It’s going to be called the ‘Cooper S E’
Yep, this is not merely an eco special, it’s supposed to be fun too. If Mini had simply called it the Mini Electric or something, our expectations might not have been quite so high. But it did, so they are.
The added weight we mentioned earlier means things don’t get off to the best of starts. Nor does the fact electric Minis ride between 10 and 20mm higher than a normal Cooper S (in EVs the batteries have to be mounted a certain height off the ground). However, the way the batteries are packaged (mostly in the transmission tunnel and under the rear seats, where the fuel tank used to be) means its centre of gravity is actually lower, and weight distribution front-to-back is closer to the perfect 50/50 - you’re looking at 54/46 here.
Setting off it feels a lot like a regular Mini. There’s the same kind of weight and feel to the steering, which isn’t twirly-light like you get in most small EVs. At speed it still turns in keenly and stays pretty flat, but the weight does come into play eventually, as the mass catches up with your direction changes. The car we drove was a disguised prototype, so obviously isn’t quite the finished article, but there’s certainly promise here. It’s tangibly a Mini, which is great, and will no doubt benefit from the fact no other affordable, electric car handles particularly well.
Braking is interesting. The i3 has no regen modes - it just does it by default. The Mini does too, but now there’s an option to lower the level of regen from 0.19g of braking to 0.11g. The former is enough that, with a bit of planning, you can drive around without using the brake pedal. The latter…isn’t. The brakes themselves do have a bit of that hybrid/EV springiness to them, but they’re not the worst we’ve used. Again, more when the car is a) finished and b) on sale.
As for the ride - obviously the suspension has been fettled a bit for the EV. We drove it on a super smooth test track, so there’s no knowing how it’ll cope in the UK on actual roads. We’re told it should feel similar to the Cooper S, which is to say a few per cent too firm.