Starting a MINI revolution – Four things you need to know about the Cooper SE

Date:6 December 2021 Tags:, , , , , ,
/ By Waldo Rendell /

Cheapest EV on sale

Normally we would save the price for a crescendo ending. But, with electric vehicles (EVs) carrying bad reputation for being far pricier than their combustion cousins, we thought we’d start with some good news… At R686 400, the MINI Cooper SE is South Africa’s cheapest EV.

Here’s some context: A BMW i3 – the closest thing to an identical twin to the MINI – costs R754 000. For that you get a slightly better range, and more interior- and loading space, but the same performance and charging network.

Compare that pricing to MINI’s petrol-engined line-up and there’s a lot to choose from. The fastest and most sought-after is the Cooper S JCW, for similar money. It’ll also be the first to cross the line in a long-distance drag race. Yet these cars have completely different ideas, outlooks and ambitions, and so do their prospective owners, so there’s no threat of product cannibalism.

It looks like a MINI

The EV MINI has bespoke upgrades, such as aerodynamic wheels (allegedly inspired by a plug socket) and splashes of yellow. It’s rather subtle, all things considered, and at times my desire to be recognised as an early adopter wished it pushed the EV image a little harder (especially since your typical MINI owner has always wanted to be noticed).

Inside it still uses the same cheeky and charming switchgear – a mix of toggle switches, touchscreen and rotary dial – and the dimensions are similar. This highlights the evolution of battery technology, and how few compromises have been made in what’s surely been one of the more challenging EV packages to create.

Some options, in the interest of price, weren’t present, such as a reverse camera and keyless entry. But they did very little to diminish the Cooper’s appeal, and if a slightly more spartan approach is needed to make EVs more accessible, I’m all for it.

MINI go-kart handling

Let it be clear that all EVs drive similarly thanks to over-arching tenets such as regenerative braking, lack of gears (despite having a normal gear lever) and instant power delivery. So how does MINI differentiate itself? Well, it’s compact for starters, so it tucks into corners with less fuss, and the hunkered-down centre of gravity and low ride height help glue it to the road.

More weight – around 150 kg, and packaged low – helps inject some calmness into the dampers, resulting in the Cooper SE being the most comfortable and compliant MINI on sale, and obviously the quietest too. And it’s certainly not only fast on a straight road.

The three driving modes are probably the closest reminder of a petrol-powered car, and even in ‘Mid’, you might even be bold enough to label the Cooper SE a bona-fide hot hatch with the front wheels scrabbling for grip as its potent performance is unleashed. Around back roads and suburbs, you’ll struggle to find something that keeps up! It’s a go-kart, or should that be golf cart?

From charge to charge

The cheapest EV on sale does have some drawbacks, the biggest being range. With a full charge you need to be fairly alert and wide awake to its 150 km range, although we never came close to draining it on a daily commute. Equipped with the normal charger, we left it on overnight and that was more than sufficient to replenish the battery. Real-world ownership, though, would likely include the purchase of a R30 000 wallbox which can do the job significantly quicker. Don’t forget BMW and MINI dealerships offer fast-charging bays (which are always conspicuously available) and will throw in some WiFi and coffee while you wait.

Off-peak charging times can also be set via the onboard system, which in general didn’t provide me with the sort of data and graphics I needed to fully understand what was going on, and why. It’s absolutely true that range anxiety stems from the unknown, so a few more driving tips and displays about energy management is vitally important to build that trust.

Final words

The MINI Cooper SE embraces the EV motoring landscape better than anything else on the market. It’s fun, entertaining and even brings some common sense to how people should use their EVs, rather than hypothetical scenarios aimed at undermining EVs. Rather than tackling the topic of long distances, the MINI Cooper SE instead focuses on the 90 per cent of driving that people actually do.


Model: MINI Cooper SE
Engine: 32.64 kWh battery, electric, FWD
Power: 135 kW
Torque: 270 Nm
Range: 150 km (real world)
Price as tested: R658 000
Quintessential MINI design
Fun handling
Well built, premium feel
No five-door option yet
On-board computer lacks detailed driving data

Read about other wheels-related stories, here.

Photography: Motorpress.
This is exclusively an online article, which did not feature in the print edition of POPULAR MECHANICS.

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