MINIsoul [COTY2020] : 2020 MINI Electric Cooper SE Drive [review]

By davidkhoo, 16 February 2021

Singapore - Electric cars are real livewires, with ‘shocking’ performance from off-the-line, but this isn’t something that can be described in words, and can only be experienced in person.

Think of a switch, how long does it take for the light to come on after you flick it? Well, now imagine the ‘throttle’ pedal is the on/off switch and the EV, the lightbulb. Geddit yet?

In a nutshell, this is a function of EV technology. However, tit-for-tat pissing contests between EV makers to tune the next fastest 0-100km/h time, or even drag-sprints that pit EVs against iconic internal-combustion-engined sportscars have become rather academic, and dare we say, meaningless... although they’re certainly great as click-bait.

But we digress, on the topic of ‘click-bait’, MINI is a cult onto itself and attracts plenty of attention from both genders, young and old. In a massive marketing coup, BMW’s interpretation of the MINI brand has successfully rekindled the nostalgic whimsy of the original.

(Click HERE to check out our COTY2020 Intro and have a look at the other Star Cars)

If you recall Sir Alec Issigonis’s brief for the original Mini, it was conceived as an economical compact city runabout to transport four in (relative) comfort, sip fuel and be fun-to-drive.

Now think of the MINI Cooper SE (also known as the MINI Electric) in relation to that checklist, and you’ll realise that the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same!

Firstly, both names are acceptable, but we like how the MINI Electric (as it is sold in Singapore) is also parked under the Cooper umbrella as the Cooper SE in some markets, because the Electric isn’t just a zero-emissions vehicle, it’s also a hoot to drive, which lives up to the Mini Cooper’s towering, giant-slaying reputation.

Don’t think of the internal-combustion-engined Cooper S and all-electric Cooper SE as absolutes – so stop trying to figure out if one is absolutely better than the other, because that’s missing the point.

Rather, consider them as two sides of the same coin that can lead you on different paths towards motoring nirvana.

We’ve always been enamoured of BMW’s original i3 all-electric city-car – the brand’s purpose-built EV – especially for it to serve duties as a nippy runabout around Singapore.

Our built-up city-state, with its relatively low speed limits and tight urban confines, is one of the best places to enjoy an all-electric compact car.

However, as much as we love the i3, its looks aren’t to everyone’s tastes, which is where the iconic MINI sidles in.

Its unmistakable silhouette and cheeky, cherubic styling will put a smile on your face regardless of whether you’re driving it, or watching it drive-by.

You certainly can’t underestimate the appeal of the MINI brand. There’s no cult of personality involved like in the case of Tesla or Apple (with Elon Musk and the late Steve Jobs respectively), yet MINI’s legion of fans is no less devoted and is hugely invested in the brand’s image and lifestyle cachet.

By this token alone, folks will look at the MINI Electric as a MINI first, then electric car second, which I guess is a great strategy for nudging people down the path of electric vehicle ownership – appeal to their passion, and everything else will fall into place later.

Moreover, MINI has always been considered a trendy, fashion-forward brand, and there’s nothing more trendy than going green these days.

Visually, the MINI Electric gets funky Fluorescent Yellow highlights both inside-out, as well as quirky alloy rims with spokes designed to resemble a three-pin-plug!

There’s also a ‘socket’ motif on the charging flap and another on its pert rump to designate the car’s electric credentials – if these elements don’t help you stand out from the other MINIs on the road, we don’t know what will!

Couple this to the fact that with the current incentives and early adoption discounts for electric vehicles from the government, you can put a MINI Electric on-the-road in the S$15+k region – not cheap in the grand scheme of things, but affordable in the realm of MINIs and other premium makes.

For what it’s worth, the first shipment of MINI Electrics was completely sold out; they even sold the demo a day after our group shoot – the car in these photos is actually an owner’s!

‘Going electric’ is a trendy catchphrase these days, not least because of Tesla’s impending incursion into the Singapore market, and we know how chest-thumpy Tesla fans can be, but it’s all good if it helps with the EV evangelism.

However, some buyers still appreciate the familiarity of a car brand’s ergonomics, interface and cabin architecture, even when applied to an EV, if only because they feel more automobile than appliance.

The cabin is familiar MINI territory, albeit with EV-relevant displays for the MINI Electric. Driven reasonably hard (and always in Sport mode), we never saw more than 200km on the range, which is fine for daily commutes and errand-running.

Besides, Singapore is just 40+km from east to west and that’s not a journey we ever make, so if you do, YMMV. As far as our usage is concerned, we’d probably only need a full-charge every three days or so, if not longer.

The immediacy of the MINI Electric’s power delivery works well with its zippy character. A large part of MINI lore involves the gokart-like handling, which the MINI Electric delivers in spades.

The motor’s rated 184hp/270Nm output and 7.3secs 0-100km/h time seem modest on paper, but translate to breathtaking real-world performance. There’s never a gap too ephemeral for the the MINI to dive into safely, and intention leads to immediate action, thanks to the instant response from the throttle pedal.

Naturally, this is something only driving enthusiasts will appreciate, because the ones who only pore over paper specifications and obsess over tenths of seconds in a straight-line often can’t see the forest for the trees.

The MINI Electric’s steering has surprisingly good feel and is razor-sharp, so the tiny tyke dives eagerly into corners – best of all, with regular use, it quickly becomes second nature to modulate the ‘go’ pedal to make use of the regenerative braking effect to adjust one’s line, before getting on it again to power out of the corners.

Of course, it accomplishes all this swift progress silently, even though you’ll be hooting with merriment inside. We like how it’s possible to have big fun with the MINI at legal limits, which is the bit that makes an electric MINI such a winning combination.

In more powerful EVs, you’ll end up using the brake pedal quite often (not to mention run the risk of busting the speed limit), and in less powerful ones, there isn’t enough punch to have fun. Right smack in the sweet spot is the MINI Electric, where it may be MINI in name, but is very big in soul...

PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals

MINI Cooper SE (MINI Electric) 
Electric Motor 184hp, 270Nm
Battery Lithium ion, 32.6kWh
Charge Time / Type 3.5 hours / 11kW Wallbox
Electric Range 235-270km
0-100km/h 7.3secs
Top Speed 150km/h
Efficiency 16.8-14.8kWh/100km
CO2 0g/km

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