Mini Cooper SE first drive review | The electrified Mini
The iconic Mini is here in India with an electric drivetrain, in the Cooper SE and has already exhausted booking numbers. But, before you rush to the nearest dealership to get your hands on the next lot, here we are with our detailed review
Words by: Harshit Srinivas
Shot by: Aniket Thorve for Just Urbane
EVs are the future! And, I know it will be a debatable topic till we get an efficient infrastructure. But, the lack of it isn’t going to stop the manufacturers from bringing in new EVs or rather premium EVs. And, one such premium EV on our test today is the Mini Cooper SE – the iconic Mini in the electric guise. The Mini Cooper SE was launched in India, in February 2022, at a sticker price of Rs 47.20 lakh and made its way to India through the CBU route. The Cooper SE was allotted a limited number of 30 units across the country. And, surprisingly, all the 30 units got booked instantaneously, leaving us more excited. Why? Because this was the first time a car was booked much before we journos got to review it. But, sooner or later, we got our dibs on the Cooper SE with electric motors buzzing under the hood. Let me tell you from the very first that we aren’t trying to figure out how different it is from the outgoing Cooper S, but instead looking for reasons that will excite the prospective premium EV buyers. And, here we are starting with the looks first.
How does it look?
To be honest, the Cooper SE retains the overall silhouette of its ICE sibling, the Cooper S. Upfront, you find it to be reminiscent of the Cooper S, but with horizontal glossy slats in place of the grille area with zesty yellow S lettering. Below this, on the bumpers are the neatly integrated vertical air inlets, adding to its sportier stance. And, then you walk towards the side, and you will notice a new design for the 17-inch alloys. Mind you, the alloy design will definitely remind you of the US wall-plug socket. And, even has another interesting story associated with the design. The design of the wheels, when the Cooper SE was launched globally, was christened as Corona Spoke wheels, but had to be changed to Power spoke alloys for obvious reasons. Next up, complimenting these wheel designs is the zesty yellow surround. Whereas on the rear, the Cooper SE looks identical to the Cooper S, and the only differences making it distinctive from being an electric Mini are factors like the absence of exhaust pipes, the S lettering in a zesty yellow shade, and the wall-plug badging on the boot lid.
Overall the Cooper SE retains the cute Mini look, and with the aforementioned changes and the green registration plates, has very little on the design front to make it distinguishable from its ICE siblings.
What's buzzing under the hood?
The Mini Cooper SE comes equipped with a 32.6kWh battery pack. The power through the single electric motor is sent to the front wheels only and the combined peak output of the Cooper SE goes up to 184hp and 270Nm. I know, this is 8hp and 10Nm less than the Cooper S, but what surprised us, even more, was the marginal 0.8-second dip in 0-100 times despite gaining weight. Yes, the Cooper SE weighs 145 kilograms more than the standard Cooper S and can hit a ton in a flat 7.3 seconds (claimed). Thanks to the underlying T-shaped battery pack for the weight gain. Needless to say, the weight transfer is towards the rear now due to the placement of the battery, translating for a reduction in centre of gravity by 30mm. Mind you, despite all these mechanical changes there are no such alterations to the length, width, or height of the Cooper SE. But, if there is a change it is to the ground clearance, that's gone up by 18mm.
Whereas the performance is considered, the Mini Cooper SE has four drive modes to offer - Green+, Green, MID, and Sport. As the name suggests the Green+ mode is for economic driving saving you on the electric range, however when engaged switches off the climate control, saving you power. Following it is the Green that saves you on the driving range but without switching off the climate control. Next up is the MID mode, ideal for your city and highway drives with decent throttle response, and following it is the Sport mode, which like the ICE siblings doesn't add that expected drama to your drive with very aggressive throttle response or a burbly exhaust note. Instead, in the Sport mode, I felt the pedal to be a bit sharper and took a beat in getting used to it.
While these upgrades were not done yet, making me impressed, there came the regen braking that upped the game even more. Unlike other EVs, the Cooper SE also gets regenerative braking, but on two levels. Both of them are capable of allowing you for a one-pedal drive. And, when engaged in level one will decelerate the SE at a decent pace, while when engaged to the progressive one, that is the aggressive one, will come to a complete standstill without the application of brakes.
