Are you charged up for ‘The Electric Job’? If not, move on because this Mini is not all it seems. Yes it looks a cheeky chappy, yes the drive will be familiar and yes it’s quick, but there’s no exhaust pipe, the grill is blanked out, and there are bright yellow ‘e’ badges splattered about, including on the fuel cover which now accepts not gasoline but gigawatts. Great Scott!
Okay that’s an exaggeration, you won’t have to harness lightning to get this Mini E to go, just plug it into a fast charger to juice up the 32.6kWh lithium-ion batteries laid out in a T-shape under the rear seats and along the middle of the car. They add weight of course (it’s a 145kg heavier at 1395kg) and height – the Mini E is lifted by 18mm to allow more clearance for the batteries. However, the centre of gravity actually goes down because of the extra mass – which should be better for stability and handling.
This Mini E is no pioneer – partly because this third generation of the ‘New Mini’ has been around since 2014 (and is probably due to be replaced soon) and there was a previous Mini Electric in 2009, though that one had no rear seats, limited luggage space and only a few hundred were made and leased in limited numbers.
The new car shares no such compromises and is widely available from prices starting at £26,000 for the entry level (there’s three trims, all badged Cooper S) and also benefits from model-year updates for 2021 – essentially improvements to the instrumentation and infotainment.
The motor in the front puts out 181bhp, slightly down on the 189bhp of the petrol Cooper S and likewise the torque is slightly less at 199lb ft versus 207lb ft. Top speed is only 93mph and 0-62mph acceleration is in 7.3 seconds which compares to 146mph and 6.8 seconds for the conventional car respectively.
If those numbers don’t sound electrifying, don’t worry, the experience of slamming down the throttle, taming the torque steer, and experience uninterrupted linear momentum build-up through a one-speed transmission, will be suitably stunning. Off the line this feels very quick, enough to startle the front wheels.
Any perception of extra mass melts away, as the Mini keenly attacks corners just as you’d expect it to. It makes you wish the steering had more feel, it’s also a little light and vague around the centre but firms up as you rotate it. It’s responsive and accurate enough, though not quite as enchanting as Minis of old, but it’s loyal enough to a talented chassis. Front and rear weight distribution has also improved slightly (from 60:40 front/rear to 54:46) which enhances balance.
So it remains largely fun to drive. How about comfortable? Interior accommodation is the same as any contemporary Mini, that is to say, just about manageable for kids in the back, more than adequate for large adults in the front. The boot offers 211 litres of space, though the underfloor compartment is packed with charging cables.
As for the ride, there is an over-firmness to the platform that I’m starting to believe is endemic of cars with batteries in their bones below, but while it picks up minor imperfections around town though short of being jarring, it actually manages to smoother bigger bumps and undulations with the maturity of larger cars. It’s actually more comfortable on motorways than city streets.
But it makes more sense in the latter than the former. Head into gridlock and the range stretches out making the claimed 145 on full charge potentially believable, although when I kept it cabled to 100% it only indicated 114 miles. But with the default regen which enables single-pedal driving it recoups substantial energy to the batteries in stop-go traffic. Yet when things open up and you start exploiting the car’s keen dynamics, volts vault away quickly.
The Mini Electric still feels like a darty tearaway, boasting solid quality if a somewhat fidgety ride, it remains an engaging and entertaining runabout, but it certainly makes more sense as an urban attack vehicle than a distance devourer, though the occasional B-road blast will prove irresistible.
It’s also a sign of things to come, and it’s highly likely that the next gen Mini will (like the new Fiat 500) be entirely electric-propelled.
‘Hold on lads, I’ve got an idea. See that plug socket?’