Updated: Jun 27, 2020
"Electric Mini Cooper" is one of those things that, when you say it for the first time, you can't believe it hasn't already been a thing. A stylish little city car literally amped up as a pure EV.
Mini's parent company, BMW, has, in keeping with the Mini's character, decided to march to a different electric drum. While most manufacturers are pushing the limits of battery capacity in order to deliver the furthest possible range between charges (the sweet spot being between 250 and 400 miles), the Mini Cooper SE estimates only 110 miles of range.
Under the hood is a 135kw (181 horsepower) electric motor with what equates to 199 pounds per foot of torque. As with all electrics, power is immediate. Stomp on it and you'll see 60 miles per hour in just under seven seconds. There's a single-speed transmission with two levels of power regeneration, one of which is much like a golf cart. Take your foot off the gas and the car doesn't coast, it comes to a stop---the friction being converted into energy and fed back into the 32.6kWh lithium-ion battery.
That regeneration works exceptionally well---especially on downhill stretches. We took the Mini Cooper SE into the Sierra foothills east of Placerville, California on a 70-mile roundtrip. We began with the range indicator reading 95 miles. When we hit the midpoint and turned around to go home, we had only 50 miles remaining. Yes, we'd only driven 35, but most of that was uphill.
When we got home, after driving 35 miles, there was 54 miles of range because of the charge we picked up braking as we came downhill toward Folsom on U.S. 50.
You have options when it comes to charging. There's a kit that comes with the car that allows you to charge on 120 volt household current, but that 55 percent recharge at the end of our trip took 19 hours. Fortunately, the Mini SE is also equipped for DC fast charging, which can deliver an 80 percent recharge in 40 minutes, making it a solid contender for road trips of a certain distance. For example, my house to the heart of San Francisco is 112 miles. A full charge to start and, say, a cup of coffee and a bagel in Berkeley while the car adds another 20 or 25 percent in 10 or 15 minutes, and I'm there. A full recharge in the City, and a stop in downtown Sacramento for a similar 10 or 15 minute charge and I'm home.
The base price of the 2020 Mini Cooper SE is $29,900. The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see the full list, but among the highlights on the standard equipment list is dynamic cruise control, adjustable driving modes, keyless access, automatic climate control with a heat pump, 17-inch wheels, fog lamps and a rearview camera.
Our tester also had some extra-cost options that were all bundled into the "Iconic" trim package. For $7,000, there's the Mini Yours steering wheel, power-folding mirrors, panoramic moonroof, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, park distance control, parking assistant, Harman/Kardon premium audio system, a head-up display, a touchscreen navigation system, an anthracite headliner and "Mini Electric" interior trim.
With $850 destination charge, that adds up to $37,750 before the $7,500 federal tax credit, and any state credits where you live. Beyond that, Mini says the average owner will save more than $4,400 in fuel costs over six years.
That puts the Mini solidly into the bargain category---with an out-the door price at or below $30,000, a fun-to-drive factor that's nearly off the charts (electrification did no damage to the Mini's handling and the choice of a smaller, lighter battery pack was a good one for this car) and the realization that an EV doesn't have to be boring, expensive or both. My EV evangelist friends continually point out to me that for most people, most of the time, 110 miles of range is all anyone needs. The 2020 Mini Cooper SE could make me a convert.