2021 Mini Cooper SE Review: Close But No Cigar

Hey! The internet loves short, nuanceless interpretations of big thoughts and in that spirit here’s my review of the 2021 MINI EV: It doesn’t have enough range.

With about 110 miles of EPA range (I saw more like 100 miles, but I never drove it down to 0) it probably comes up just short of making sense for a good portion of the population. I still like it, though, and if you like the regular MINI this almost the exact same except it’s better in a lot of ways. Except for that one.

But let’s allow a little more nuance. (Stupid word counts).

As someone who has had the opportunity to spend a week at a time in a few EVs, I think my job has given me access to exactly the information that the battery electric vehicle market is struggling to get to buyers. Basically, spending a week in an EV really proves to you that range anxiety isn’t as important as you might think. The simple fact of the matter is that by changing my habits exactly not at all, I never ran the Mini’s battery down lower than 90%. And as soon as I got close to that, I plugged it into a regular old wall socket, went to bed, and woke up to a fully charged car.

The Weekend Getaway Test

That’s not to say that range anxiety is silly. It makes sense, it’s just that it’s more like horsepower anxiety than something really important. There’s an amount of horsepower that is necessary but it’s not as much as you might think and the people bragging about how big theirs is tend to be overlooking something else important like emissions (in the case of power) or build quality (in the case of range). I don’t think the MINI quite meets the minimum range requirements for my life, but it’s entirely possible that it could for you. I wouldn’t really consider buying the MINI EV for one simple reason: my family’s cottage is 115 miles away and that’s where I like to weekend during the summer. I’ll give you a minute to reflect on the full richness of how class coded that statement is while I prepare the next paragraph.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV Review

The cottage being just out of range is a bit specific to my experience and, I suppose, if I had to I could find somewhere along the way to spend 36 minutes while I juiced up 80 percent on a fast-charger. The reality is, though, that that would be annoying and I’m not in the business of spending a lot of money (30 grand, in this case) to turn my summer weekends into a cartography expedition. I suspect neither are you. The question of whether or not we humans have the luxury of spending spending our carbon emissions on getting to the cottage is a good one, but there are now (and will soon be more) EVs that can get me out of the city for the weekend without the need to charge so I’d buy one of those even though I don’t think it would be quite as charming as the MINI.

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But I’m a dumb-dumb who decided to move farther away from my family’s cottage. The majority of the people who live where I do, live within 100 miles of their summer activities and the MINI SE wouldn’t then complicate their weekends very much. People like my parents, who each own a car and work within a dozen or so miles of home and who could make it to the cottage for a weekend, could get away with owning the MINI EV despite its perceived lack of range.

And that’s why I think that the real test of an EV’s range is my patented Weekend Getaway Test. People are always going on about how “Oh, I could grab the keys to my pickup tomorrow and drive all the way to Tierra del Fuego if I wanted to.” And A of all, great. Good for you. Give me a call when you get to Argentina. B of all, no one’s doing those trips in one go. A few years ago I drove from Toronto to Regina and the drive, which should have taken but one full day at unbroken highway speeds, actually ended up taking me 4 days because I kept having to stop in order to sleep.

No, the MINI SE would not be my first choice for a cross country trip, but I promise you that its unsuitability to that task would not change my life even a little bit. Whether or not it can support my weekend getaways, though, does. And the MINI EV only just gets a passing grade in that test (and honestly, it’s mostly passing because the teacher saw that it was trying real hard and sees a bit of himself in the student).

The Personal Nature of Deal Breakers

If you live a little closer to your destinations or, more importantly, if you have a second car, then the electric MINI could actually make a lot of sense. Already a very personalityful car, the electric drivetrain only amplifies the car’s charm. The interior is pretty much identical to the normal car, but when you toggle the start switch it makes a fun, whooshing startup noise. There’s also a lot of yellow inside to match the exterior color palette and, obviously, there are some EV-specific gauges and readouts in the infotainment system. None of it is odd enough to be worth mentioning and, in fact, when I showed this to my roommate (who grew up with a MINI in jolly olde England) the only thing I was afraid of was of her being disappointed that it was all very normal.

SEE ALSO: 2019 MINI Cooper S Convertible Review

She wasn’t disappointed, though, she was charmed like me. Driving quietly down domestic streets is very peaceful and there’s a bit of an artificial hum when you’re creeping along at parking speeds, just to let you know you’re moving. And when you really want to get moving, that electric torque hits you way down low and you get a joyful whoosh of speed carrying you like a wave to whatever speed you need. Incidentally 60 mph is achieved in just 6.9 seconds, which is a perfectly nice amount of time for that kind of thing to happen in.

Slowing down, meanwhile, happens almost entirely with regenerative braking. There are two settings that you can pick between with a toggle, and they will bring you to a full stop if you’re planning ahead. It takes a bit of getting used to. Early on in the week I was jumping off the throttle expecting to coast a bit as my foot hovered over the brake pedal only for braking to start quite aggressively at about half throttle. But I got to used to it within two or three days and, I expect, owners will start finding gas-powered cars’ coasting weird before too long.

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Verdict: 2021 Mini Cooper SE Review

The reality of my week with the car was that it was very pleasant and, if anything, more convenient. Every morning my car was fully charged, so I never had to worry about finding a gas station downtown and the car brought joy to everyone who saw it. What more could I ask for? Well, I suspect that if it had been the summer instead of the late fall, I would have been asking for a little more range, but otherwise this is a perfectly good, charming, and useful vehicle.

My mom told me last year that she didn’t think she’d be buying another gas-powered car and at the time I thought she was a little premature. But after my week in the MINI SE, I can’t find the lie. If this is what the last gasp of the first generation of modern EVs is like, then I’m deeply excited for what the ’20s will bring to the world of EVs because it’s already a pretty good world.

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