(Pocket-lint) - There's no question that the Mini is a motoring icon. Some might argue that this Mini - the BMW Mini - doesn't fall into that category, but we'd beg to differ. It's a quality small car, hugely popular, that drives well and offers plenty of comforts.
It's also one of the few icons that's been converted to electric. The VW e-Golf was perhaps the only notable other, while the majority of electric cars hitting the road are new - with new designs, new looks, for a new generation.
So how does the Mini Electric - or the Mini Cooper SE as it should be known - cross this electric divide?
It's completely Mini from the outside
The Mini Electric is the Mini Hatch. There are some telltale yellow details in places - as well as that enclosed grille - that highlight this is the electric version of the car, but otherwise it's very much the same as the petrol version from an exterior point of view.
That means you have the same overall look as the Mini Hatch, even down to the characteristic scoop on the bonnet that you'd find on a petrol Cooper S. There are several different versions of the Mini Electric - called Level 1, Level 2 and, wait for it, Level 3 - stepping up through the options as they go.
Most of those differences are on the interior, but as you step up there are more colours for paint selections, for example, and wheel options. The Mini Electric hangs onto some of its customisation options too, like the different coloured roof or wing mirror caps, which can add some personality.
There's not a huge amount to say on the exterior design - if you like the regular Mini, you'll like the Electric. Of course, the significant advantage is size: with so many cars getting bigger, this is a compact model, so much so that's it really a driver's car, as the two rear seats are a bit of a squeeze, even for children.
First and foremost this is an urban car; easy to park, ideal for tighter roads and easy to squeeze onto a smaller drive - which is something you might need when charging at home.
Welcome change to the interior, but not quite far enough
We love driving the Mini - and that doesn't change with the Electric. The partial-leather seats of our Level 2 test model were firm and supportive, leading themselves to the spritely go-kart-style driving that the Mini is known for. None of that changes for the all-electric model.
Neither does the boot. It's still small (at 211 litres), but large enough for a couples' weekend away bags or shopping, but it's a bit of a squeeze if you want to add children into the mix. As a three-door hatch getting access to the rear seats is a squeeze - but that's no different to the normal Hatch either.
Much of the interior is a reflection of the exterior - exactly what you'd expect to find, with retro-style switches and a layout of controls that's closely related to BMW - the apple doesn't fall far from the tree - although that doesn't immediately apply to the interior displays.
The big change is to the driver's display, switching in a compact digital arrangement that displays important information neatly enough. Rather than the quirky dials that have evolved over recent years, it's just one flat pill-shaped display, giving you power and charge details at the edges, while information such as speed and range sit in the centre.
As an evolution of the Mini's dials it's really good and it wouldn't be a surprise to see this in other Minis - as it's just a bit more modern - although it's not hugely customisable. It just shows you the essentials, with other information on the central display.
That brings us to the thing that hasn't changed which really needs to: the central display. Hanging onto the big round central design, this harks back to the new Mini's original retro design. It's now all been digitised, but so much of it is design over function. The display is relatively small and not hugely user-friendly in the modern sense, hanging only BMW's tiered user interface (in fancy colours) that dates back over a decade.
While that's not the end of the world, it's more difficult to get around than some modern systems - and this is a thoroughly modern car. There's support for Apple CarPlay, while Android Auto is coming in summer 20202 to improve things - but neither of those systems are currently very good for EVs specifically.
The Mini Electric makes some allowances for its electric status, such as being able to find a charger in the points of interest in the map (you can even fine-tune the list to only show you charging solutions to which you subscribe, for example), but it all feels a little too distant. We'd rather the EV-specific options were front and centre, because that's often what you want access to as an EV driver.
Sure, that's not always the case if you're charging at home and commuting to work within easy range, but as soon as you drive/step-off the beaten track in the Mini Electric, that becomes more important - especially as this is a car with limited range.
Other changes come via the retro switches. There's the option to change driving modes (as indeed there is on the petrol model), but for an EV driver "green" is often more important because that's where you'll get more range - and more range equates to greater peace of mind.
