The MINI Electric takes the standard MINI ‘go-kart’ handling and adds a fully electric powertrain, which is lower down and more central in the car than a petrol engine, resulting in handling that’s even more fun.
‘Go-kart’ handling is a phrase well-used by MINI’s PR department to describe the driving dynamics of the petrol-powered MINI Cooper S Hatch. So is this characteristic improved or worsened by a fully-electric MINI?
The MINI Electric is basically a standard MINI with the petrol engine removed and a 32.6 kWh / 93.2 Ah lithium ion battery inserted between the front seats and under the rear seats.
We think it looks good, as per the standard MINI – on the outside, helped by the British Racing Green colour, and the interior also retains the standard MINI fun design.
The wheels fitted to our ‘Level 2’ trim test car look better than the standard ‘electric’ wheels fitted to the Level 1 MINI Electric – helping it to look like a regular MINI rather than some form of ‘eco special’.
This is a MINI Hatch, and so the whole point of the car is that it’s small. Although the car has grown larger over the years, primarily for safety reasons, it’s still small compared to most other modern cars, especially in three-door form, including the size of the boot, the rear seat legroom, and it’s only a four-seater. Trying to get a child’s car seat fitted in the rear seats is almost impossible. Making the five-door MINI into an EV would result in a more practical offering.
However there’s space under the boot floor for the charging cables, which is a good thing.
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For years MINI’s PR and marketing departments have talked about the ‘go-kart’ handling of the petrol-engined MINI Cooper S. This characteristic is due to the MINI being small, with very minimal front and rear overhangs, and when you turn the steering wheel, the car responds instantly.
The MINI Electric has had the petrol engine removed, which used to sit right at the very front of the car, and petrol engines are relatively tall. There’s now an electric motor under the bonnet, which takes its energy from a T-shaped battery which sits between the front seats and below the rear seats.
So the main weight of the powertrain has changed from being very near the front of the car and quite high, to very low and more central: it’s effectively now mid/rear-engined. The centre of gravity is also at least 30 millimetres lower than in the MINI Cooper S. This has resulted in the go-kart handling being taken to the next level: turn the steering wheel, and the MINI Electric obeys your command, cornering with virtually no body roll. The MINI Electric loves corners even more than the petrol Cooper S.
Of course the MINI is still front-wheel drive. We drove the MINI E prototype back in 2009 – yes, 11 years ago! – which was also huge fun, but there was lots of wheelspin and torque steer when accelerating. That issue has been addressed in this production MINI Electric: despite all the torque from the electric drivetrain, there’s lots of grip from the front tyres, and even on wet roads there’s only a small amount of slippage. The traction control system is very well engineered, and you can even press a button to reduce the interference of the system, and the result on a wet road isn’t too scary.
The ride quality is generally good, although the ride is on the firm side, and like all cars with a short wheelbase, the MINI’s ride can become unsettled on bumpy roads. However, like many electric cars, the extra weight does result in the car dropping into potholes more uncomfortably than a petrol car. This is because the MINI Electric, with a kerb weight of 1,440kg, is 145kg (or around 10%) heavier than the current MINI Cooper S 3-door with automatic transmission. This extra weight does have an impact on the handing, the ride and the steering, but in the world of EVs, 1,440kg is light.
While we’re on the subject of weight, there’s a decent weight to all of the controls, including the steering – similar to the weight of BMW controls – which results in a quality, premium, solid, tight feel rather than a cheap, light character. However the control weights may be a bit heavy for some people’s tastes.
What about performance? If you start driving the MINI Electric by manoeuvring out of your drive, the throttle response can feel weak, but when you get on your favourite country road and need to overtake a slow moving vehicle in front of you, there’s the typical instant electric drivetrain response, and in no time at all you’re flying past tractors/horse boxes/caravans etc. And in virtual silence.
The MINI Electric has four driving modes: Sport, Mid (the car starts in this mode), Green and Green +. Sport mode has the most direct steering and the most rapid power delivery.
You can also select between low or high brake regeneration using a small toggle switch to the left of the start/stop switch.
The MINI Electric shares its infomedia system with other MINIs, which is based on BMW’s excellent iDrive system; there’s a rotary dial and shortcut buttons between the front seats to avoid having to touch the screen while driving, and there are separate heating controls – hooray!
Most EVs have a battery that is within the entire central floor area. However the MINI Electric has a T-shaped battery which sits between the front seats and below the rear seats. This means that the MINI, and its driver, still sits low down on the road. However it also means that there isn’t much space for a battery. This, in turn, means that the battery can’t be very big, and so the driving range can’t be very long – which it isn’t, at 140-145 miles (WLTP), depending on the trim level. Over a week with the car, the average real-life range was 124-131 miles.
The MINI Electric comes with both home and public charging cables as standard, designed for AC and DC charging using Type 2 and CCS Combo 2 plugs.
At a 50kW DC fast-charging station an 80 per cent charge is reached from zero in 36 minutes.
The MINI Electric is available in three trim levels: Level 1, with a 144-145 mile range, from £24,900; Level 2 (as tested), with a 142-144 mile range, from £26,900; and Level 3, with a 140-141 mile range, from £30,900 (all prices after the UK government’s £3,000 plug-in car grant). Lease prices start at £299 per month plus £4,500 initial rental.
For company car drivers, all pure EVs have zero Benefit in Kind tax rates for 2020/21.
The MINI Electric offers huge amounts of fun, especially if your driving involves lots of corners. It also has good performance, yet also zero emissions. It has classic MINI looks and it feels like a premium, quality product.
However it’s small, it has an official electric driving range of only 140-145 miles, and it’s not cheap.
So it’s not for everyone, but if you don’t regularly need to cover long distances, and if you don’t need lots of space, then it could bring a huge smile to your face every time you drive it.
So, yes, it has flaws, but we still love it. The MINI Electric gains a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10.