A fully electric Mini wasn’t even in the product plan when the F56 generation debuted, but here we are. Mini has finally let us drive its new Electric three-door hatch in full production spec after our earlier prototype drive.
And before we get into it, this isn’t actually the first electric Mini. This latest generation does have a plug-in hybrid Countryman, and BMW experimented with the Mini E back, but only 600 were built and leased. The compromises were huge – the rear seats vanished, boot space shrank and the EV hardware added 350kg. Lessons learnt from that car fed into development of the i3, but even BMW engineers admit they didn’t anticipate how quickly battery technology and affordability would improve by now. So it’s a neat completion of the circle that the i3 is now donating its EV heart to its Mini cousin.
So what exactly is under the skin?
Now, we mention the i3 donating bits, but Mini engineers stress that it absolutely is not a copy-and-paste job. Here the battery pack is rated at 93.2Ah, and a bit smaller than the i3’s because it’s arranged in a T-shape beneath the floor. The top of the T goes across the rear axle, the straight bit along the spine of the floorpan.
The punchier i3 S donates its power electronics and 135kW/181bhp electric motor, produced by BMW at its Landshut plant. These components are normally located at the rear of the i3 S, but they’re slotted under the Mini’s bonnet, cradled in a frame that even uses the existing three engine mounting points.
So it still looks like a Mini
It does, and to some that will be hugely welcome; in fact, that’s what Mini was going for. If you want, you can have it like the car pictured – with bright yellow trim panels and properly cool n’ retro alloys that are shaped like three-pin plug sockets.
But you don’t have to have it like that. Those wheels can be swapped out for other designs, nor is the yellow detailing on the outside obligatory. Minis are funky enough already, so the car arguably doesn’t have to shout about its lack of exhaust; the only mandatory detail is the yellow electric badge.
Come on then, does it drive like a Mini?
Almost. The suspension is tuned to give a similar feel to a petrol Cooper S, but the physics are quite different. It’s raised ‘1-2cm’ compared with a petrol Cooper S to give the battery more clearance, but the centre of gravity is lower because more mass is concentrated lower down.
It also has to account for a significantly altered weight distribution, with comparable weight over the nose to a petrol model but overall mass shifts rearwards from the default 60/40 front-to-rear split to the Cooper SE’s 54/46 due to the battery. Only 16- and 17-inch alloys are offered, because apparently it all feels too stiff on the 18-inch rims a Cooper S can get away with. We drove on the 17s – the larger of the two sizes available via the three trim versions, happily named Level 1, 2 and 3.