It’s always an occasion worth celebrating when a new electric vehicle is launched on the Australian market, given that there have been previous few to date, and the all-electric version of the Mini Cooper SE hatch is no exception.
Launched by parent company BMW Group in mid-July, the $A54,800 Mini is being pitched as a city car that is perfect for zipping around the handful of short-distance trips that typify the vast majority of daily urban driving patterns.
In keeping with this theme, the three-door hatch has a relatively small battery (32kWh) and range at the lower end of the growing EV spectrum, of between 235-270km per full charge.
But according to the literature, the engine’s torque – 135kW/270Nm – offers the “same corner-carving agility” Mini drivers have come to expect; only perhaps even better, thanks to the lower centre of gravity provided by the battery positioned along the length of the car’s floor.
Certainly, Australia’s Mini enthusiasts appear keen to give it a try. BMW Group says all 200 of the electric hatches set aside for pre-bookings and late 2020 delivery have been snapped up. A second lot – for which we couldn’t get a number – have since been opened to orders, with deliveries slated for early 2021.
But how does it drive?
The Covid-constrained test-drive experience set out by BMW Group consisted of a car, a booklet and a pre-determined driving route which, somewhat incongruously for a city car, first pointed drivers towards Melbourne’s outer suburban Dandenong Ranges.
The scenic hills jaunt was perhaps a good idea, however, to help those with little experience of driving EVs to get used to the Mini’s very responsive and quick acceleration and almost equally responsive automatic braking system, which kicks in if you take any pressure off the “gas”.
This really does take some getting used to and, counter-intuitively, is almost harder to master when driving between higher speed ranges like 60-80km/h on the open road. It takes some practice to nail hitting and cruising at the speed limit for short periods.
In a previous experience test-driving a Tesla Model S, the auto-braking could be switched off or dialled down to suit the environment and/or driver. And while the Mini may also have this function, from that past experience it’s worth persevering with the auto-braking, not least because it is also regenerative and helps prolong the battery life between charges.
And when you head back into the inner suburbs, perseverance on this front is rewarded further, because – as promised in the brochure – it is in this habitat that the Mini’s zippy acceleration and responsive handling comes into its own.
It was a true pleasure driving the Mini through the curvy and hilly streets of inner Melbourne, particularly around the scenic Yarra River-side suburbs, whose streets are currently quieter than usual – traffic-wise – due to the city’s stage-three Coronavirus lockdown.
And the electric Mini does handle very nicely, and – with the notable exception of speed humps – managing the zip-and-brake of the accelerator pedal quickly becomes second nature to use.
In terms of the battery, it seemed to fair pretty well despite some jerky driving and repeated testing of the “legendary” go-kart feel (0-100km in 7.3 seconds), the charge was sitting at just above 50% after the first two-and-a-bit hours of the trip.
Charging, even with zero experience and using no instructions, was also easy. As you can see in the image below, a short pit-stop of around half an hour allowed for a small recharge which didn’t make a huge improvement to the battery’s range but did provide a feeling of warm smugness and time to get a bite to eat.
The literature assures that the Mini can achieve an 80% charge in just 36 minutes when using a basic 50kW DC public charger. So as long as you can readily access one of those, or you plug in at home, range anxiety shouldn’t be a problem.
As for the interior, this seemed a little on the busy side, while the user-friendliness of some of the instruments – and I’m looking at you, indicator lever! – left a little to be desired. Although, of course, it’s all a matter of taste and experience – and whether or not one has time to read the instruction manual!
As a matter of opinion, the less-is-more concept that is so attractive about electric vehicles, in the mechanical sense, is worth reflecting in an EVs software and “instrument cluster.” Why clutter your whisper-quiet, emissions-free driving experience with too many high-tech bells and whistles?
It was kind of cool, however, to be constantly reminded by the Mini’s digital display of just how many petrol stations would NOT need to be visited, whilst driving electric. And that one day, thanks to cars like this, those little bowsers won’t be there at all.