2024 Mini Cooper SE Review: Hot Mini First, EV Second

Mini’s fresh crack at a sporty electric hatch won’t necessarily win over EV sceptics, but it gets a lot right
Mini Cooper SE - front
Mini Cooper SE - front

Pros

Prioritises cornering fun over big numbers
Quality-feeling interior full of neat flourishes

Cons

Overly busy infotainment screen
Choppy ride

What makes a car fun for you? If you said many hundreds of horsepower and face-melting acceleration, then congrats: you’re wrong. Okay, you’re not wrong – fun is subjective. But there’s pretty limited appeal in the way most high-performance electric cars provide ‘entertainment’. The new Mini Cooper SE is different.

Unlike the old Mini Electric, which effectively shoehorned bits of a BMW i3 into the third-gen BMW Mini, the fourth generation has been developed from the get-go with both combustion and electric versions in mind. Oh, and while Cooper was previously just a trim level, it’s now the official model name for the car that everyone will still just call the Mini.

Mini Cooper SE - side
Mini Cooper SE - side

While they look near-identical, the petrol and electric versions are in fact entirely different cars. The one you fill up sits on an updated version of the third-gen Mini’s bones, while the one you plug in uses a separate platform, the product of a 50/50 joint venture between BMW and Chinese company Great Wall.

Nevertheless, the Cooper Electric is still a Mini. It’s still a three-door hatch (a five-door and a convertible will follow) with a foursquare stance, and it still drives the front wheels with a front-mounted power source. It’s just that said power source is an electric motor.

Mini Cooper SE - interior
Mini Cooper SE - interior

Mini has streamlined the range neatly. First, select the 181bhp Cooper E or the 215bhp Cooper SE. Then, choose one of three trims that define the visuals and interior ambience – the stripped-back Classic, luxury-oriented Exclusive and sporty, erm, Sport. Finally, optionally choose from three levels of extra equipment (SEs get Level 1 thrown in as standard). Prices range from £30,000 for a Cooper E Classic with no extra bits to £42,500 for a Level 3 Cooper SE Sport.

It’s the Cooper SE we’re most interested in. 215bhp is 14 more than the equivalent petrol Cooper S, although, despite that and 243lb ft of instantly-delivered torque, it’s actually marginally slower to 62mph than its ICE cousin – 6.7 seconds plays 6.6. Being a small EV, top speed is an unremarkable 106mph.

The SE gets a bigger battery than the basic E – 54.2kWh versus 40.7 – which means a respectable max quoted range of 250 miles. It’ll use a quoted max of 4.4kWh of energy for every 62 miles, but as we'll see, the SE doesn't exactly encourage super-efficient driving.

Mini Cooper SE - rear
Mini Cooper SE - rear

It’s unmistakably a Mini inside, with a spot-on driving position that sits you low and far back from a visor-like front windscreen. Forward visibility is far better than it has been in the past, and Exclusive and Sport versions get some particularly lovely bucket seats.

The circular central display is a bigger focal point than ever. Now a fully digital 9.45-inch item, pretty much all the car’s functions are concentrated on it – to its detriment. It’s a crowded, complicated unit to navigate. At one point, I dived into the menu to adjust the air-con, then found no easy way to get back to the sat nav, eventually having to pull over and fiddle around until I got my map back. Not ideal, although if you fancy your chances, you can do pretty much everything via voice command. The Level 1 equipment package gets you a head-up display, which is well worth having given the screen’s business.

Mini Cooper SE - driving
Mini Cooper SE - driving

The ‘Experience’ modes, though, are controlled physically, via a pleasing toggle switch on the centre console. These change the theme of the user interface, accompanied by a slightly cheesy and music-interrupting fanfare when you switch between them. Gimmicky, yes, but it’s a nice extra level of personalisation to have. Go Kart mode gently sharpens the throttle and steering, but disappointingly doesn’t also disconnect the power steering and make you incredibly sweaty.

Generally, the interior’s a really nice place to be, brighter and airier than past Minis and with lots of interesting, high-quality materials. Foremost of these is the knitted dash you get on Exclusive versions, which sounds odd but looks and feels great in reality. It’s still very Mini-ish in that the back seats are for occasional use only – it’s pretty claustrophobic back there.

The all-important question, though, is can the Cooper SE capture the driving brilliance of its petrol-powered forebears? Yes. Yes, it can.

Mini Cooper SE - front, cornering
Mini Cooper SE - front, cornering

At 1680kg, it’s not a light car – probably its biggest rival, the upcoming Alpine A290, weighs over 250kg less – but it’s nevertheless got a chassis that feels darty, agile and composed. You can properly chuck it around, and it responds with a keen turn-in and oodles of grip.

This handling excellence is aided by steering that’s lost none of its trademark Mini weightiness or immediacy, and even offers the odd wriggle of feedback, making corners at any speed a joy to negotiate. Shame about the needlessly thick-rimmed steering wheel.

The tradeoff for this goodness is a noticeably choppy ride and a fair amount of road noise, but it feels worth it for a car that’s so enjoyable in the turns.

Mini Cooper SE - rear detail
Mini Cooper SE - rear detail

It’s properly quick, too, with its instantly accessible torque reserves making it feel far swifter than its 0-62mph time suggests. Boot it out of a junction or a tight bend and it gets all frisky and scrabbly at the front, but never in a way that makes you lose confidence.

Obviously, it’s an EV, and some people will simply write it off for that alone. The lack of any kind of gearbox won’t convince the sceptics, nor will the absence of noise and vibration. Hard acceleration is accompanied by a futuristic hum that gives some feedback, but there are no efforts to recreate a combustion engine sound – and that’s probably a good thing.

We had a brief go in the 181bhp Cooper E too. It’s plenty quick enough, and just as sweet in the bends, but the SE’s extra power and friskiness make it just that little bit more exciting.

Mini Cooper SE - rear
Mini Cooper SE - rear

The biggest compliment I can give the Cooper SE is that its powertrain had basically no impact on my enjoyment of it. You can even give the drive selector a quick pull to get rid of basically all the regen braking at higher speeds, so you can pedal it just like an automatic petrol car.

It’s not going to magically convert the anti-EV crowd, but approached with an open mind, the Cooper SE is hugely likeable. It’s a hot Mini first, and an EV second, and that’s rather high praise.

More importantly, though, it’s living proof that an electric car can induce giggles without resorting to organ-pummeling YouTube bait acceleration. It’s easily the most fun I’ve had in an EV full stop. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

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