MINI Electric hatchback review
"The MINI Electric is quick and stylish but its shortcomings mean you may not want it as your only car”
- Cheap to run
- Peppy performance
- Limited range
- Expensive to buy
The MINI Electric has arrived to take on the growing number of small electric superminis and kick-start MINI's electrified future. Its closest rival is the stylish Honda e, thanks to its similar range, price and boot capacity, but customers are also likely to be tempted by the Renault ZOE, Peugeot e-208 and possibly even the BMW i3.
Unlike the overtly quirky Honda e, the MINI treads a slightly more understated path. It's based on the petrol three-door Hatch but has a battery pack squeezed into the transmission tunnel beneath the car. An electric motor sits under the bonnet and power goes to the front wheels. For a few people, the fairly unadventurous approach will seem like a missed opportunity, but most MINI fans are expected to like the idea of simply being able to pick an electric version of a car they already love.
The MINI Electric only launched in 2020 but in April 2021 it was updated. It’s not that the MINI Electric is selling slowly (far from it; MINI expects to double production in 2021), rather that the rest of the hatchback and convertible ranges are getting changes so it makes sense for the electric model to match.
The changes included a bigger grille than before, surrounded by gloss black trim instead of shiny chrome. On the Electric version, it includes a big slab of body-coloured plastic, as the electric powertrain needs a lot less cooling than a petrol engine so the air intakes can be smaller. The fog lights have been replaced with vertical vents for the brakes, in an attempt to make the car look wider.
Metallic paint and alloy wheel upgrades were made available at no extra charge, making it easier to personalise your car, while three new colours were introduced, as well as new alloy wheel designs and a ‘Multitone’ roof that’s sprayed in three colours. This is standard on the new top-spec MINI Electric Collection model. One of the more interesting alloy wheel designs is made to look like a three-pin plug socket.
Beneath that are Level 1, 2 and 3 trim levels, which replace the normal MINI specifications. All cars now come with an 8.8-inch touchscreen, which was updated to work more like a phone, as well as cruise control, dual-zone air conditioning and Apple CarPlay. Level 2 cars come with heated seats, parking sensors and a rear-view camera, while 3s and Collection versions add wireless phone charging, parking assistance and a panoramic sunroof.
The interior is fantastically high quality for a supermini, except for the new steering wheel buttons that have been recently introduced. Unlike the rest of the materials in the interior, they feel quite cheap, which is not good when you are going to use them regularly.
MINI is a sporty brand and while electric cars are often seen as something of a backward step in terms of driving thrills, the Electric hardly feels like a betrayal from behind the wheel. With 181bhp and as much torque as a diesel but absolutely no lag, even the MINI's lack of noise can't disguise its lively acceleration. It can get from 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds but feels faster in traffic, where nipping into gaps becomes child's play. On UK roads it's just as fun as sporty MINIs and feels very surefooted, helped in part by a centre of gravity that’s 30mm lower than that of the MINI Cooper S. The Electric is, however, 145kg heavier.
Perhaps the main worry for prospective buyers will be the MINI's 145-mile range, which just beats the 125-mile range of the Honda e but is a long way behind the Peugeot e-208's claimed 211-mile range and the 245 miles you can travel in a fully charged Renault ZOE. On our test drive, which included town driving, a twisty B-road and a stretch of motorway, the car was offering closer to 100 miles between charges.
The range estimate seems accurate and doesn’t nosedive as soon as you reach motorway speeds. While the range itself is quite short, you don’t get an awful lot of range anxiety; a little forward planning is all that’s needed.
MINI has been somewhat hampered by the space available, squeezing a 32.6kWh battery pack under the car, compared with the e-208 and ZOE that have batteries of around 50kWh. The British-based manufacturer claims the MINI is aimed mainly at people who live in cities, but for rare longer trips, the MINI Electric is capable of 50kW fast charging that can get the battery from 0-80% in just 35 minutes.
Charging at a 7kW home wallbox, which will be what a lot of buyers do, takes just under three and a quarter hours. If you’ve only got a normal plug socket nearby, it’ll take 12 hours to recharge.
MPG, running costs & CO2
The British brand also says that when it ran a trial of electric MINIs, the 130 or so users drove an average of 29.7 miles a day, so would only need to charge the MINI Electric twice a week, at a cost of around £4 a time (depending on the exact electricity tariff).
MINI's claimed 145-mile range and 28.9kWh usable battery capacity means it has an estimated efficiency of 4.98 miles/kWh.
The Electric also just pips the Honda e's range, which is important given the Honda's funky styling makes it one of the MINI's closest rivals. Like the Honda, the MINI Electric also offers fast charging, so should you need to travel further, you can do so provided a suitable charger is nearby. A 50kW rapid charger can take the battery pack from 0-80% in 35 minutes, while an 11kW home wallbox takes 2.5 hours.
Compared to petrol and diesel superminis the MINI Electric is more expensive to buy but much cheaper to run thereafter. Road tax is free instead of the standard annual rate and company-car drivers will pay barely anything in Benefit-in-Kind (BiK), a significant saving. Maintenance costs should also be lower because electric cars don't need new oil, spark plugs or timing belts and tend to be easier on their tyres and brakes thanks to regenerative braking.
Engines, drive & performance
MINIs are renowned for their nippy performance and the Electric is no different. The official 7.3-second 0-62mph time actually feels conservative because the 181bhp MINI Electric is so quick away from a standstill. Its motor is derived from that used in the BMW i3 and sends its power to the front wheels, pulling the MINI to a 93mph top speed. Even on the motorway there's a noticeable surge of acceleration when you press the throttle pedal. The MINI is composed and accurate in corners, and importantly it's just as fun as the conventional sporty MINIs we've tried, despite a hint more body lean than the petrol Cooper S.
As with the combustion-engined MINIs, a number of driving modes change the way the Electric feels and performs. ‘Green’ feels like it’s almost trying to stop you accelerating but the upshot is that the mode increases the indicated range by as much as 15 miles, while Green+ aims to boost range even more by turning off the air-con and making the accelerator less responsive. Sport unleashes the full power and makes light work of getting up to speed, while Mid is a good compromise between performance and efficiency.
Interior & comfort
One advantage of the MINI Electric's motor is a noticeable improvement in refinement, which is excellent for a supermini. It's a trait shared with the Honda e, and even if the MINI can't quite match the Honda for ride comfort, it's far from uncomfortable. The Electric’s ride isn’t rough but bumps are certainly felt and the car can feel fidgety at low speeds.
No petrol engine humming away in the background means that the wind and road noise is more obvious in the Electric. Turning up the radio exposes that the standard audio system can sound tinny, but Level 3 and Collection cars get a high-end Harman Kardon stereo instead.
Anyone familiar with a recent MINI interior will be right at home in the electric version; there's the same dinner plate-sized round dashboard with MINI's version of the iDrive infotainment system. The digital display ahead of the driver is unchanged; it was introduced on the MINI Electric and now is fitted across the hatchback range. It shows everything from your speed to remaining range, although we found that the outer parts of it are hidden behind the steering wheel. Interior quality is mostly superb, feeling more luxurious than most will expect in the supermini class, placing the Electric on par with the Honda e and the surprisingly impressive Renault ZOE.
Unlike other models in the MINI range, trim levels are simply called Level 1, 2 or 3. Each version shares sat nav and Apple CarPlay (but still no Android Auto), connected services, cruise control and dual-zone climate control. For £2,000 more, Level 2 adds a rear-view camera, part-faux leather seats and different paint and wheels. Level 3 costs a further £4,000, making it somewhat pricey, adding a panoramic sunroof, adaptive headlights, semi-automatic parking and a Harman Kardon stereo. Collection is best thought of as a design pack, bringing the eye-catching Multitone roof, specific paint colour options and black exterior trim.
Practicality & boot space
By managing to fit the battery pack under the floor of the car, space inside the MINI Electric is no different to other three-door versions of the MINI Hatch. Sadly, that's not saying much, as the conventionally powered MINI is hardly renowned for its practicality. Getting into the back seats requires some flexibility and there's precious little space once in position. If you plan on carrying passengers or children on a regular basis, most rivals with five doors will be a better bet, even if there are two ISOFIX points in the MINI.
The boot measures 211 litres, which beats the meagre 171-litre boot found in the Honda e but is a noticeable 100 litres smaller than the Peugeot e-208's boot. Flip up the false boot floor and there is a handy place to keep its charging cable or valuables, but this can only be accessed when the boot is empty.
Reliability & safety
The MINI Electric is based on the regular petrol and diesel versions, and aside from its electronics, should actually be simpler and more reliable in theory. That's because an electric motor has far fewer moving parts than a combustion engine, no oil, and does away with things like a conventional clutch and gearbox.
If you're worried this is MINI's first electric car, that's also not strictly true. MINI itself experimented with an electric car a decade ago, building a limited number of MINI E models and loaning them out for field trials. The exercise indirectly led to the BMW i3, and now MINI benefits from parent company BMW's electric expertise.
The standard MINI Hatch scored four out of five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests; a rating we expect will also apply to the Electric. It features a bonnet that pops up in a collision to help protect pedestrians, six airbags and a passenger airbag deactivation switch. MINIs also come with an eCall system that can automatically alert the emergency services if the car is involved in a serious collision.