The electric Mini Cooper SE is a barrel of laughs, but there’s one uncomfortable truth about it in Singapore…
SINGAPORE — Is the Mini Cooper SE the electric car that’s going to change the world? Of course not. Don’t be daft. Tesla’s already lit a fire under the collective backsides of the combustion car industry, so that’s the game-changer title taken. And anyway, a three-door Mini doesn’t have to do anything except make you giggle like a schoolgirl when you take aim at a corner and go for it.
And the Cooper SE is a champion at that. Jink the steering and it jouks with suitable urgency. Jump on the accelerator and it bounds with a joyous jolt.
The electric Mini Cooper can zig, zag and zoom with the best of them, and does it all with so much brio that you can’t drive it without beaming, unless you’re the sort of grump who doesn’t like chocolate and thinks puppies are overrated, in which case you’d never consider a Mini in the first place.
But let’s break down what you’re letting yourself in for here. Everyone knows what a Mini Cooper is, so we’ll start there. Go one notch above that and you’ll find the rorty Mini Cooper S, which is a sort of festive answer to the Volkswagen Golf GTI, another zesty car. Then add S$4,000 (you’re now at S$163,888 with certificate of entitlement at time of writing) and you can have the Cooper SE.
That “E” makes all the difference — it tells you this is an electric car. And an all-electric car, at that, without a piston or spark plug in sight. Not that you ever see those things in a regular car, anyway, but you know what I mean. If there’s any gas in this car, it’ll be because you climbed aboard after a heavy curry lunch.
Anyway, it’s actually BMW Group’s second pure electric car (after the BMW i3) but is at heart a rejiggered Mini hatchback.
Instead of installing an engine, gearbox, fuel tank and so on, the factory slips a 184 horsepower motor under the bonnet and a lithium-ion battery bank under the floor and beneath the rear seat.
Ok, it’s a bit more complicated than that (for one thing, the car is 18mm higher than a regular Mini hatch to ensure the batteries are high enough off the road), but effectively, this is a motor-driven Mini, and not an electric vehicle (EV) designed as one from scratch, such as the Jaguar I-Pace or Porsche Taycan or Tesla Anything or BMW’s own i3, for that matter.
The good news is, putting in the EV hardware didn’t impinge on the Mini much. It’ll still carry four adults, and the boot is the same (small) size — 211 litres, growing to 731 litres if you drop the rear seat backs.
As for whether it looks the part of an electric car, I’ll let you decide that. One or two people did stare when I drove the Mini, but whether it was because they were clued in to the fact that they were looking at battery power in action or because the car’s bright yellow (sorry, “Energetic Yellow”) accents grab the eye, who can say?
When you do come face to face with a Mini Cooper SE, there are subtler things to cast your eye over, such as the closed-off front grille, or the little power plug logo that dots the car here, there and everywhere.
The way the alloy wheels mimic a three-pin household power socket is nice and playful, too.
Inside, it’s typical Mini, with an orgy of circles and chunky switches on the dash, but there’s an all-digital screen to look out for, unique to the brand for now.
There’s one extra button on the dash for the Driving Assistance suite of active safety systems (collision and lane departure warnings, speed limit display, that sort of thing), also new to the Mini hatch here.
Hints of electric power? The Start switch pulses green instead of red, and of course, when you tickle it the car comes to life with the sound of an electronic power-up tone instead of an engine firing up.
From then on it’s a matter of sticking the ordinary gearlever into “D” and ambling off. Well, maybe not quite, because the Cooper SE gets going a bit like the BMW i3. If you don’t touch the accelerator, the car doesn’t move because there’s no creep setting.
And there’s a one-pedal driving mode, which makes it feel like you’re braking whenever you lift your foot off the accelerator because the car is busy trading forward momentum for energy to put back into the batteries.
That means if you treat the “go” pedal like an on/off switch, like so many drivers do, you’ll kangaroo down the street and sicken your poor passengers in no time.
There’s a switch to reduce the energy recovery, which lets the Mini feel a bit more normal, but the one-pedal mode is meant to make you anticipate traffic a bit better and be smoother on the pedal. If you get things right, you can literally get along fine without stepping on the brake, which feels surprisingly virtuous.
