Not long after I ripped through the gears of the super wild MINI John Cooper Works GP, I got a chance to spend an entire week behind the wheel of its more tamed spiritual brother, this 2020 MINI Cooper SE. In case you haven’t been following, this is essentially a Cooper S electric, hence the extra E at the end of its name. It’s also the first-ever mass-produced fully electric car from MINI, or if you prefer, one of the most charming EVs currently on sale, even if its range sucks.
Looks Like Any Other MINI
You may remember what I had said about the Volkswagen e-Golf. Back then, I had told everyone it’s the EV to buy because it looked like any other Golf, arguably one of the best compact cars a human can buy. But because the Golf will leave our market next year (I still can’t digest that one), the 2020 MINI Cooper SE kind of replaces it as the people’s electric car.What I love the most about this car is that it looks like any other MINI. Except for the weird looking aerodynamic wheels that try to mimic a British power socket and subtle E badging here and there, it’s hard to distinguish a Cooper SE from a conventional Cooper S. I personally totally dig the three-tone yellow, white and black look of this tester.The Cooper SE also rides on the same UKL1 platform as a gasoline-powered Cooper S, except it ditches its turbocharged engine for the now defunct BMW i3’s electric motor. However, contrary to the i3, which has its motor sitting on top of the rear wheels, this Cooper brings it all in the front in order to retain the classic MINI front engine, front-wheel drive layout.This car is however a lot more than a BMW/MINI badge engineering job, as MINI applied some rather clever engineering of its own. The twelve-cell battery, for instance, is smaller than an i3’s at 28.9 kWh versus 42.2 kWh, but also significantly lighter and placed in a rear midship configuration for optimal weight distribution. As a matter of fact, MINI boasts a 58/42 weight distribution, which is frankly impressive for a front engine, front-wheel drive car.Total power and torque are rated at a respectful 181 horsepower and 199 lb-ft, with a claimed 0-100 km/h time of roughly 6.1 seconds, which puts the SE in the same ballpark as a gasoline-powered Cooper S. Fun fact: the 2020 MINI Cooper SE is the second quickest electric car in its price bracket after a Tesla Model 3 SR+.Range (which I’ll get back to) is however very disappointing at an EPA-certified 177 km. The good news is that the Cooper SE will accept charge speeds of up to 50 kW, which is currently the fastest speed currently available on Quebec’s public charging grid. In other words, this Cooper may lack the range, but it charges quicker than some of its rivals.Pricing kicks off at $39,990. Two additional trim levels are available, Premier and Premier +, which is the model you see here. It sells for $47,990. Here in Quebec, the Cooper SE is eligible to a total of $13,000 in provincial and federal incentives, which makes it even more appealing.
Still Motoring Hard
As you all know, I own a 2006 MINI Cooper R50, and I long complained over the fact that new MINI Cooper is too big and too weird looking to even be called a MINI. But having both cars side by side revealed that the current-generation Cooper isn’t that much longer than the first-generation car. It’s just taller, wider, beefier overall, as if my R50 gained a lot of weight.The driving feel is still very much there though. The current generation MINI Cooper remains one of the best driver’s cars currently on sale, and the Cooper SE carries these qualities over unchanged. The immediate sensation behind the wheel is that solid, buttoned down feel you get from all modern BMWs, with a small, direct steering wheel that reacts promptly to your inputs in surgical precision.The 2020 MINI Cooper SE is fast of the line, yes, but that’s expected from an electric car. Where it surprised me the most is in its rolling starts where it instantly picks up and goes, and never stops pulling until it hits its 160 km/h top speed barrier. As a matter of fact, you’d be happy to know the SE set a quarter mile time of 14.8 seconds while I had it. That’s properly quick!Then there’s the way it tackles on a corner. Like in the new BMW 228i, which shares a similar platform (UKL2), there’s a pleasant damping in its suspension, which in turn makes it addictive to drive fast. It’s just as jittery as in the BMW, but because it’s a shorter car and, well, because it’s a MINI, it makes a lot more sense here as it infuses the entire car with the same cheerful personality as its design. Grip is enormous and the low center of gravity means you can really attack an apex at much higher speeds than its gasoline-powered alternative.About that disappointing range. It is indeed not very high, which constitutes one of this car’s only main flaws. That, and the fact that it’s only available in a three-door configuration, meaning you won’t be able to bring your friends and their cargo along for the ride. Use this car mostly for urban use, however, and range shouldn’t be much of an issue. Take however notice that if you live in a northern area, that range will drop considerably in the cold.But what the 2020 MINI Cooper SE lacks in range, it makes up for it with one of the best put together cabins in the segment. Next to a Chevrolet Bolt EV, or even a Tesla Model 3, the MINI feels expensive, high-end and downright way more attractive inside.You sit comfortably in the sport bucket seats. Visibility is spot on, and the entire car feels a lot larger than it is, a classic MINI trait since BMW rebooted the nameplate. The only subtle design cues that reveal its electric propulsion system are the yellow start/stop button and the cleverly integrated yellow inserts on the shifter and dashboard.Turn the Cooper SE on, and it greats you with intriguing digital sounds that mimic the launch sequence of a vintage Nintendo sci-fi video game. Everything about the Cooper SE’s cabin was designed to make you smile, but there’s also a fanatical level of attention to detail in there, with doors that shut with a confident thump and material and build quality that are well above the standards of the segment.MINI’s cute iDrive-inspired infotainment system remains a peach to operate, partly because it’s so intuitive, but also because it downright looks cool and fun. It’s essentially BMW’s excellent software but with a different interface. That said, I still don’t get why it’s not Android Auto compatible. The new digital gauge pod feels totally at home here. Still protruding out of the dashboard like the old analog setup, it never proved problematic in the sun (although the photos seem to say otherwise), always displaying precisely what I needed to know. I also really liked how the power meter operates like a boost gauge, with a bit of lag in its reaction times as you hit the throttle. So cool. The other fun part about the Cooper SE is that while its range is low, it’s one of the rare EVs I’ve driven that displays real-world range numbers.The 2020 MINI Cooper SE has many flaws: its range is low, it’s not what you’d call practical and if you live in a place where there are no incentives, it becomes hard to justify the range/dollar ratio versus other EVs of this price bracket. This is certainly an electric car for people who put style and driving dynamics above everything else. But that’s also what makes it so special. This is one hell of a charming hot hatchback, a quick one too, a car loaded with character even if it doesn’t run on gasoline.
Review of the 2020 MINI Cooper SE by William Clavey
- Looks like a normal Cooper S
- Fast and fun
- Class-leading build quality
- Low range
- Only available with three doors
- Gets expensive fast
7.5 / 10
Clavey’s Corner is located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Prices and trim levels discussed in this article reflect the Canadian car market.
Special thanks: MINI Canada
Photography: Guillaume Fournier
Contact the author: [email protected]