But importantly there's also a switch the change the level of regeneration. This is the process that puts charge back into the battery when you lift off the power or press the brake. It's conveniently placed and in this instance, much better than those cars that might want to hide the regen options in a menu.
Mini Electric range and battery
There's a 32.6kWh battery in the Mini, which the company says is good for 145 miles per charge. To get anywhere near that figure you'll have to drive economically. The averages that we got from the Mini came in at 15.6kWh per 100km, which we figure as about 4 miles per kWh, when driving sensibly. That would bring the range in at about 130 achievable miles, but this range will depend very much on how and where you drive the car, how loaded it is, and so on.
A lot of the time, the car was reporting a range of under 100 miles - saying 85 miles with 92 per cent battery, for example - in the driver's display. Again, this is calculated from recent averages, but isn't always a very true figure of what you'll get. The longer you own and drive the car, the better you'll get to grips with these figures.
Urban driving gives you more regeneration, motorway driving sees the battery drain a lot faster. It's a little irritating that Mini gives the consumption figures in kWh per 100km in the car (which doesn't really mean anything to anybody) but lists miles per kWh on its website. A little consistency to help people figure out what they're getting would help.
There's also no escaping that the Mini Cooper SE has a small battery and the dividend you get for that is lower charging time (naturally), lower weight and lower cost. It's here the trade-off really sits, because the Mini Cooper SE Level 1 comes in at £24,900; which is around £10k cheaper than something like the Kia e-Niro - which has double the battery capacity and close to 300 miles range.
Charging the Mini makes use of the CCS connector on the rear quarter, accepting up to 50kW, which will see the car charged to 80 per cent in 36 minutes. It's not the fastest charging rate out there (150kW charging is now available in the UK), but that doesn't really matter because of the capacity of the battery.
What does this mean in real terms? It would take about 12 hours to charge the Mini Electric on a standard wall socket. Get yourself a wallbox installed and you're looking at under 4 hours - so it's an easy overnight charge, even if you're just using a standard plug.
We said before that this is a driver's car, mostly because of the size, but also because of the way that Minis drive. These cars have always been about being responsive, rapid to accelerate and manoeuvrable - and that's the case for the Mini Electric too, which feels very much like other Cooper S models.
It's heavier, but the 135kW motor will give you 184hp, taking you from 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds. It's not blisteringly fast, but it's rapid from 0-30 which is the important end of that scale, especially for urban drivers.
The Mini Electric is a firm ride, but with a low centre of gravity, it handles very nicely. It's great car on B roads, taking those corners at speed with little roll in either the body of the car or the body of the driver thanks to those seats.
Sporty can mean it's a little hard on the bumps and that's true here - you won't be floating this over suburban speed bumps at speed. But that's Mini's angle: it wants you to think about a sporty drive, a position that's served the company well in recent years. From that perspective, the Mini Electric doesn't let the side down.
The Mini Electric was designed to hang onto as much of Mini's DNA as possible - and in many ways that's been executed well.
What you obviously miss out on is Mini Cooper S range. The question you have to ask yourself is if 130-ish miles is enough to meet your requirements. For many, that pushes the Mini Electric into the second car or commuter category.
But we also think that Mini has missed a trick. This is a major rebirth for Mini, the start of something new, and we can't help thinking that updating some of the interior aspects - especially the central display, the user interface and the data presented to electric car drivers - could all be better.
If you're a Mini fan, the good news is that this is very much the Mini experience as you know and love it. It's just electric, with all the positives that brings.
Alternatives to consider
The Honda e is a close rival to the Mini Electric, with a similar compact stature and designed to sit in the same space. The range is similar too, but what the Honda e offers is something entirely new and refreshing. If you fancy a change, it's the Honda you want.
The Kia e-Niro is one of the best electric cars on the road. It's more costly, but you get a lot more car, with close to 300 miles of range, seats for five rather than four, and it's also efficient.