Overseen by BMW, the new MINI has been with us for 20 years, since 2001. You probably wouldn't believe that because even the earliest versions still look modern and fresh, and MINI has resisted the urge to alter its winning formula too much as time has passed.
The MINI is proudly built in Britain. As its popularity has grown, the MINI brand has gradually added to its range, with new models such as the Paceman, Clubman and Countryman entering showrooms.
MINI has explored hybrid electric technology and now offers plug-in hybrid versions of some of its models. Still, MINI Electric is a true game-changer, which signals MINI's intentions as governments move towards phasing out internal combustion engines. Aside from its bigger BMW i3 brother, which the Electric shares its motor, this is only the firm's second foray into the electric marketplace.
The MINI Electric was launched in 2019 and has been used as a platform for MINI to show off new technology, including the digital dashboard, which was first introduced on the Electric and is now available across the rest of the range. Elsewhere in the world, it is known as the MINI Cooper SE, so don't get confused if you see it by that name.
While it may officially appear to be a bit of a guinea pig for future development, the MINI Electric hatch feels like a polished, accomplished car and has proved to be a welcome addition to the MINI range. It has just been facelifted for 2021 in line with the rest of the range, so it looks completely fresh.
The trim levels are easy to understand, and the three-door MINI Electric comes well-equipped as standard, stepping up levels and adding features and tech as it goes. The top-spec versions are dripping with kit, which will make even luxury cars jealous.
There are some limitations to the three-door MINI Electric hatch, mainly its range, and its small interior and lack of boot space, which we will look at during this review. However, many discerning customers will buy the MINI because they only want a MINI, so most of them won't be too worried about compromising on some things to get the car they want. While some other electric models offer a better range, they might not provide the personality and character that an electric MINI promises.
MINI's slogan for the Electric is "Looks MINI, Feels Electric." MINI has done everything in its power to keep MINI Electric true to its brand values of being fun and exciting, but also giving buyers the environmental benefits of an electric car.
In this car review, we will give MINI Electric a proper shakedown to see if MINI has kept its promise.
Range, Charging, & Emissions
MINI has very cleverly packed its battery unit into a T-shape down the middle of the car and under the rear seats.
To avoid intruding too much into the already-cosy cabin, MINI has limited the size of the power pack, making it smaller than in some rivals. This is a shame because it determines the distance you could travel. Still, we can understand why it's done that, having carefully balanced range against weight, interior space, and the type of journeys that it expects MINI Electric car drivers to make. Why fill the car with batteries when MINI's research shows that most customers will generally drive short trips?
All this means that the Electric's 32.6kWh battery unit offers a useable battery capacity of 28.9kWh, giving it an official WLTP range of 144 miles. Expect this to be much nearer to 100 miles on a cold winter's day when the conditions are less than optimal, and you're running all the heating systems. The MINI has the smallest battery of its class, and this 144-mile range sounds less than impressive when you pitch it against rivals claiming to offer over 200 miles of range, but most people will still quickly get a few commutes in without having to charge the car.
However, there are benefits to having a smaller battery pack, which are reflected in the charging time and the price of the car, both of which are lower than many of its rivals. Lithium-ion batteries are expensive, after all.
If you can find a 50kW DC fast charger, you can charge the car from 0 to 80% in just 36 minutes, adding another half an hour for a full charge to 100%. A 7kW wall box will take just over 4 hours to charge it to 100% from empty, so it will quickly be ready to hit the road if you leave it plugged in overnight. If you've only got access to a standard plug socket, you'll be waiting around 12 hours for it to charge up to 80%.
The MINI Electric comes with an awe-inspiring eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty on the battery, which is well ahead of many rivals and shows the faith that MINI has in its technology. Otherwise, the car itself is covered by a 3-year unlimited mileage warranty. MINI is generally very good at honouring its warranty claims, so owners should be assured that any issues will be swiftly dealt with.
In terms of insurance, the Level 1 and Level 2 versions sit in a very respectable group 22, with the Level 3 in group 23 due to its higher price and extra equipment such as the panoramic roof. This will not be an expensive car to insure.
The MINI Electric is also reasonably cheap and efficient to run thanks to its diminutive size, achieving around 4.2 miles per kWh in real-world driving. This is aided by the weight saved through having the smaller battery, although the MINI Electric is still about 150kg heavier than an equivalent petrol Cooper S, so it's no lightweight in that regard.
Based on an average home electricity tariff, the MINI Electric will cost just over £5 to charge, translating to around 4p per mile. It will cost approximately 7p a mile if you use a rapid charger at a service station, but these vary widely in price. Compare this to your average family hatchback, and you're saving around two-thirds of the cost of running a petrol-powered car.
The great benefit of an electric car is that, as they emit no CO2, there is no charge for road tax. The MINI Electric is entirely free to tax.
The MINI Electric bases its styling on the petrol Cooper S, and it performs like it too. The MINI Electric has 181 brake horsepower on tap from its electric motor and is raring to go. Press the accelerator, and the car launches with enthusiasm, as you'd expect from an electric vehicle with a single gear auto and no turbo lag. Power is delivered smoothly. You reach 62mph from standing in just 7.3 seconds, which is only a fraction of a second behind its petrol sibling, and thoroughly respectable given the extra weight it carries.
It is also quickest in its class, with the Vauxhall Corsa e coming in at 7.6 seconds and the Peugeot e-208 lagging at 8.1 seconds.
The MINI has a top speed of 93mph, which initially sounds relatively pedestrian. Still, then you consider that driving at that speed for an extended period would waste your battery anyway. This top speed is pretty similar to its peers; none of them is intended for outright speed, and indeed nor is the MINI.
