Mini E Cooper S: Small, but still mighty

While the new Mini does come with its issues, the latest model is still a pleasure to take out for a spin, writes Sean O'Grady

Saturday 29 May 2021 00:00
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<p>Stylish and durable, this is one ride most people will enjoy taking</p>

Stylish and durable, this is one ride most people will enjoy taking

Although there have been a few experiments over the years, here we have the very first all-electric, battery-powered, plug-in, diesel/petrol-free production series Mini in the long history of the brand. It coincides with a facelift for the whole Mini range (including for the old school fossil fuel models), and the electric variants are the purest expression of the Mini’s original mission – to maximise economy in its running costs through advanced engineering. As with the 1959 Austin and Morris originals, the Mini now revived and produced by BMW also just happens to be cute and fun to drive, albeit less space-efficient and far heavier.

Anyway, just like every Mini before it, this version still has a certain jewel-like quality and an air of desirability. The car feels, at any rate, very well built, with quality materials and thoughtful design, and headed for a long life with strong trade-in values (though I suspect any Toyota will be more reliable). So, that’s the big picture – the electric Mini fulfils its mission in life, and for many, it will be an ideal car. The Achilles heel, perhaps, will be the car’s range. This is because, as a smaller vehicle, the engineers haven’t larded it up with too many heavy batteries that would rob passengers and their luggage of their already tight accommodation, and make the car slow and so grossly heavy that it would be virtually undrivable.

THE SPEC

Mini E Cooper S (electric)

Price: £31,525 (as tested; starts at £26,000)

Capacity: 28.9 kWh battery pack, FWD

Power (bop): 181

Top speed: 93 mph

0-60 mph: 7.3secs

Fuel economy: 161 mpg equiv

CO2 emissions: 0

A Tesla, Jaguar or that new Ford F-150 pick-up Joe Biden was seen in the other day are the sort of designs big enough to cope with such a challenge; a city car requires more compromise. So the bad news, arguably, is that your Mini won’t do much more than 100 miles on a single full charge, in my experience, though Mini claims more (and it does depend on the temperature outside, how you drive, and whether you use the air-con). For most motorists, a 100-mile minimum range is actually quite a manageable, or ought to be, because you plug the thing overnight and, in extremis, can probably find a commercial fast charger to break a journey, with, say, a half-hour wait to get the battery back up to power. Mini drivers apparently average 26 miles a day, so you can see how the car is a perfectly practical proposition.

There are many features to make this new version as efficient as possible

But still, range anxiety persists... The good news is that the Mini is a pleasure to drive. It comes in three trim levels, plus some special editions, and the pick of the range is the Level 2 trim level, which gives you plenty of useful features such as the adaptive cruise control. The big central screen for the sat nav and other controls is touch-sensitive and brightly lit with sharp graphics. The steering wheel has button controls for cruise control. The entertainment system and Apple/Android connectivity are also the best I’ve found in any car lately, simple and intuitive. It really lifts the spirits to get into a Mini electric, and of course, it’s almost silent on the move. It’ll get away from the lights to 30mph in about four seconds, and, with the 145 kg of batteries stored under the rear seats and above the back wheels, the centre of gravity is low and the road holding excellent.

You probably won’t be doing cross-continent adventures in this car, however

The downside is a harder ride than most of its rivals, but Mini drivers, old and new, are used to that. Adds to the charm, as do the old fashioned toggle switches on the dash, the Union Jack graphics on the rear lights, and the alloy wheel designs inspired by a three-pin plug. It’s made in Britain, too, for those that care. The Mini E has competition, though. There’s a new Fiat 500 Electric coming out, another retro job with similar performance but cheaper to buy or lease, and the funkadelic Honda E, with full width high-definition digital screens in the cockpit, and 1970s hatch inspired styling. For those less bothered about style, the Renault Zoe, VW Up!, Seat Mii, Skoda Citigo, Peugeot e-208 and Vauxhall Corsa-e are, frankly, better value, if duller than the Mini, Fiat or Honda. In stark contrast to even a few years ago the choice of electric car is getting ever wider, but few are quite as desirable or special as a Mini. 

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