Mini Cooper Electric prototype test drive 2023

The Mini Electric wasn’t the first hatchback EV or the best, but it was the first to prove that EVs can be enjoyable without 600bhp dragsters.

Despite being an afterthought (essentially an ICE Mini Hatch with batteries replacing the engine, fuel tank, and exhaust), it combined instant electric punch and a pointy chassis into something compelling.

Of course, its short range is a big handicap, and newer cars like the Fiat 500, MG 4, and Cupra Born have since eclipsed it as our favorite affordable driver’s EVs, but the Electric still serves as strong proof of concept for the battery-powered hot hatch, and it makes up a fifth of Mini’s sales today.

Mini’s second generation is right. The Spotlight Automotive-Great Wall Motors joint venture created a specific EV platform for this automobile. Ora Funky Cat.

The Mini Cooper E, or Cooper SE for the more powerful and longer-range variant, was developed separately from the Cat.

It now has range. The Cooper E has 180bhp and a 40kWh battery for 185 miles, while the Cooper SE has 215bhp and a 54kWh battery for 240 miles. Today’s Electric only gets 143 miles from 32.6kWh.

JCW, a Cooper S with more power and less range

The Cooper E is comparable to the Electric despite its new platform. It’s shorter and has reduced rear overhang, but it’s wider and has a longer wheelbase. The multi-link rear axle is rare for a little automobile.

I drove prototypes draped in colorful camouflage, but we’ve seen images of the exterior and had a glance under the sheets to see the same reductionist approach.

Chrome and most controls are gone. Even the driver-side gauge cluster is gone. A huge, spherical touchscreen controls most of those items. OLED makes it slim and bezel-free.

I appreciate hefty old-school controls, but even with highly broken prototype software, it looks good and seems to operate. Like a Tesla, you quickly adjust to looking slightly right for speed, and a head-up display is optional.

With no buttons and the gear selector moved to a toggle under the screen, the centre console is free for storage, and the dashboard’s circular air vents have been replaced by thinner ones, but certain trims feature colorful woven fabrics to provide flair.

The driving position remains low despite the battery pack under the passenger compartment. The rear seat is still unsuitable for adults, and the seats are nonetheless comfy and supportive despite lacking an adjustable thigh bolster.

Despite the interior’s modernization (for better or worse), the new Mini’s ignition key-like start/stop button adds control and theater.

A brief road loop was followed by a tricky test track. First impressions are quite encouraging, but a final decision and star rating will follow after we drive a finished car.

Steering changes. I liked the on-centre sensation, but the engineers claim they’re constantly tweaking it. Many current Minis have lost their sluggish feel and turn-in. Even in Sport driving mode, it’s light and natural. The hot hatch experience includes torque steer when accelerating quickly out of corners.

The rack is straight and has a fixed ratio, so you always know how much turn-in you’ll get.

Even on winter tyres in cold and rainy weather, the chassis grips and responds to quick steering. The nose dives into corners unlike the prior car. Load the front and play the rear.

If Minis’ steadier balance is more your style, don’t worry. The traction and stability control systems reveal the engineers’ hard effort. Leave everything on and the systems will carefully distribute power to ensure traction, nimble handling, and rear axle alignment.

DSC Sport mode preserves traction and gently rotates the car through turns. It encourages you to toy with the car’s balance while watching out for problems. DSC Off controls wheelspin but lets you throw shapes on track.

Ride-related questions are dynamic. The new Mini is well-suspended even on Austria’s smooth roads. Our 17-inch-wheeled hatchback handled the severe compressions on the test track and any drainage cover I could run over on the road with aplomb, softening out sharp edges like good dampers do. Its performance on a rocky B-road is unknown.

Since I’m speculating, I can’t say anything about range, but the Mini Electric is very efficient in the real world, so it’s likely carried over. You’ll buy the Cooper SE for its range, not performance.

Both versions are EV-nippy and barely different. BMW Group EVs have adaptive and one-pedal modes, but no coasting mode. Regenerative braking is selected through a menu.

Prices aren’t available yet, but they’ll probably start with three. The Cooper E’s range, ride, infotainment system, and that remain undisclosed. However, I’ve been impressed with the style, character, and driving experience so far. This new EV may realize the Mini Electric’s hot hatch concept.

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About the Author: Sanjh Vishwakarma

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