Its swift acceleration ensures the MINI is quick away from the traffic lights and can keep up with traffic without any issue. Travelling at motorway speeds for extended periods will drain the battery faster, but the MINI is happy to sit at 70mph without a care in the world. It is also nimble and nippy in town driving, thanks to its compact size.
The acid test for the MINI Electric is the driving experience, which they were keen to keep true to form. You'll be pleased to hear that the Electric doesn't disappoint despite exchanging its engine for an electric motor. It feels quick and sporty, turns in sharply and handles very well.
The MINI is fun to drive and keen to play if you want to and makes many of its rivals feel rather humdrum in comparison. The battery pack lowers the centre of gravity, making it feel very planted on the road, but this does lend itself to a harsher ride on poor quality roads.
If you're new to electric driving, then the regenerative braking system can initially be challenging to get used to, and the MINI Electric is no different. When you lift off the accelerator, the brakes will kick in to transmit energy back into the battery to help extend your range. You can vary this with a switch on the dashboard if it is too intrusive, but it reverts to its standard-setting on each journey. You learn to get the best out of this for economical driving, and it naturally becomes part of your driving style.
You can also vary your driving mode, between "Green Plus" and "Sport." Green Plus makes the car as economical as possible and will discourage you from putting your foot down, whereas Sport is precisely the opposite and will let you enjoy the pace of the electric motor if you find a nice back road and want to play.
The MINI Electric offers you a choice between looking like an average MINI or looking like an electric one.
You can specify the 17" Electric alloy wheels, which look like a three-pin plug socket, as well as some extra detailing on the grille if you want the world to know you're driving an electric car. Otherwise, you can go largely incognito and choose other wheels and a standard grille.
The MINI is a pretty, cheeky car, with its round LED headlights and its union jack rear lights adding to the visual appeal. You can't help but smile when you look at it.
There is a choice of six colours, including British Racing Green as you would expect from a MINI, and a selection of five alloy wheels to choose from, including a 16" option if you find the 17"s make the ride too harsh.
Inside, the MINI Electric looks just like any other modern MINI. It is nicely designed and built to an excellent standard, with chunky switches and soft-touch plastics.
It has a digital cockpit as standard, and there is also an 8.8-inch colour infotainment display in the centre of the dash, which houses the standard satellite navigation system. Unusually this is not a touchscreen but is operated by a little widget between the front seats, which is easy to use once you get used to it.
The sat nav can direct you to any one of 8000 suitable charging stations if you need to top up the juice. You also get Apple CarPlay as standard if you want to plug your phone in. The retro interior of a MINI is always a nice place to be.
It has sports seats as standard, which are comfy to sit in and set low to give you the sporty driving experience. The rear seats are set very slightly higher than in a standard MINI to allow the battery unit underneath, reducing headroom. Still, otherwise, there is minimal impact in the cabin.
As with any MINI, cabin and boot space are at a premium, and rear-seat passengers sitting behind a tall driver won't be all that comfortable. However, ISOFIX is fitted as standard, and the MINI will accommodate four adults in reasonable comfort if perhaps a little cosily. The boot is small but useable and will manage the weekly shop or several carry-on suitcases, but if you need more load-lugging space, the rear seats split and fold 50:50 to add some extra practicality. The MINI Electric only comes as a three-door, so it does lose a little usefulness here.
The cabin is a pleasantly quiet place to be, with no fake engine noises and no engine rumble or vibration that you get with an internal combustion engine. There is a bit of wind and tyre noise at higher speed as you would expect nothing to drown it out, and the MINI's design incorporates quite an upright windscreen, but otherwise, the MINI Electric is very serene to drive.
The MINI Electric has not yet undergone its Euro NCAP crash test, but its Cooper sibling achieved four stars back in 2014. Safety technology has moved on significantly since then, and the Electric is a substantially different car, so we will have to wait and see how it performs when it has its test.
The MINI has a range of safety equipment as standard, including a brace of airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, ABS and DSC. Higher spec models also feature autonomous emergency braking (AEB), active cruise control and traffic sign recognition.
The MINI Electric is eligible for the government electric car grant of £2500, which is a welcome reduction to the road price and represents over an 8% saving off the cost of the entry-level model.
The Electric range is simple to understand and departs a little from MINI's traditional policy of letting customers pick all their options from the menu. Trims are measured in levels, starting with Level 1 at £26,000 (including the government grant). Level 2 is £28,000, Level 3 is £32,000, and there is a new Collection edition at £32,550.
Level 1 buys you an excellent specification as standard, including satellite navigation, LED headlights, a digital cockpit, cruise control and dual-zone air conditioning.
Upgrading to Level 2 provides extras including rear parking sensors and camera, a driving assistant pack containing traffic sign recognition, city collision mitigation for pedestrians and high beam assist, comfort access and heated part-leatherette seats.
Level 3 offers sumptuous luxury, with features including a panoramic sunroof, front parking sensors, adaptive headlights, head-up display, wireless phone charging, excellent Harmon Kardon speakers and a full leather interior in a choice of two colours.
The Collection edition provides a swanky multi-tone roof, the option to delete the panoramic sunroof to make the most of that, and a choice of two unique edition colours, with Piano Black trim to the exterior to give it a classy finish.
None of these models will leave you feeling short-changed on spec by any means, but if your budget will stretch a little, then it's worth upgrading to at least Level 2 to enjoy some of the extra toys that MINI Electric offers. Level 3 may be a little excessive for an everyday commute, but the extra toys are nice to have. Whichever you choose, the MINI is well equipped and designed to spoil you.