Mini Hatch Cooper SE: the cheapest fully-electric car to hit SA so far
While it's no slouch when asked to sprint, this e-car does need longer legs
Very soon we motoring journalists will have exhausted all the watt-related puns in the book. A complete literary short-circuit. That is because battery-powered cars are joining the fray faster than we can write witty headlines.
Last month we stuck an index finger into the socket of automotive electrification. We looked at the evolution of the breed and sampled the violently accelerating Porsche Taycan Turbo S: its 0-100km/h of 2.8 seconds seemed akin to the speed of light.
Soon, however, the technology will have normalised, and it will proliferate into the mainstream. The launch of the Mini Hatch Cooper SE in South Africa is proof that this shift is in full swing.
But before delving into the finer points of the newcomer, allow me to make a confession. This story was typed from the cabin of an idling, diesel-powered Volvo XC40. It may seem a curious choice of office, but it was chosen for a simple reason - at the time it had more electricity (and warmth) than my dark and cold apartment.
The irony is not lost on me, putting down ink about another plug-in machine when the light switch currently relays nothing more than a hollow click. Our national energy parastatal needs to get its house in order. But that is a plea we have all made and heard before.
The Cooper SE is the cheapest fully-electric new car currently on sale in SA. Although, starting at R642,000, it is far from what you would describe as affordable. You could, for example, have an entry-level Mini One and more than R240,000 in change.
Anyway, let's assume you're committed to the cause. What do you get for your money?
As a start, it is commendable that there are no glaring compromises in layout over the regular, petrol-powered Cooper S. Luggage space, for example, remains unchanged (211l, or 731l with the seats folded). The lithium-ion battery pack, with its 12 modules and total energy content of 32.6kWh, sits in a T-shaped arrangement in the floor.
There are two trim levels on offer; the standard "S" and the more generously appointed "L" version. It features a smattering of aesthetic distinctions over its fossil-fuelled brethren. This includes a wheel design said to mimic that of a domestic wall socket. Add to that a garnish of yellow decorative strips, a model-specific grille without the usual chrome slats, plus plug-shaped motifs hinting at what lies beneath.
Apart from an extremely dramatic audio greeting on start-up, the cabin offers few cues that you are in fact steering a Mini powered by volts not pistons. It still brings the usual suite of whimsical bongs, bops and blips the brand endows their vehicles with.
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The SE does ride slightly higher compared to a normal Cooper S - an 18mm increase was needed to give the battery setup extra breathing space from the ground. It is also 145kg heavier, tipping the scales at 1,365kg.
While the extra fat can be felt from behind the wheel, the SE is far from being a slouch when asked to sprint, with 135kW and 270Nm summoned instantaneously. The dash from 0-60km/h is brisk at 3.9 seconds, while the standstill to 100km/h run takes 7.2 seconds.
Those agile Mini reflexes are part of the mix, but again you can tell that it is encumbered with more. That said, there is no denying that its lower centre of gravity and more substantial footprint make it far more dynamic than its cousin, the BMW i3.
The biggest disappointment was the travelling range, at a rather middle-of-the-road 150km. This is in comparison to the 270km extolled in the technical release.
When asked about the reason for the disparity, the company responded that the quoted range differs from market to market and that the car on sale in SA has been specified for hot weather conditions.
• Cooper SE (Trim S): R642,000
• Cooper SE (Trim L): R722,000
Charging will take around 12 hours via a standard household socket. The optional Mini Electric Wallbox (R30,000) will facilitate an 80% charge in two and a half hours and a full battery in three and a half.
Fast-charging stations are available at five BMW dealerships, allowing for 80% capacity in as little as 35 minutes. The rest accommodate charging via the standard 11kW AC outlets.
After the initial experience of its sprightly acceleration in Sport mode, the selector toggle was set to the more appropriate Green setting. Green+ was avoided, because it bans the use of conveniences such as climate control and heated seats in a bid to optimise range.
The severity of the regenerative braking can be adjusted between mild and intense: with the latter engaged, the middle pedal rarely sees use. My test route was approximately 45.5km, beginning at the local BMW headquarters in Midrand, to Melrose Arch via the back roads and returning on the freeway.
Truthfully, I would have happily driven to Welkom - if the legs of the Cooper SE were not so short.
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