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Electric MINI Hatch: Cooper S E prototype driven

PROS

  • Eager acceleration
  • Trademark go-kart handling
  • Interior and luggage space unchanged

CONS

  • Steering tugs about under acceleration
  • Weighs 120kg more than petrol model
  • Driving range likely sub-140 miles
Parkers overall rating: 4.0 out of 5 4.0

The MINI Hatch Cooper S E will be the first pure electric model from the brand to go on mainstream sale. It’s due to start production in late 2019, complementing the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) MINI Countryman Cooper S E that’s already available. We’ve had a very early drive of a prototype Cooper S E ahead of first UK deliveries in March 2020, hence the busy camouflaged exterior.

With so few pure electric hatchbacks currently on sale, Cooper S E’s rivals are limited to models not directly comparable, including the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and BMW i3. The use of the Cooper S name promises a more dynamic drive, however, because it’s synonymous with sportier MINIs. It also helps disguise the inevitably higher price of a BEV, as buyers can expect a premium on a Cooper S.

MINI’s electric history

Parent company BMW first experimented with a small production run of electric Mini Es back in 2008, but the compromises were huge – bulky electrics meant the rear seats were removed, luggage space decreased and weight rose by 350kg.

MINI Hatch Cooper S E electric motor

As battery technology has improved, those compromises have all but disappeared for the Cooper S E. Weight increases by 120kg to 1350kg over a petrol Cooper S with the (heavier) automatic gearbox, and interior- and luggage room remain exactly the same as any other three-door MINI Hatch.

That means it’s tight for full-size adults in the back and there’s 211 litres of luggage space. While our test car’s dashboard was also camouflaged, we can expect the same high quality and characterful interior design as all MINIs, plus some electric-specific instrumentation. The driving position is sportingly low, the seats comfortable and visibility good.

Heart of a BMW i3 in the electric MINI

BMW has adapted the electric drivetrain from its i3 model to fit the Cooper S E – a sensible move to gain further economies of scale. A lithium-ion battery is packaged in a T-shape under the car. In place of a conventional engine, the i3’s electric motor and power electronics are positioned under the MINI’s bonnet. Performance is rated at 184hp and 270Nm torque, comparable to the petrol model, if with the very different characteristics of a BEV.

MINI Hatch Cooper S E front three-quarter

Two charge sockets are hidden beneath the regular fuel-filler cap: an 80% charge takes 40 minutes on relatively uncommon 50kW DC chargers, three hours on more numerous 11.2kW AC chargers, or 12 hours to fully charge on a three-pin domestic socket. At this stage, BMW is awaiting confirmation on exactly how far you’ll be able to drive on a full charge, but there’s no doubt it will be below the 146-158 miles officially quoted for the most comparable BMW i3. That car is, after all, 105kg lighter and more aerodynamic.

Is the electric MINI still fun to drive?

What’s for certain is the Cooper S E proved fun to drive on the coned course we tested on. Partly that’s because a greater proportion of weight is mounted low and pushed further back in the car. Acceleration from a standing start is energetic, but it’s at more typical speeds that the instant electric urge is most impressive, swooshing the Cooper S E along with real vigour.

MINI Hatch Cooper S E camouflaged interior

Relatively powerful front-wheel drive cars – including the petrol Cooper S – can wheelspin under acceleration out of tight corners, but the Cooper S E simply grips and goes. It’s impressively nimble through a slalom too, feeling wide, low and hunkered down, but also engagingly playful as it darts eagerly left and right.

There are two characteristics requiring acclimatisation. Firstly, the regenerative braking is very strong, to the extent that lifting the throttle feels like medium-force braking. It helps to recharge the battery and is comparable to other electric cars, but can be dialled back if you like. Less easily remedied is the steering – instant electric power means the front wheels can tug the steering wheel about quite noticeably, particularly under heavier acceleration from corners. We’ll be watching to see if MINI’s engineers can reduce this effect before production.

Should you buy a MINI Hatch Cooper S E?

A decade ago, BMW’s first experiments with an electric MINI revealed a promising supermini hamstrung by compromise. This almost production-ready MINI Hatch Cooper S E has engineered much of these compromises from the equation thanks to development of the i3. Crucially, the Cooper S E is as energetic and nimble to drive as the Cooper S badge suggests, with the caveat that the steering is blighted by those acceleration issues.

More than anything, though, it’s vital that we drive the finished production car on the road and confirm exactly how far the Mini Cooper S E can drive on a charge before we recommend you place an order.

Keep this page bookmarked for further news and reviews of the electric MINI Hatch Cooper S E

MINI Hatch Cooper S E rear three-quarter