With a new generation just around the corner, the F56 Mini Cooper is not exactly new to the market. It is, however, a funky little hatchback that is known for putting a smile on the face of those that get to spend time with it. So this past weekend I jumped at the opportunity of having a Mini to drive around for a rainy day, this time in electric guise.
The Mini Cooper SE was released back in 2020 to enlarge a lineup that at that point had only ICE and Hybrid options. It is only available in 3-door form and is not built over an EV-specific platform, meaning they had to find creative ways to package an electric motor and batteries where internal combustion elements used to live. This led to a somewhat short suggested range of 160km, so the decision was made to turn this into an urban day. Definitely not an issue, as this is arguably where the Cooper shines the brightest!
My day with it started with an early pick up on the North Shore, and my first destination was the CBD. I take part in a group that goes for runs in Auckland central every Sunday morning, so I made the most of the little truce we got from the wet weather and went for a sprint. There are a few other gearheads in the group, so once we were finished the little Mini became the conversation piece of the day. The looks, the premium appointments and, in this case, the electric novelty always get people curious. This is not the hatchback you get it you want to just blend in.
It was called out then, and I repeat: hats off to the person that built the configuration of this car, it is just great. The British Racing Green colour is a staple for cars built in the UK and it works wonders on Minis new and old. The massive (double) sunroof helps break the slab of white of the roof, makes it look even posher and helps the interior feel more ample. I cannot think of a single change I’d make when speccing a Mini of my own.
After the run, I went home for a change of clothes and left for lunch in Ponsonby. The neighbourhood was the perfect proving ground for the Mini’s greatest skills: the nippy motor helped me take advantage of every gap in traffic, the small size made it a breeze to park, and the design made it stand out even in the fanciest parts of the city.
Climb inside and the funkiness continues. The brown leather seats with white piping set the scene, and the new-ish screen in front of the driver shows helpful information at a quick glance, such as speed, traffic sign recognition, battery SoC and range. Space up front is impressive – the front row is so roomy that pushing the front seats all the way back made me not be able to fully reach the pedals, and I’m quite tall at 1,89m. The low driving position, chunky steering wheel and the under thigh support are BMW elements that are very welcome here and make the cockpit feel more special and purposeful. Anything behind that, though, is comprised – the 3-door Cooper is for those that rarely need backseats or substantial boot space.
But the star of the show is the centre screen. With crisp graphics and being controlled through the intuitive iDrive interface, it has basically all the tech we’ve come to expect from new cars. The LEDs surrounding it will react to the various inputs, from changing the A/C temperature, to the volume or the battery capacity.
We’ll get to the driving portion of it, but first, let me leave the recommendation of the place where we had lunch then: the “Lucky 8” Tapas restaurant. All dishes go for $8.88 and you’ll end up wanting to try the whole menu. I thought I had a pretty clear understanding of what to expect from the Mini, and it is amazing when a car is able to actually flip it so quickly.
I say this because I daily drive a 2nd gen Leaf, and even with significantly less power (80 vs 135kW), it constantly has to cut power to avoid wheel spin from a standstill. Through a mix of smarter programming, better tyres and stiffer suspension, the Mini manages to put a lot more power down to the tarmac, so prepare to be shoved back onto your seat in those 0-50km/h city sprints.
If you want to tone it down a bit, you can use the drive modes and brake regeneration settings to customise it to your taste. I consider myself to be a good feature explorer in cars, but I still couldn’t figure out how to disable one-pedal driving in the Mini, so I’m tempted to say you can’t. And that’s probably for the best – their calibration of the feature is second to none, and was a big part of the fun of driving the car.
The other modes, Mid, Green and Green+, bring down throttle sensitivity gradually, but seem to always deliver the same level of power, albeit built over a longer time of accelerating. Green+ would even disable A/C and heated seats to save power, which was a no-go in this foggy weather. For me, it was Sport with high regeneration all the way; In a few hours I instinctively knew how much to lift to shave the speed I needed, and using motor resistance instead of the brakes helps keep the car within the intended track. Talk about “go-kart handling”!
All this driving quickly led to a low battery warning, and so it was time to try charging the Mini. When we showed up to the station, there was a bit of a queue that bought me time to try around the infotainment and other features of the car. The charging specs are not bleeding edge tech, so it took around 50 minutes to go from 10 to 80% using a 50kW CCS fast charger.
It was raining heavily during this time, so instead of going for a sneaky fast food run, I decided to try out the Mini app. Every brand tries a different approach as to how to manage less-than-100% charging, and Mini/BMW use an app where you can control everything EV-related but also manage remote climate and various other non-EV aspects of the vehicle. I could lock, unlock, and even sound the car’s horn, all things that are way more useful if you’re far away from the vehicle, not inside of it!
Once finished charging, I started heading home and stopped for a few last pictures, reflecting on the experience. While very much a petrolhead myself, I feel like the EV powertrain fits the Mini like a glove, and it’s refreshing to see how much change a calibration geared towards engagement can make in a vehicle.
But shortly afterwards, the sun set in this short autumn day and with that, my time with the Mini Cooper SE came to an end. And what a nice surprise it was! This amazing little thing seems to tick all boxes for a city crawler, and put a smile in my face during my whole time with it, be it inside, outside, or chucking it around corners. Similar to the Honda E, it is possibly more suited to people that want a second car to drive within the city in a cheerful and fun way, charging every other night at home.
We’ll keep an eye out for when the next generation comes out, so stay tuned!