Mini’s 2023 Cooper SE electric vehicle is entering its fourth model year, so it does not boast the very latest technology. However, with its 32.6-kilowatt-hour battery pack, it does give us a look at the increasingly appealing potential of a small-battery EV.
The ongoing evolution of battery-electric vehicles has seen the market go from the short-range 24 kWh Nissan Leaf to the maximum-capacity 200-kWh GMC Hummer EV. My recent road trip in the Hummer EV underscored that, while its large battery does enable some long-distance driving, such a large pack is entirely dependent on access to fast charging 350 kW charging stations because the battery takes too long to charge otherwise.
Maybe a smaller battery, in a lighter vehicle, would be a better combination. The Mini SE provides some insight into this question, even though it proves to need some updates to be really practical.
The Mini Cooper SE is an attractive option, thanks to its spritely driving dynamics. The battery pack is heavy enough to smooth the ride compared to the choppy combustion Mini, but not so heavy as to make the car ponderous or to make it a risk to other road users, as is the concern with the nearly 9,000 lb. Hummer EV.
While the Hummer has a rated driving range of 350 miles, the EPA says that the Mini SE is good for just 114 miles. Trouble is, as the disclaimer says, “your mileage may vary.” In fact, your mileage will vary. On a day with the temperature in the 30s, the Mini predicted that it would go 90 miles on a full charge. When I recharged after 77 miles, the car said it could still go another 18 miles, so my 70-mph highway run in the cold produced slightly better range than predicted.
However, an emergency run for apple cider doughnuts at The Apple House, which is 49 miles away, proved too far for a roundtrip pickup without stopping to charge at a Walmart Electrify America station.
The Mini charges at on 50 kilowatts, which probably seems reasonable considering the small size of its battery pack. However, for a car that needs to charge so frequently, it is important that drivers can get in and out of the charge station quickly. As it happened, I added 12.36 kWh of energy to the battery in 17 minutes, which boosted the pack from 20 percent to 61 percent. The cost was $5.16.
On a warmer spring day, I previously added 17 kWh to another Mini SE in 22 minutes, charging from 28 percent to 80 percent. When charging lithium-ion batteries higher than 80 percent, charging slows dramatically to protect the battery from long-term damage, so the fastest charging examples top out at that level.
The ability to recharge the Mini’s pack at 150 kW would be a real benefit to drivers. That pack is also a little too small for true practicality. For such a car, it should stay small, light, and affordable, so it doesn’t change the car’s dynamics and affordability. But I feel that 100 miles shouldn’t be something that an EV can do, it should be a distance it will do, under all circumstances. So maybe a 10 percent bump to battery capacity at the car’s next refresh as a result of the continuous improvement of battery technology since the Mini SE was announced in 2019 would do the job.
In that case, I’d have been able to make my doughnut run without stopping. And when I did stop to charge the car, I could be confident that the 150-kW charger could boost it from 20 percent to 80 percent in less than 15 minutes.
The onboard charger for Level 2 AC connections such as my home ChargePoint charger works at 7.4 kW, so home charging takes only about four hours. But as with the DC fast charger, a higher-powered onboard charger would make public Level 2 charge stations a more useful option, as you could get a meaningful boost while shopping, for example. This would also contribute to making the car’s small battery pack less of a handicap in daily use.
The Mini SE is great to drive. Its 181-horsepower electric motor launches the car to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, so it is quick without having the excess power of those vehicles that star in YouTube videos making rocket launches in 3.0 seconds.
The regenerative braking is well tuned in the Mini, making it easy to stop and start the car smoothly using only the accelerator pedal. There’s no need to move the shifter to a specific position or to enable this mode by pressing a button because it is the car’s default mode.
The heat pump climate control system and the heated seats keep the cabin warm, but the absence of the available heated steering wheel was an oversight not many cold-weather customers will forgive in 2023. Just make it standard equipment.
The audio system bears the name Hardon-Kardon, but its sound doesn’t reflect that esteemed company’s reputation. In the neutral settings, I found the stereo boomy, but by shifting the fader to emphasize the rear speakers and adding a touch of bass, the sound became decent. The infotainment system supports Apple CarPlay, but so far no Android Auto for the people with those phones.
As with most BMW-derived vehicles, the Mini’s combination touch screen and rotary input knob forces the user through endless layers of menus that make seemingly every interaction frustratingly tedious. At least there’s a prominent volume knob on the dashboard so you don’t have to use the unintuitive steering wheel controls that have left-right arrows for volume control and up-down arrows for tuning that work opposite the expected direction (pressing the up arrow scrolls down the channel list).
Base price for the Mini SE has climbed to $33,900 from its original sub-$30,000 tag, and the as-tested price with the $950 driver assistance package of parking assistance and head-up display, plus the $850 destination charge brings the total to $35,700.
As a fun, comfortable, and practical EV, the Mini Cooper SE could really benefit from incremental upgrades to its battery capacity and charging speed to make a vehicle with a true 100-mile range easy to live with.