Mini Cooper electric road test: A zippy, if choppy ride

The 2024 SE can easily traverse from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and back in one charge - just watch out for any uneven tarmac

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When Alec Issigonis conceived the original Mini in the 1950s, he envisioned a car that was cheap, simple and compact in the extreme. The Mini remained so for the best part of four decades, but there was a marked change in the brand’s positioning after BMW took control in the 1990s.

The Bavarian-inspired Mini was dimensionally huge compared to its ancestor, and it was a chic offering with a premium price tag. The recipe has worked well for the reimagined Mini brand and its BMW masters – more than 295,000 global sales last year are testament to that.

Mini is now embracing the next phase of its evolution as it plans to electrify its entire model line-up by 2030, and the first rungs are already in place. The National travelled to Sitges – nestled along the Mediterranean coastline in Spain – to test drive the all-new Mini Cooper SE, due on sale in the UAE in September.

The “E” in the newcomer’s suffix stands for Electric, as its propulsion is provided by a 49kWh battery pack and single electric motor that spins the front wheels. It might miss out on the raspy, popping soundtrack of the petrol-powered Cooper S, but the SE is adequately zippy. Outputs of 218hp and 330Nm add up to a 0-100kph split of 6.7 seconds, even though the car weighs a lardy 1.6 tonnes.

Mini quotes a touring range of 402km on a full charge, but it’s more realistic to expect a range of 280km-300km in the real world. In other words, just enough for a day trip from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and back.

The Cooper SE’s range constraints mean it will be a practical choice only for those who dwell in a villa and have their own recharging wall box. However, the existing combustion-powered Cooper S will continue to sell alongside it to cater for the car’s traditional audience.

The battery-charged Mini is built in China as it’s the fruit of an EV partnership between BMW and Great Wall Motor, yet it retains the familiar Mini design cues. Large round eyes adorn the face, while the grille is covered by a shiny black plastic panel as the electric motor doesn’t have the same cooling requirements as a combustion engine.

The most marked changes are at the rear, as triangular taillights sit at each flank, and they’re connected by a horizontal black bar stretching across the tailgate. The Cooper SE still has cutesy visuals, but there’s a greater musculature to its broadened stance, especially when viewed from behind.

Once on the go, there’s the familiar Mini perception of compact dimensions, even though the car pulls away from standstill in almost total silence.

The specs

Engine: Single front-axle electric motor
Power: 218hp
Torque: 330Nm
Transmission: Single-speed automatic
Max touring range: 402km (claimed)
Price: From Dh215,000 (estimate)
On sale: September

You can fill in the aural void by selecting one of the synthesised soundtracks on offer – these mimic either the sound of a spaceship or jet plane. They’re an interesting novelty, but can get wearisome after a while.

The beauty of an electric motor is that there’s an ocean of torque an ankle twitch away, which means the Cooper SE feels decidedly sprightly. That said, there’s a slight disconnect between car and driver. The steering, although weighty and accurate, feels remote, while the throttle and brake pedal also have a slight numbness about them.

Even so, the Cooper SE scoots across the winding mountain roads we traverse with virtually the same pace and surefootedness as its petrol counterpart – despite weighing more than 300kg more. Ride quality gets choppy over less than perfectly surfaced tarmac, but that’s partly down to the car’s short wheelbase.

The cabin is a masterclass in interior design and the centrepiece of the cockpit is the beautifully executed OLED circular centre screen that substitutes for a traditional instrument cluster – it displays the speedo readout, battery charge level, gear indicator and remaining range, as well as housing the usual infotainment functions.

Mini’s designers have made artful use of recycled textiles to trim the dashboard and door panels, so the car has some valid sustainability credentials.

Mini has got plenty right with the Cooper SE. It’s funky to look at and sit inside, and it’s a zippy and agile driver’s car. It might lack the fizzing fun factor of the petrol-powered Cooper S, but the good news is that the latter will continue to sell alongside it.

Updated: May 14, 2024, 6:43 AM
The specs

Engine: Single front-axle electric motor
Power: 218hp
Torque: 330Nm
Transmission: Single-speed automatic
Max touring range: 402km (claimed)
Price: From Dh215,000 (estimate)
On sale: September