The all-electric Mini Cooper has been a long time coming. The company’s first step toward electrics began in 2008 with the experimental Mini E, a car that used a powertrain co-developed with an outside company and that had some major compromises.
That’s also how Mini is marketing the Cooper SE: The S in the name is there to tell you it’s as much fun to toss around as the grin-inducing Cooper S. The blunted performance from extra weight and limited range might say otherwise, but from behind the wheel, this is a Mini worthy of its S, and not some fun-challenged economy-mobile.
The powertrain uses the same electric motor you’ll find in a BMW i3. It makes 181 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque, which is just 8 hp and 8 lb-ft less than the gas Cooper S. Weight is an issue for performance numbers, since the 3,153 lbs SE lugs around an extra 453 lbs compared with its gas sibling. That reduces its 0-60 mph time from 6.5 seconds to 6.9, and its top speed also drops to just 93 mph as a function of its single-speed transmission.
But a half-second to 60 mph is less significant from behind the wheel. Simply put, the Mini Cooper SE feels sprightly. It has the electric motor trademark of instant throttle response, which is amplified by the more aggressive throttle setting in Sport mode. The other trademark is a big lump of torque, though not quite as much as the tire-torching Chevy Bolt EV or Hyundai Kona Electric.
Yet, even if we drove it elsewhere, the Mini’s limited range would’ve made an extended backroads tour difficult. The Cooper SE has a 32.6-kWh battery pack, of which 28.9 is usable for actual driving while the remainder is inaccessible to the driver. This strategy helps extend the battery’s life by preventing it from being damaged by overcharging or excessive discharging, with the drawback of a reduced usable range: