TO say the MINI Cooper SE is an important car is an understatement. The Cooper SE is the first local premium all-electric vehicle (BEV) on a new-car dealer's showroom floor. It's the first MINI BEV to be sold in Jamaica, and as available from ATL Autobahn â€” the arm of the ATL Automotive Group responsible for the MINI brand, it's the first BEV from the company making it the first that comes with significant dealer support. That said, the MINI Cooper could be considered the first mass market BEV option in Jamaica.
The first thing to understand is the moniker. As a Cooper, it's the three-door hatchback version. The S means this is a mid-grade performance trim, much like the standard petrol Cooper S E, marks the vehicle as one powered by nothing but electricity. The MINI Cooper SE uses a 32.6kWh battery to produce 184bhp and 199lb/ft of torque from an electric motor driving the front wheels.
Externally, the move to all-electric power hasn't altered the shape of the MINI. Other than the badges, and a slight sprinkling of yellow on various trim pieces, there are no major indicators that the car is at all the EV version. There are some subtle differences such as the front grille, the exclusive Corona Spoke 2-tone wheels that mimic a Euro-spec electrical outlet, and body specific colours.
Get inside and it's just as subtle. There are SE specific controls, instrumentation and trim, but nothing that would inform the unaware that there isn't a piston powered engine under the bonnet. Everything is where the MINI faithful would expect it to be, and function. Those new to the brand will be impressed by the multitude of the premium automated features, abundance of technology, and quality construction of the interior.
It would be on the road most people would figure things out as the MINI pulls silently away with a press of the accelerator. With maximum torque available from zero rpm, the Cooper SE operates just a bit punchier than its turbocharged petrol siblings. In terms of driving experience, nothing is lost due to the switch to electrons. Due to battery placement, the MINI is nimble and fun to drive retaining that go-kart handling the car is known for. Then there's the smugness that happens when passing a gas station.
With all that in mind, the Cooper SE cannot be divorced from the charging network, literally and figuratively. As the world rushes to EVs, the MINI hits upon all the positives and negatives being dealt with worldwide in relation to charging. As an urban vehicle and for those who operate within its range, Auto saw a maximum of 197 kilometres in its testing, the MINI is unbeatable. The Cooper SE does come with its own level two home charging solution which can return it to 80 per cent in two and half hours, and 100 per cent with another hour's worth of charging. It can also accept DC fast charging up to level 3 50kWh, filling it up to 80 per cent in 35 minutes. The problem is that level three is very rare in Jamaica. Auto experienced a maximum of 13kWh on the level two public chargers used for testing. Public charging averaged $2,000 to 100 per cent full with an average wait time of two-and-half hours per session.
This then changes the very nature of the MINI, its ability to be just picked up and driven. This is not a car for the random person. For the planning type, the only real restriction will be the charging network. Operating the MINI over long distances requires, math, map reading, meteorology, topography, phone data, and knowledge of charging. Math, as one must calculate the distances to be travelled within the charging points, the amount of time it must charge to recoup range. This is best done with Google Maps. The charging solution provider Auto used requires an app for charging location, access and payment, so an active cell phone signal with data is a must. Only once was a charger not functional; however, one might have to deal with those who have no respect for the parking spaces reserved for EVs. Owners must note that like many electronic devices, the charging connection can also vary from public device to device, so knowledge of the MINI connection type is imperative.
Then there is topography and weather. Inclines have a positive and negative effect on EV range. As the MINI can regenerate energy coasting or braking on flats or downhill, it may use an equal amount or more energy to climb. Batteries also have a peak operating temperature, too cold or too hot equals less range. The final piece of the puzzle is learning how to drive it. The MINI Cooper SE has several modes and strategies to save energy, including one-pedal driving. This means that range can vary significantly. It's possible to see range increase while battery charge goes down, indicating the driver is making more efficient use of the energy.
EV ownership is a complex situation. While many see it as the ultimate solution, for some people it may not be. Objectively the MINI Cooper SE is an excellent vehicle made better by the refinement and efficiency offered by electric power, but it may not fit into every lifestyle through no real fault of its own. Then again, no vehicle is a 100 per cent solution.