Let me preface this article by admitting upfront that I'm biased. I simply cannot be neutral when it comes to reviewing an electric MINI Cooper. That's because my first electric car was an electric MINI, the MINI-E, which was a test car for BMW and I was one of the people selected to test drive one in the trial lease program. I had my MINI-E from June 2009 to early 2012.
That car is really what got me hooked on EVs, and there will always be a special place in my heart for it. While I'm really excited that MINI is finally bringing an all-electric offering to market, I can't help but wonder: "What took so long?".
I say that because the MINI is such a perfect platform for electrification. It's small, nimble and light. It's just naturally a great city car and isn't typically the car a family will pile into and set out on a long weekend road trip where its range can be an issue.
So while I was at the LA Auto Show with Ford for the Mustang Mach-E unveiling, I had to swing by the MINI area and chat with someone about the soon-to-be new face in the MINI line up, the all-electric MINI Cooper SE.
Luckily, I was able to snag some time with Patrick McKenna, MINI USA's Department Head of Product Planning and Consumer Events and talk about the electric MINI.
The first thing we talked about was the price of the MINI Cooper SE. It was a bit of a surprise when MINI announced that the base model of the car would start at $29,900 in the US. What was even more impressive is the base model will come much better equipped than a standard MINI Cooper does, and there's no options to choose.
Mckenna explained that the rest of the line of MINI Coopers come in three trim levels; Classic, Signature and Iconic. The MINI Cooper SE's base model is Signature trim, so on the $29,900 customers get a lot of options already included. The only thing you actually choose in the Signature trim in the color. Here's some of what comes standard:
1. Navigation system with 6.5” display
2. Apple CarPlay Compatibility
3. Heated Front Seats
4. Comfort Access Keyless entry
5. LED Headlights and Fog lights
6. Active Driving Assistant with Forward Collision Warning
7. Acoustic Pedestrian Warning
8. Rear View Camera
9. Bluetooth with phone and audio streaming
10. Auto Rain Sensing Wipers and Headlights
11. Automatic Climate Control
12. Heated Mirrors and Washer Jets
13. Cruise Control
14. Leather Multifunction Steering Wheel
15. Dynamic Digital Instrument Cluster
16. Energy Efficient Heat Pump
17. AC Charging up to 7.4 kW
18. DC Fast Charging up to 50kW
19. Carbon Black Leatherette Upholstery
20. 16" Wheels
21. Storage Package
Optional trims are Signature Plus and Iconic, but I don't have the information on exactly what comes with those higher-priced trims yet. MINI is under the BMW Group umbrella, and will still qualify for the full $7,500 federal tax credit for at least another couple years. That brings the effective cost for the Cooper SE to $22,400 and even less in States that have additional incentives.
Battery and Range
The Cooper SE has a 32.6 kWh battery (total capacity) of which, 28.9 kWh is usable. It has a WLTP-rated range of 124 to 144 miles per charge which should translate to about 110 to 120 miles on the EPA rating scale. This is clearly not intended to be used for cross-country travel, but Mckenna believes there are plenty of people out there that will find it a great value for the price and use their other car(s) for longer drives. The battery is t-shaped, with the modules in the center tunnel, it's not a skateboard design like most EVs are doing today.
"It's great to have a lot of range, but if you're only using 20 to 30% of it, maybe this car makes a lot of sense"
He went on to say that many people that have never lived with an EV might think that they need a lot of driving range, but once they get an EV, they realize that's not the case. Having the ability to recharge every night and leave the house with a full battery every day allows drivers to do most everything they need to even with less range than they might expect.
"I think we'll have some new customers come in that are EV enthusiasts, and having lived with EVs they realize that they don't really need the range that they might have originally thought."
Another thing McKenna pointed to is the fact that 80% of all MINIs today are sold to multi-car households. So if someone in the household needs to drive far on any given day they can simply take the other car. Every car in the household doesn't need to be a long-range vehicle. He said it was very important that they were able to offer the Cooper SE at a very competitive price in order to make it a better financial deal than some of the competitors that might have a longer electric range. I then asked him if this is a car that's really better for the European market because of the short driving range.
"The Cooper SE is perfect for a lot of people doing daily commuting, charging at home, or charging at the office. Even with lower gas prices in the US (as compared to Europe) the Cooper SE is a really compelling value proposition when you factor in the tax credits and fuel savings. We think there's definitely a need in the US, even though Europe is more compelling from the standpoint of higher gas prices and shorter driving distances."
Mckenna went on to further talk about the value proposition by comparing the Cooper SE against a gasoline MINI Cooper. That's something that manufacturers seldom do. When they talk about how much people can save with an EV, they prefer to compare the saving to a gas car from another automaker. However, Mckenna whet right after is own product line, and said if you drive 15,000 miles per year, you can save about a thousand dollars per year in fuel alone, as compared to a gas-burning MINI.
Is MINI going to be an all-electric brand?
When I asked Mckenna if MINI was going to follow smart's footsteps and transition the entire brand to electric vehicles he wouldn't say when that's going to happen, but it certainly sounded to me like that's where they intend to go. He mentioned MINI's partnership with Great Wall Automotive in China to develop purpose-built all-electric platforms for upcoming MINIs.
"Absolutely. Electric is in MINI's future. We think it's a great fit with the MINI brand, and we'll see that in our next-generation vehicles."
Is the Cooper SE worth it?
I have to admit, when I originally heard the New MINI Cooper SE was going to have a 32.6 kWh battery, I was a little disappointed. After all, my MINI-E in 2009 had a 35 kWh battery - it's 10 years later and the new car has a smaller battery? But that car didn't even have a back seat (that's where the batteries were). It had no thermal management system and used a primitive resistive heating system so in the winter months it lost nearly 50% of its range.
The Cooper SE now has an advanced thermal management system with a heat pump standard, which will definitely help the range when the cold weather months arrive. It has 50 kW DC Fast charge standard and with the small battery that will charge the battery to 80% in about a half-hour, same as my i3.
The lease on my 2018 BMW i3s is up next month, and that has a 33 kWh battery, so the MINI Cooper SE will probably have just about the same range as my i3, perhaps a little more. It has the exact same 135 kW (184 hp) and 270 Nm torque motor that's in my i3, and it's even a little bit lighter. That's good enough to propel the Cooper SE from 0 to 60 in 6.9 seconds, so it should be a fun car to drive. It is, however, front-wheel drive which will definitely take away some of the driving dynamics, but the center of gravity is lower than an ICE MINI and they already handle great, to begin with.
I think I'm going to take a good look at the Cooper SE when it becomes available in March, perhaps I'll find myself coming full circle after 10 years and back in an electric MINI. Using the $7,500 federal tax credit as a capital cost reduction on a lease should bring the lease payments down to a very reasonable amount without much out-of-pocket. Then, if New Jersey passes the proposed $2,500 point-of-sale rebate on EVs in early 2020 as expected, a Cooper SE might be a sub-$200 per month lease with zero down. Hmmmm.
Let us know what you think of the MINI Cooper SE in the comments below.