Mini goes electric with major change

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The electric Mini Cooper SE is a small EV with class, charisma … and a relatively affordable price tag. This all-new three-door hatch will top the line-up due to arrive in Australian showrooms early in the second half of 2024.

Cooper is the new name for Mini’s core model, the one that looks most like 1960s original. When the beloved British brand was revived by new owners BMW more 20 years ago, the model that opened the new era was a three-door simply called Mini.

While the resemblance to the first modern-era Mini is unmistakeable, the new Cooper is a smoother and more aerodynamic shape.

Petrol or plug? Your choice. There will be two internal-combustion models, the Cooper C and the Cooper S, with turbocharged three- and four-cylinder engines. As well as the Cooper SE, there will be a second, less costly EV, the Cooper E, with a smaller battery pack and less powerful motor.

Based on pre-launch interest, Mini Australia believes the two EVs could account for the majority of new Cooper sales, even though they’re more expensive than the others.

The Cooper SE will be $58,990 before on-road costs (or around $65,000 drive-away). This was the only version brought to Barcelona for the new Mini’s introduction to international media.

It’s a much more convincing EV than the outgoing Mini SE. Driving range increases by 70 per cent, to a little over 400km. Power and performance also grow. And the price is lower than the outgoing Mini SE when it launched (though it was heavily discounted near the end of its life). Max DC fast charge rate for the Cooper SE is 95kW, meaning a 10 to 80 per cent recharge of its 49kWh (usable) battery pack will take around 30 minutes.

Its on-board AC charger can handle up to 11kW from a home wallbox. These are both decent numbers.

Though the new Cooper EVs are made in China, at a factory that’s a joint venture between Mini’s parent, BMW, and Chinese car maker Great Wall Motor, you would never guess. The petrol-burning new Cooper C and S models, on the other hand, are made in the UK.

Inside, the new Cooper SE feels upmarket and European. The layout is simple and uncluttered. There was a toy-like feel to the instrument panels of earlier Mini models, but this one is clean and classy.

Mini’s trademark circular central display remains the interior focus point, but now it’s a beautifully crisp 24cm OLED touchscreen. The row of switches beneath is reduced to the essentials, while the instrument panel is trimmed with good looking knitted textiles made from recycled polyester. A bright head-up display will be standard in Australia.

Like all the latest Mini models, including the recently arrived Countryman and coming Aceman SUVs, no animal-derived materials are used to fit out the Cooper’s interior. What looks a lot like leather is actually a vegan imitation. It’ll be the standard seat material for the Cooper SE in the Australian market.

The two-place split-folding rear seat is spacious enough for smallish adults. Cargo capacity is a tiddly 210 litres, but flipping the seats increases it almost fourfold.

Performance from the Cooper SE’s single motor is plenty peppy. There’s some tugging through the steering wheel when accelerating hard, typical in a front-drive car with ample power, but it’s not a major problem.

The suspension is firm, but the Cooper SE is better at smoothing the edges off sharp bumps than previous Mini hatchbacks. The sporty set-up, combined with the direct steering and precisely responsive brakes, make the Cooper SE fun to drive on a winding road.

Seven driving modes can be selected via the Experience toggle below the centre screen. These change the design and layout of the display and the synthetic soundscape heard inside the car. Some also alter how the Cooper SE drives. GoKart mode, for example, sharpens accelerator response and increases steering weight. Green mode makes changes to maximise driving range, including reducing accelerator sensitivity.

Whatever the selected mode, the Cooper SE is a charmer. It combines the classic Mini shape with a snugly stylish interior, and fun-focused driving dynamics with up-to-date EV tech.

There are few, if any, other small EVs from European brands that do it as well as the new Cooper SE.

Having only three doors is its only obvious handicap in the EV-hungry Australian market.

MINI COOPER SE

PRICE: About $65,000 drive-away

SAFETY: Not yet rated

ENGINE: Electric motor; 160kW/330Nm

RANGE: 402km (WLTP) 

THIRST: 14.1kWh/100km

0-100KM/H: 6.7 secs

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