The original Mini was a masterpiece of packaging. Its four-cylinder engine was mounted transversely, with the transmission built into the oil sump beneath, freeing up a ton of space for passengers and cargo. The Mini wasn't the first car with an engine mounted east-west, but it nearly perfected the concept, changing the automotive world in the process.
Today's Mini promises its new electric Cooper SE is a similar packaging marvel. The car, which makes its debut today, rides on the same platform as the regular Cooper. Under the hood resides a 181-hp electric motor sending power to the front wheels, while a T-shaped 32.6kWh battery is mounted in the floorpan between the front seats and under the rear seats. This means the Mini Cooper SE offers the same amount of passenger and cargo space as the internal-combustion Cooper—something that's not always the case when a conventional car is electrified.
Mini says the Cooper SE weighs 3009 lbs—319 pounds more than the equivalent automatic-transmission Cooper S. Thanks to the SE's floor-mounted battery pack, its center of gravity is around an inch lower than that of a Cooper S despite the extra weight. The SE's electric motor is lighter than the Cooper S's four-cylinder, which helps even out the front-to-rear weight distribution.
Unfortunately, the Cooper SE's relatively small battery pack brings with it a big drawback—limited range. Mini quotes 145 to 167 miles of driving range on a full charge based on European test procedures, and it doesn't yet have an EPA-estimated range. Typically, the EPA figure is significantly lower than its European counterpart, so don't plan on taking long trips in this car; it's really a city runabout.
With 199 lb-ft of torque available from zero RPM, the Cooper SE should make stop-light drag races interesting. Mini quotes a 0-37 mph (0-60 km/h) time of 3.9 seconds while 62 mph (100 km/h) takes 7.3 seconds from a standstill. Like many EVs, the Cooper SE offers regenerative braking from its electric motor. Drivers can control the amount of regen via a switch on the center console, with the maximum setting enabling single-pedal driving.
Is the Cooper SE as revolutionary as the original Mini was when it arrived 60 years ago? Not really. This isn't a game-changer; it's a relatively small step towards the future. But, it should be a fun car to cruise around town in, and a sensible commuter for those who can charge it easily.