It’s a fun all-electric hot hatch that does many things right, but one important thing wrong.
If more electric cars will be like the 2020 MINI Cooper SE, then the future of the car and driving enthusiast is assured. It is a remarkable (and currently unrivaled) driving experience that is still quintessentially MINI, yet the fact that it’s fully electric is also a big part of its appeal.
Let me explain: the modern MINI, unveiled back in 2001 and now in its third generation, has gained a lot of appreciation thanks to its blend of retro styling and performance. Since it was launched nearly 20 years ago, it has been praised for its go kart-like handling, which comes from its very sharp (almost telepathic) steering, firm suspension and generally peppy power plants.
And the 2020 Cooper SE ticks all those same boxes - it feels just like you expect a MINI to, and you aren’t really aware of all the work that went into ditching the ICE powertrain and integrating an electric one in its place. The SE is about three passengers heavier than a comparable Cooper S and it also rides higher.
To counter this, engineers placed the battery pack as low as possible in the chassis, so the center of gravity of the SE is actually lower than that of the normal gas-burning S. The result is a very enjoyable driving experience, which is actually more similar to that of the gas car than you might expect.
For me this came as a shock, because I don’t really associate EVs with driver enjoyment, yet I really enjoyed driving the SE, more so than I was expecting. And even though I miss the raspy exhaust note of the Cooper S, the SE’s instant pickup and bags of torque actually make it feel quicker, especially when nipping through urban traffic.
This brings me to the Cooper SE’s Achilles’ heel: you can’t really take it out of the city because it just doesn’t have enough range. According to the WLTP test cycle, the SE should be good for 234 km (145 miles), but that’s quite optimistic and unrealistic.
The EPA is far closer to reality with its more conservative with its 177 km (110 miles) estimate. I am confident you can actually achieve the EPA claim, if you drive it in Green mode only and tread on the go pedal with the self-restraint of a samurai. The way I drove it, the battery would be almost empty after around 120 km, but that’s without Green mode and just driving around the way I do in an ICE vehicle.
Knowing that I was going to drive the MINI Cooper SE over a month in advance, I started plotting a trip up to the mountains, to drive it on a winding road. However, the mountains are some 120 km (75 miles) away, and outside the city where I live, the charging network is unreliable - there is another town along the way where I theoretically could have charged up, but even if I did so, the stretch of road I wanted to reach was just too far away.
So because of the Cooper SE’s low range, I gave up on my plans to torture its tires on a twisty road. I still drove it on curvy roads closer to home, but they don’t compare to actual mountain roads.
Gallery: 2020 MINI Cooper SE
And this bugged me because the Cooper SE relishes to be thrown into corners, it genuinely begs for it. Over the weekend that I had the car, I really found a lot to appreciate about it - it is a traffic-busting electric hot hatch that is remarkably good in the city, but as much as I ended up liking it, I just couldn’t picture owning it with its low range.