Because it’s a Mini, the Cooper SE is a certifiable hoot behind the wheel.
Remember that Seinfeld episode at the dealership? You know, the one where Jerry’s buying a Saab from Puddy, and Kramer and the salesman make it their mission to see how far they can drive the car on empty? It’s a tale of hope and triumph; I’ve never quite felt that same sense of victory and adrenaline — until the all-electric 2022 Mini Cooper SE came along.
Kramer and Stan — er, Rick — the salesman’s goal was simple and foolish: to go farther to the left of the slash than anyone ever dreamed! Mine was equally simple and perhaps even more foolish: after fully juicing up the electric Mini the day prior and using precious little to run some errands, I set out to beat Mini’s official maximum range of “up to” 183 kilometres. And I did it. What a rush!
Frankly, it’s easy to dismiss the Mini Cooper SE. The little electric hatchback is pricey for what it is before any provincial or federal rebates, and it’s impractical in more ways than one. There are far smarter choices in the EV world; if you’re itching for an EV as your only set of wheels, the Nissan Leaf, Hyundai Kona Electric, and Chevy Bolt (provided you’re a fan of self-immolation) all offer more range and much better bang-for-your-buck overall. The Cooper SE is hardly the perfect EV in this regard, but that’s because you’re probably looking at it the wrong way.
To be fair, range is one of the biggest barriers of mass EV adoption, but as your second set of wheels? Well, this is where the zappy little Mini shines: its nearly 200-kilometre range is more than enough for any reasonable daily commute, along with any errands you’ll have to run along the way. And while its 32.6 kWh battery is on the small side, it also means you don’t have to wait too long to get a decent amount of juice — a Level 3 fast-charger fills the battery to 80 per cent in just over half an hour, while a more common Level 2 charger nets you a full charge in four hours. It’s still not the perfect EV, but the Cooper SE is a near-perfect urban runabout.
Because it’s a Mini, the Cooper SE is a certifiable hoot behind the wheel. Plucking the 135 kW drivetrain from the BMW i3, it’s good for 181 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque — a bit short versus the gas-powered Cooper S — but the beauty of mashing the go-fast pedal in an EV is the instant torque, and the SE absolutely rockets off the line. Chuck the Cooper SE into a corner and the little electric hatchback hangs on tight, and while the steering wheel isn’t particularly chatty, it’s reasonably responsive.
But that kind of pedal-to-the-metal driving doesn’t bode well for maximizing your range. The Cooper SE is very much a momentum car; one-pedal driving in an EV takes some getting used-to, but with the drive mode in either Green or Green+ and its regenerative braking set to max, your available range doesn’t move much around town as long as you keep your momentum consistent. Be smooth with the “gas” pedal and judge your stopping distances accordingly, and you’ll be rewarded with extra juice and many stars from the Mini’s infotainment system as it rates your acceleration and anticipation out of five stars.
And while I did manage to crack 200 kilometres — 206.4, to be exact, and with 13 to spare before I chickened out and plugged in — it wasn’t easy. A/C is a no-no if you want to eke out the most range. On the highway, you’re pretty much stuck in the right lane as you cruise at exactly 100 km/h, so you don’t use up too much juice. You know the “ideal driving conditions” caveat with EVs? Yeah, very much applies to the Cooper SE: forget about squeezing out 200-plus clicks in winter. In summer? Wear extra deodorant.
For 2022, the electric Mini gets the same nip-and-tuck as the rest of their hardtop and convertible lineup. You probably won’t notice the styling tweaks right away, so here’s a little cheat sheet: LED headlights are now standard, and the front grille has been reworked ever so slightly. It’s certainly as adorable as ever; between the bug-eyed LED daytime running lights to the grille trim that looks like a goatee, the Mini SE is as cute as a button. On top of all that, it can look as distinctive or as subtle as you please — beyond the blocked-off front grille, some badges and lime green accents, and select wheel designs, the electrified Mini looks more or less identical to its gas-powered siblings.
Inside, the changes are a bit more apparent. The infotainment system has been reskinned, there’s some shiny black trim around the 8.8-inch touchscreen display, and the buttons on the steering wheel are also shiny black fingerprint magnets. Still, it’s very much a Mini in there, with better-than-average fit-and-finish and a funky layout with plenty of circles. The only giveaways that this MINI is the electric one are some lime green accents and the all-digital instrument cluster, whose fuel gauge and tachometer have been replaced by power and battery charge readouts
And because it’s very much a Mini inside, you’ll also have the same nit-picks in the electric one as you would in the “regular” one: the panoramic sunroof cuts into your headroom, you’ll have to reach pretty far if you want to use the display as a touchscreen, and the back seats are pretty much for emergencies only. Predictably, cargo space isn’t great at 212 litres with the rear seats up, but that grows to a respectable 730 when you fold them. Who on earth buys a Mini Cooper for the rear seat space, anyway?
The Cooper SE starts at $40,990, plus another $8,000 for the full-jam Premier+ package if you want all the bells and whistles, although adaptive cruise control is curiously missing. Factor in the various EV rebates available to Canadians, and you can knock up to $13,000 off the bottom line, bringing the price more or less on par with a gas-powered, mid-range Cooper S with metallic paint. Depending on where you live, the Cooper SE is a decent enough value proposition.
More “mainstream” EVs may offer more value and range, but for the short drive to work, the quick jaunt to grab take-out or groceries, or the occasional Ikea run or family visit across town, it’s tough not to fall for the 2022 Mini Cooper SE’s charm. Pretty much the only reason you’ll visit a gas station is to pick up a Mounds (or Twix) bar.