Mini’s first electrically powered production car, the Mini Cooper SE— or the Mini Electric to its friends—is emblematic of a couple of things.
The first being that the winds of change are a-blowing in the automotive industry, and they’re blowing firmly in the direction of the electric car. (But seriously, carmakers are just trying to avoid what could turn out to be billions in fines if they don’t reduce their average fleet emissions toot sweet.)
And the second, but no less important than the first point, is how the industry has been having a bit of a paradigm shift about the electric car, in that it’s now going out of its way to make one look and drive as un-intimidatingly as possible.
During the product brief at its press launch in Miami, a Mini exec sheepishly mumbled something about being able to delete the lurid highlighter-yellow accents around the car. And with the regenerative braking function in its ‘low’ setting, it’s comparable to a conventionally powered Mini.
Even its charging port is located in the same place as the fuel filler and the badge on its tailgate just reads Mini Cooper S. There’s no mention of anything electric anywhere on the car, unless you count the stylised E/electrical plug emblems dotted throughout.
“I’m a normal Mini Cooper S!”, the thing is fairly screaming. This is in stark contrast to the BMW i3S, with which the Mini Electric shares most of its powertrain. The battery pack, typically the heaviest and bulkiest component in an electric car, is housed in a T-shaped section under the rear seats, so rear bench legroom and its 211-litre boot is untouched.
Heck, the Mini Electric is even built on the same production line as combustion-engined models (the reason for that may or may not be for costefficiency reasons, but shhh you).
Thumb the starter button, now coloured highlighter-yellow (you’ll notice this is a recurring theme with the car) instead of red, and there’s some suitably techy spaceship noises, the only aural cue in the absence of a combustion engine coughing to life to tell you the Mini Electric is good to go.
Grab the blocky gear lever shaped like a bar of soap and you’re away, again in eerie silence. So far, so normal. This is apparently exactly what the Mini set out to do, with project lead Elena Eder responding to my comment about the Mini Electric’s normalcy as probably the highest form of praise the car could receive.
Tooling through inner-city congestion in Miami proved to be remarkably, almost stultifyingly normal. The Mini Electric has all the virtues of the the three-door hatchback on which it is based, with the added benefit of 270Nm of instantly available torque.
As with all cars of its ilk, the Mini Electric’s acceleration (via the 184hp electric motor lifted from the BMW i3S) is, well, electric. A squeeze of the throttle is enough to see you squirt past most traffic with ease.
If you’ve never driven an electric car, let me tell you now that this sort of acceleration will ruin virtually any other car short of a supercar for you. There’s no need to wait for kickdowns or wait for the engine to come into its sweet spot. It’s instant go, not completely unlike driving an electric golf buggy, but several magnitudes more powerful.
But, you might be screaming, the Mini Electric has about the same range as said golf buggy. Despite packing in as many batteries as it could into the car without impinging on interior space or making it too heavy (it’s still 145kg heavier than its petrol-driven counterpart), the Mini Electric will still only go for 235km between charges. And its range will only decrease to just below 200km in the real world.
It’s not the best, then, but certainly good enough for the Mini Electric’s target audience, who ostensibly live in densely packed urban areas. Singapore, for instance.
So, just what is the point of the Mini Electric, then? It looks like a regular Mini, drives like one too, and should even cost like one (it should be priced around the Cooper S, at around SGD150,000) once it arrives on our shores in the third quarter of this year.
All Minis have a certain quirky charm to them, and the Mini Electric just might be the most quirky and charming of them all. Perhaps it’s the novelty of zipping around in near-total silence, or those lovely 17-inch asymmetric wheels that are exclusive to the model.
The first all-electric Mini is a subtle, but nonetheless welcome twist on the established formula, and quite possibly its best one yet. It’s charming in a way that Minis haven’t been in years, and it’s the first truly fresh new product from the brand since its modern revival in the early 2000s.
It’s a novelty, to be sure, but isn’t that what the Mini is all about? No novelty, no life and all that.
Engine: Synchronous electric motor, 32.6kWh battery
0-100km/hr: 7.3 seconds
Top Speed: 150km/h
Energy Consumption: 16.8kWh/100km
VES BAND TBA