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    Mini Cooper SE — First Drive Review

    Authors Image

    Ninad Ambre

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    MINI Cooper SE Front View
    MINI Cooper SE Right Front Three Quarter
    MINI Cooper SE Right Front Three Quarter
    MINI Cooper SE Right Side View
    MINI Cooper SE Right Side View
    MINI Cooper SE Right Rear Three Quarter
    MINI Cooper SE Right Rear Three Quarter
    MINI Cooper SE Rear View

    Why would I buy it?

    • Fun to drive
    • Retro-looking EV
    • Exclusivity

    Why would I avoid it?

    • Limited range
    • Not very practical
    • Expensive

    What is it?

    Left Front Three Quarter

    There's hardly anyone who has not heard of the brand Mini. And you ought to be living under a rock if you are unaware of car manufacturers bringing in electric vehicles. This Mini Cooper SE is the electric version of the iconic Mini Cooper hatchback. Instead of a conventional internal combustion engine, this one gets an electric motor paired with a battery. The best part is that none of the Mini's design elements has changed and that includes the round headlamps, two-door body style, compact footprint, and even the Brit elements like in the tail lamps. Now, in addition, there's the UK electric plug design in the alloys too. What about the driving fun? We shall get to that bit soon.

    Left Rear Three Quarter

    Is the cabin any good?

    Dashboard

    First let's get inside the cabin of the Mini which is known for its quirky design traits and features. This one, too, isn't any different as the styling and layout remain the same. The circular-shaped housing for the infotainment unit is still surrounded by lights that flash up in red in the sport mode. Like the instrument cluster, the central display gets tons of information this time, including the electric bits as well. Apart from the usual audio, navigation, and other controls, there are displays for performance parameters, charging settings, regeneration, and others that are part of the E-Drive. Even the part-leather part-fabric seats with adjustable under-thigh support continue to offer comfort as in the standard Mini. Then, the unique toggle switches have been retained on the dash and the roof. Overall, it's an ergonomic cabin offering good all-around visibility.

    Second Row Seats

    That said, the cramped second row with difficult access and lack of under-thigh support continues to be the chink in its armour. Now, the limited boot space has further been reduced with the incorporation of batteries and charging equipment. Though it has individual sunroofs, a full panoramic one with full electric controls rather than the partial manual ones would have enhanced its appeal as well as functionality. Then, a 360 camera and ventilated seats too would have added to the delight of customers. Nevertheless, some of its USPs remain to be sports seats, a Harman Kardon music system, a Nappa leather steering wheel, and an 8.8-inch touchscreen. The latter gets manual controls in the centre console and it comes with Apple CarPlay compatibility. On the safety front, there are a host of passive and active driver assistance systems including four airbags, adaptive cruise control, parking assist, TPMS, adaptive headlights, and more.

    Infotainment System

    Is it nice to drive?

    Left Front Three Quarter

    Now, this is one thing most would absolutely want to know given the ICE Mini has always been good to drive. Now with a weight of 1,420kg the SE is heavier than the standard Mini and with an increased ground clearance it might not look that great. But that's not the case. The Cooper SE packs in a 32.6kWh battery pack that powers its electric motor to deliver 181bhp and 270Nm of torque. Yes, it’s slightly less than the petrol-Mini, but there's instantaneous torque available. So much so that the tyres squeak while spinning and trying to find grip. The steering also slightly tugs as the car is propelled forward to achieve a 0-100kmph sprint time of 7.3 seconds. Now, that's fast and indeed good by any standards.

    Left Rear Three Quarter

    Another advantage is that this isn't a conventional gearbox with a slight delay or lag. This E-Drive transmission aids in transferring loads of readily available torque to the front wheels and darting ahead with agility. Further, it gets four drive modes, namely green+, green, mid, and sport — in the increasing order of its quick zipping ability. Even in the most conservative green+ mode, the throttle response is fantastic. But then it switches off the air-con controls, which is not to my liking. The other modes do not restrict anything and the sport mode, no holds barred, provides ballistic power to race away. However, you will see the range reducing by a tad bit here. Nevertheless, there are two regeneration levels on offer — high energy and low energy. Both allow one-pedal driving, with the former being too aggressive with the braking and recuperation.

    Right Front Three Quarter

    And to address the elephant in the room, yes, the driving range can be one deterrent for all buyers. Though we managed 225.7km in our real-world range test, a practically estimated range of less than 200km isn't impressive. And even if one manages to find a 50kW rapid DC charging that can reduce the full charging time to 35minutes, halting and finding a charging station every now and then can be quite cumbersome, especially with the currently developing charging infrastructure. Hence, the Mini Cooper SE will mostly be restricted to the city’s confines despite its ability to take the highways with superb stability. Having said that, tyre noise is quite prominent after 70kmph which needs to be downed by the onboard music system.

    Right Rear Three Quarter

    Nonetheless, the car's weight distribution has been smartly managed, thanks to the batteries arranged in a T-Shape below the rear seats and between the front row. In addition, the lowered CG helps further. So when you chuck the car around the corner you do feel the heft but you're very much in control and can enjoy driving it like the athletic Mini that it always has been. Its steering provides good feedback and is quite direct to take the car in the exact direction it’s pointed at. The 17-inch wheels shod with Goodyear rubber do a good job of finding grip and, in fact, isolating the cabin from irregularities. However, there's no running away from the fact that with such a stiff set-up you'll have to slow down on bad patches of the road and be mindful of the sharp-edged potholes. But then again, the car didn't scrape anywhere thanks to its short wheelbase and took all speed breakers without me having to zig-zag across them.

    Left Side View

    Should you buy it?

    Right Side View

    Most certainly yes, if you are looking for a brand that has an upmarket image. A car that will lend you bragging rights of having something unique while being a little friendly with the environment. This one is an electric vehicle that's not just outright fast but agile and fun to drive as well. However, what might make you reconsider buying this Mini is its driving range, practicality, seating comfort for four, and on-road price of Rs 53.68 lakh. I would, for that matter, consider the Volvo XC40 Recharge then. Still, if you swear by the Mini's looks and want a modern car with retro looks, you'll have to remember that the Mini Cooper SE can be your only car if you don't mind charging it frequently, or your usage isn't much and limited to the city only.

    Left Rear Three Quarter

    Pictures by Kaustubh Gandhi

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