1. home
  2. news
  3. One Week With: 2020 Mini Cooper SE EV Hardtop

One Week With: 2020 Mini Cooper SE EV Hardtop

An electric vehicle that won’t cost enthusiasts their souls.

Rory JurneckaWriter, Photographer

As every new year brings a new flock of electric vehicles to market, there have never been more options to replace your internal-combustion vehicle with an allegedly more eco-friendly EV model—and the 2020 Mini Cooper SE is one of the latest to arrive in showrooms.

I say "allegedly," because we all know that any new car consumes resources to build, and generating electricity takes more of the same. I won't get into that argument here, but there are solid advantages to going electric, at least with your daily commuter car. With fewer moving parts, there's less to break and, generally speaking, you'll save money refilling your "tank" with electricity versus gasoline or diesel, though EVs are often more expensive to purchase. Automotive enthusiasts especially seem to find many reasons to stay away from EVs, but the lack of fun-to-drive options in the lower end of the EV segment is likely a predominant motivation. The 2020 Mini Cooper SE might just make that a moot point.

2020 Mini Cooper SE EV: What Is It?

Starting with the same basic platform and body as a standard Mini Cooper Hardtop two-door, the 2020 Mini Cooper SE basically swaps all of its gasoline-powered bits for the all-electric powertrain from the BMW i3 (remember, BMW Group has owned Mini since 2000). That means a front-mounted electric motor powering the front wheels and producing 181 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers are basically the equivalent of the standard Mini Cooper S Hardtop two-door, which is why this electric Cooper get its "SE" moniker--it's designed to be a sporty option in the Mini lineup. An official sub-7.0-second 0-60-mph time helps that notion along, even if top speed is limited to under less than 100 mph.

2020 Mini Cooper SE: Battery and Range

The battery, a 32.6-kWh unit, is stashed where the fuel tank goes in a typical gas-powered Mini, and after a drive in a prototype Cooper SE months ago, we learned these electric models are built on the same production line as their internal-combustion brethren. Intrinsic drawbacks to the electric powertrain? Weight is one; the Cooper SE weighs nearly 320 pounds more than a comparable automatic-equipped Cooper S, mandating slightly different spring and damper rates. Limited range is the other drawback: Mini claims that, in optimal conditions, you'll get about 125 miles out of a full charge, which to put it bluntly is rather weak compared with less-sporty offerings like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Bolt.

2020 Mini Cooper SE: Pricing and Features

Before any possible tax incentives, the base price for a 2020 Mini Cooper SE electric vehicle is $30,750 which is just $2,000 more than a base level Cooper S. My tester had $7,000 worth of options included in its top-tier Iconic trim level, including a premium Harman/Kardon sound system, head-up display, panoramic moonroof, a touchscreen display with navigation and CarPlay connectivity, heated quilted leather seats, 17-inch wheels, various aesthetic upgrades, and automatic climate control, among many others. A Cooper S in this top-spec Iconic trim starts at $35,750 so maybe there's some value proposition, after all.

2020 Mini Cooper SE: What's it Like to Drive?

The Cooper SE arrived with its battery about 30-percent full, so I immediately put it on the standard Level 1 AC plug-in wall charger and left it there for about half a day. With a full charge in 50-degree weather, the Cooper SE's display showed 94 miles of range. I set a course and set off.

The Cooper SE has four drive modes: Green +, which shuts down unnecessary features (air conditioning, heated seats, etc.) for emergency range-saving; Green, which provides relaxed throttle response; Mid is essentially the "normal" driving mode with balanced performance; and Sport, which gives a sharp throttle and max power. The regenerative braking system has two modes, one more aggressive than the other and which allows you to mostly drive the Cooper SE like a golf cart: a lift off the throttle gives enough braking power that you can almost drive the car around town using only the throttle pedal. As we've found with the Bolt and other EVs that allow this sort of driving style, it becomes a fun skill to master in itself.

Setting off for local backroads with limited traffic, the Cooper SE reveals itself to be a pleasant companion. The suspension tune is an excellent compromise between sport and comfort, with sharper impacts making themselves known—the trade-off being flat cornering and little pitch and dive under acceleration and braking. In the Mid setting, power delivery is strong and the Cooper SE's instant torque makes it lots of fun to paddle down a twisty stretch of road. Flip the drive mode rocker switch on the center console to Sport, and the car really wakes up with snap-your-head-back acceleration from a standstill that tapers off gradually as speed increases. Like in the standard Mini Cooper S, if you use all the power the Mini has to give, there's plenty of torque-steer action. That's just the nature of a front-wheel-drive sports coupe, whether the wheels spin via electricity or gasoline.

Steering response is weightier with the Cooper SE in Sport mode, but unlike many of today's BMWs, it never becomes too heavy or gluey. Strong as the regenerative brakes can be, the Cooper SE's conventional brakes are also up to the task at higher speeds, and they slow down the car quickly and confidently. On one of the better local roads, the Cooper SE almost felt like driving a heavy, fully enclosed electric go-kart; its short, nimble 98-inch wheelbase eagerly divebombed apex after apex, and the rear end happily slipped gently sideways with a bit of provocation. Fun to drive? Check.

2020 Mini Cooper SE: A Relatively Practical Package

While the two-door Mini Cooper isn't what you'd call a large car (unless you're comparing it to an original 1960s model), it does fairly well with the interior volume it has. The rear seat won't realistically hold a full-size adult for, well, nearly any length of time. But like in a Porsche 911, it's great for throwing bags, jackets, cameras and the like for a day of adventuring, and the rear seats fold nearly flat for loading larger items. Cargo capacity with the seats folded is about 34 cubic feet, which isn't any less than the standard Cooper since the batteries are stashed where the fuel tank would go, instead of under the floor as is common on many EVs.

Using the Mini Cooper SE over a week, I learned it's a practical package for those with shorter commutes and small families. A hording of groceries (about two weeks' worth) for two adults fit with just a single rear seatback folded down, with space to spare in the compartment under the cargo floor. Meanwhile, a 50-mile outing used only about 20 of the indicated miles of range with a mix of sporty and restrained driving.

More Videos

The 2020 Mini Cooper SE EV is certainly not for everyone, but the it does succeed in destroying the argument that affordable electric vehicles are no fun to drive. That alone is a big win for a lot of us.

Pros:

  • Eye-catching styling that's unique to the Cooper SE
  • A fun-to-drive EV at an affordable price
  • No compromise in cargo space over a conventional Mini

Cons:

  • Limited range compared to similarly priced EV competitors
  • Not family friendly
  • Interior design emphasizes form over function
2020 Mini Cooper SE Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICES $30,750/$37,750 (base/as tested)
MOTOR TYPE 1 AC synchronous electric motor, 181 hp, 207 lb-ft; 32.6-kWh Lithium-ion battery pack
TRANSMISSION single-speed
LAYOUT 2-door, 4-passenger, front-motor, FWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 115/100 mpg-e (city/hwy)
L x W x H 151.1 x 68.0 x 55.7 in
WHEELBASE 98.2 in
WEIGHT 3,153 lb
0-60 MPH: 6.9 sec
TOP SPEED: 93 mph
Related Articles