That said, the inescapable point of discussion would always be the electric range in EVs. And, addressing this, the Cooper SE is said to offer a range of 270 kilometres as per ARAI claims, which definitely will vary in real-world conditions. Testimony to this fact is an instance, where I picked up the car for our road test, with the system displaying a range of 175 kilometres at 98 percent of charge. Now, this range may look like a worrisome number for someone who is shelling out almost fifty lakh of rupees for an electric car. But, what I experienced was impressive. What? After rigorous usage or driving, trying out the different driving modes, and with level one of regen engaged and cruising through the city at the designated city speed limits, I managed to still retain a charge of 49 percent with still 96 kilometres of range left. And not only this, but before heading to our shoot location, I went to a charging station that had the 11kW wall box, and with a 30-minute charge using it, the battery level was back to 79 percent. The estimated range on display now showed 129 kilometres of range. And, that was impressive! Isn’t it?
To sum it up all I know, for a fact, is that these figures won’t appeal to prospective buyers, who have other EV options around at a dearer price with more range and which also weigh better on paper. But, what they don’t have is the ability to offer a feeling of being a driver's car? And, even if they do, they still can’t infuse, is the excitement in you like a Mini does. Moreover, this excitement now comes with zero tailpipe emissions for a spirited driving experience in silence, while making you a head-turner at every traffic signal at the same time.
What’s inside for your comfort and safety?
The Cooper SE on the inside retains an identical layout to its ICE sibling, the Cooper S. The only factor that differentiates it from being an all-electric are the green accents on the gear lever and the ignition switch. Just like the outgoing ICE versions, this one also gets a toggle switch to start, which instead of being red is finished in green with silver surrounds. The gear lever, on other hand, boasts of only the P, N, and D lettering and no manual option, because of an EV that's paired to a single-speed transmission only. The upholstery in the Cooper SE can be had in Black and Pearl White leatherette only and lacks option. Needless to say, features like the signature circular infotainment system stays standard. Making the list long are features like Mini’s wired package featuring a navigation system, a wireless charging dock in the armrest, an integrated wireless Apple CarPlay, and a Harmon Kardon speaker system. Mind you all of these come standards with the Cooper SE. Now, that's a lot of money saved in comparison to the ICEs, where you have to shell out a few thousand to get some of these from the optional kit.
Also, keeping you safe inside the SE’s cabin are standard safety features like airbags for the front passengers, brake assist, dynamic stability control, crash sensor, anti-lock braking system, cornering brake control, and a tire pressure monitoring system. Now, all of these features make the Cooper SE’s cabin look comfortable and safe to be in. Maybe, things will turn around, in terms of comfort, when at the rear, as it gets cramped like the Cooper S. But, you can still keep the ball in your court if you wish to when you decide to occupy the second row with kids or short-framed adults.
How does it ride and handle?
Unlike the ICE siblings, the Cooper SE ticks the right boxes in terms of dynamics. The ride in the Cooper SE is firm and is not as stiff and punishing as the Cooper S. The weight distribution has also been altered in this one, and instead of the front, the weight shift is towards the rear. And, despite the weight gain the Cooper SE still retains its go-kart-like feels and makes it chuckable into corners. Also, the ground clearance is raised by 18mm, which means you go swish-past the bumps without scraping the underbelly. And, what keeps you even more reassured that you won’t damage the battery, is the outer shell protecting the battery from underneath, in case the bump is huge.
In terms of handling, the Cooper SE handles quite well with an evident amount of body roll. The steering feels sharp and direct and offers a good amount of feedback. Even the 17-inch wheels do a really great job in tackling the undulations thrown across, and complementing them is the stiff and short-travel suspension setup, that doesn’t let the Cooper SE lose its composure. Also, the brakes in the SE are quite efficient and have the required amount of bite, whenever required. Well, that's all for ride and handling in the Cooper SE, and even with these changes you still get that go-kart-like feel, with the Mini, even when it's electric or when it gained a little weight.
Then, should you buy one?
As said earlier, BMW-owned Mini has already exhausted bookings for the allocated numbers of Cooper SEs in India. And, the details are still scarce about the next allocation. But, if you are one of those willing to buy one and waiting for the slots to open, then I must say you are going for the right pick. Only, if you are eyeing an EV in the premium segment, that is fun to drive and does not come with a hefty price tag. Also, what's in for you here, is a mixed bag. By mixed bag, I mean firstly it's an EV, secondly, you don’t miss the Mini feel, and third, you don’t shell out those heavy sums of money like the other premium brands demand for an EV. The electric driving range might be a concern, for most of you, but trust me Mini’s aren’t a car that was ever brought for its practicality or value for money proposition. By this, I don’t mean that after buying a Cooper SE, you will complain about range anxiety or its value for money but instead will be happy about it. Why? Because, in the end, you are getting a Mini, with sufficient range for your Urban runabout, keeping the enthusiast in you thrilled, who is simultaneously doing their bit towards the environment. And, that’s what matters being thrilled as an enthusiast, while saving the planet.