But never mind that, because virtuousness is overrated. Instead, you’ll have much more fun if you try to drive the wheels off the thing, which the Mini encourages anyway.
Electric motors deliver their maximum torque instantly, so when you tromp on the
gas throttle loud accelerator pedal, the Cooper SE just goes for it. Meanwhile your rival in a combustion car has only just dropped a gear.
Where I’d take an old fashioned, petrol turbo Cooper S over this is in the handling department. The electric Mini still feels like a Mini, so it has a go-kart’s agility, but there’s less precision here and precious little steering feel.
That instant flood of energy from the motor means there’s plenty of torque steer, meaning when you accelerate hard out of a corner you sometimes end up fighting the wheel as it jerks in your hand.
It actually adds to the fun because it makes the Mini feel like a wild thing, but the Cooper SE doesn’t really feel like the same sharp tool as its fossil fuel siblings.
This is the purest driver’s car from Mini. But here’s why you can’t buy one…
The suspension is noticeably hard in this car, too, most likely because the EV hardware weighs a lot and the springs have to be firmer to support it.
Add the batteries, motor and controllers, subtract the engine, gearbox and fuel tank, and you’re up roughly 150kg over the weight of a Cooper S. That brings the Cooper SE’s weight to a surprisingly hefty 1,365kg, but luckily it carries it all down low, so the car actually feels very stable.
Still, handling and suspension are likely to take a back seat to the number one question everyone always asks about EVs: what’s the range?
On paper it’ll do 240 to 272km, depending on driving style, the weather and so on. The truth is, you’ll be lucky to do 200km. That’s enough for four or five days’ motoring, but ultimately, this is a car that makes sense if you have a private property on which to charge it every day. An 11kW wallbox comes with the car (with free installation), and that takes 3.5 hours to do the job. Next best thing is if the parking at your workplace has a charging station.
Otherwise, if you’re depending on the public network, it’s just not going to make much sense. If you hook it up to a 50kW fast charger at Shell (the energy company has 10 on the island so far, and the Mini’s navigation system knows where they are) or somewhere, you can take the battery from 0 to 80 percent in 35 minutes.
But do you honestly want to stop at a fuel station every four, five days and wait there for half an hour each time?
Public charging is not that cheap, either. It’s roughly twice as expensive as charging from home. Putting 15.7kWh into the Mini (enough for maybe 100km) cost me S$8.98, and it took 97 minutes. (Although, I should admit that I also got about 30km worth of juice at Ikea, where EV charging is free, bless their Swedish hearts.)
So here’s the uncomfortable truth about the electric Mini Cooper in Singapore: it is a rich man’s toy. It makes the most sense if you have somewhere to mount your wallbox charger (private property, preferably landed) so you can juice it up at leisure, and it’s not a lot of car for the money, so ideally you have another car for weekend getaways and family outings.
The thing about toys, rich men or poor’s, is that they’re fun. And the Mini Cooper SE is a barrel of laughs, whether you’re clinging on through the torque steer or pouncing for a gap in traffic that no one else could reach before you, or even seeing if you can stop for that red light without touching the brake.
Once you get used to the eerie silence and smoothness of the electric drive, you begin to realise how crude a piston engine can be, too. And if you do have a place to charge your electric Mini Cooper regularly, you’ll stop visiting petrol stations and then feel like you just ended a toxic relationship. Once you go electric, in other words, you probably won’t want to go back.
It doesn’t matter that the Mini Cooper SE isn’t going to change the world, because it could certainly change you.
Mini Cooper SE
|Electric Motor 184hp, 270Nm|
|Battery Lithium ion, 28.9kWh (net)|
|Charge Time / Type 3.5 hours / Wallbox (11kW)|
|Electric Range 242-270km|
|0-100km/h 7.3 seconds|
|Top Speed 150km/h|
|VES Band / CO2 A1/67.2g/km|
|Agent Eurokars Habitat|
|Price $163,888 with COE|
READ MORE: The latest hot shizzle on CarBuyer.com.sg