First Drive Review - MINI Cooper Electric

BY Sean Loo

We take the new MINI Cooper Electric on a scenic drive around Spain to stretch its electric legs.

MINI's first attempt at building an EV was well, a little bit mixed. Yes, the MINI Electric was agile and had a cosy interior, but the range was frankly pathetic, and it couldn't charge up very quickly.

So, back to the drawing board, and this is attempt number two. The push towards electrification is a necessity driven by stringent regulations demanding a significant increase in the number of electric vehicles globally. MINI is stepping up to the plate, with last year’s electric sales making up 14% of its total.

That presents us with the new 2024 MINI Cooper, a comprehensive rethink that puts equal emphasis on its spirited drive and cutting-edge digital connectivity.

The new Cooper promises to infuse the same character MINIs are known for, but how does it fair in the flesh?

Before we begin, it’s important to point out that the name “Cooper is now part of the model’s designation. Previously, one would denote variants as the One, Cooper, or Cooper S.

Go electric, and you're choosing between the Cooper E or the SE. Opt for the petrol variants, and your choices are the C or the S.

Still with me? Right, let’s begin.

Nostalgia blends with innovation in the new Cooper. Despite today's electric variants pushing the scale to 1,600kg, the Cooper’s dimensions have been meticulously refined; it now measures a neat 3.8m, sporting MINImal overhangs and a wheel-at-each-corner design to retain an agile stance.

The Cooper’s design evolution, led by Oliver Heilmer, is both respectful of its heritage and boldly forward-thinking. The front grille is now a modern octagonal facade, and updated light signatures blend tradition with contemporary style.

Flushed door handles and a lack of chrome bits give the car a sleeker silhouette, and the Union Jack motifs on the rear lights nod to its rich British roots, albeit being more subdued with this iteration.

The new MINI Cooper Electric will be available in two configurations; the Cooper E boasts 182hp, while the more robust SE version ramps up to 218hp.

Aside from the obvious power differences, the main reason why you might spring for the Cooper SE instead is its bigger battery. In the regular E, the 40.7kWh battery is enough for about 305km of range. This is bumped to 402km in the SE with a 54.2kWh pack.

Plus, the SE can charge quicker, at a maximum of 95kW, while the E can only manage 75kW. Either way, it is a little bit disappointing that the MINI electric can't charge quicker considering how quickly charging technology has progressed over the years.

We were given the keys to the Cooper SE, and on the backroads of Barcelona it’s a nimble piece of work, embracing each turn with a delightful urgency that belies its electronic heart.

Driving the MINI Cooper SE is akin to holding a lively conversation; it’s responsive, zesty, and filled with character. MINI introduces an array of ‘Experience’ modes (basically its version of drive modes), enhancing interaction with each drive.

The 'Go-kart' mode, for example, transforms the driving dynamics to offer a more spirited ride, punctuated by playful auditory cues.

With all the cute drive modes and graphics, the Cooper Electric risks feeling like a hi-tech toy, designed to sit outside an artisanal coffee shop and order an outrageously expensive latte.

But, don't let its digital dazzle fool you; this car has all the zest of a sporty hatchback, ready to zip through streets with the fervor of a terrier chasing a tennis ball.

The ride is still fairly harsh, especially in urban environments, but it pays dividends when the roads open up, allowing you to flow through corners with quiet efficiency. The Cooper manages its weight well too despite the added battery bulk, and well-judged damping with good body control means it’s not uncomfortable, even after you’ve been hooning it all afternoon.

Although I do wish it gave you a little more oomph off the line, power is more than sufficent to keep a smile on your face. The steering is well weighted, seats keep you bolstered in place, and there’s even a bit of feel, giving you the confidence to press on.

There’s plenty of front-end bite and not a lot of side-to-side lean. This aglieness makes the car come alive, something which is sorely missed in lots of other EVs.

And when you pull over after your spirited drive, the inside of the Cooper SE feels like a stylish lounge, a smogasboard of personality.

Your eyes immediately gravitate towards the funky-looking circular touchscreen, a homage to the central Speedo back in the original 1959 MINI. The Start/Stop button is now key-shaped, and you twist it to start her up.

This ignition is flanked by your gear shifter and your experiences selector, but what about the air-conditioning controls?

Well, the controls are now on the screen instead. It works fine in practice, but the round bezel can prove a little finicky to use than the traditional aircon dials we got on the old model.

My main gripe with the screen is that, while visually exciting to look at, it can be confusing for folks who are getting into the car for the first time. The menus are tricky to navigate with too many icons, especially on the move.

Nestled between the seats of the Cooper, you'll find a storage space that’s surprisingly generous for a car of its size, accompanied by a wireless charging slot for your smartphone.

The interior cleverly uses high-quality materials in key touchpoints, diverting your attention from the harsh scratchy plastics that are strategically placed out of immediate sight.

The MINI Cooper also indulges in a bit of sensory play. BMW has infused the car with an array of 'ear-cons' - 30 distinctive sounds that signal various functions and warnings, enhancing the MINI’s charismatic persona with auditory flair.

Space-wise, the three-door setup offers sufficient room in the back, comfortably accommodating taller passengers if the front seats are adjusted slightly.

However, boot space remains modest at 210 litres. Enough for a overnight bag or two, but best to keep the golf bag at home.

Overall, the new MINI Cooper Electric is a great package. It's good to drive, has a much better range, and although it's probably going to be quite expensive, especially in Singapore, you are buying into a lifestyle that is unique to MINI.

There aren't many cars on the roads that can make you feel special, but the MINI proves that you'll have a smile on your face every time you head out for a drive.