to counter against the heavy batteries pressing down on the springs, on the move and in corners the Cooper SE doesn’t feel heavy.
Once moving, the Cooper SE feels glued to the road thanks to the heavy batteries creating a low centre of gravity. Because it doesn’t inherit the skinny i3 wheels, turn-in manages to recreate that trademark go-kart nimbleness of a Mini.
In the past whenever I’ve driven electric cars the outcome tended to either be "good for short trips, but compromised for long travel and range anxiety". The exception was the Jaguar I-Pace that rewrites the electric car ownership rules here in SA thanks to a robust range and extensive charging infrastructure.
This electric Mini exists to satisfy the BMW Group’s strategy of offering varied powertrains to different clients. The first drive experience of the new Mini Cooper SE suggests it’s close to the real thing as possible and it’s strictly a city car.
Pricing starts at R642,000 for the Small trim and R722,000 for Large specification.
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