Mini Electric long-term test (2020) review: you're benched

Published: 12 October 2020

► Living with an electric Mini
► Cool looks but short range
► Will either matter to James?

I'm afraid I've failed you already. Back in Month 1 I promised I'd use the Mini as my main car as much as possible. But this month I needed to do a 120-mile journey to arrive somewhere early to pick up a car I can't tell you about yet for a photo shoot appearing in a future issue. I knew the Mini would need charging en route, which would have meant leaving even earlier and being beholden to the reliability of public motorway chargers. So I caved, and swapped with a colleague for another new car I can't tell you about yet, with pistons and a petrol tank.

When I have done long journeys in the Mini, it's been a tolerable motorway companion but not an ideal one. There's a fair bit of tyre roar and background boom, and although its firm low-speed ride smooths out at a cruise, it's still a little on the al dente side. Most trickily, though, dual-carriageway driving invariably means you don't get beyond double-figures mileage before the battery needs a top-up.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Mini Electric Level 3

Price £24,900 (£33,900 as tested)
Performance 32.6kWh battery, single e-motor, 181bhp, 7.3sec 0-62mph, 93mph
Efficiency 3.9 miles per kWh (official), 3.9 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 4.7p per mile
Miles this month 192
Total miles 1645

Month 2 living with a Mini Electric: here, there, everywhere

Plugging away
I've been keeping the Mini topped up by negotiating times I can block my neighbours' driveway to snake a three-pin lead out of my kitchen. It's a lengthy process to do in one go. To get from zero (not that I plan on running it that low) to 80 per cent takes 12 hours.

Mini electric ltt plug home

Rough with the smooth
Ride comfort is on the firm side, which is fine by me. Makes perfect sense if you think of the Electric as a warm hatch. Multi-link rear suspension helps keep body movements nicely controlled.

Tailswings and roundabouts
The Mini can't help revealing its cheeky side on a deserted roundabout. Centre of gravity is a smidge lower than engine-powered Minis, and since the motor is a bit lighter than an engine the weight distribution's a little sweeter too (although you are carrying an extra 145kg overall). Let's do an extra lap...

Mini electric ltt speaker

What's that sound?
In the absence of pistons thrashing away, the Electric makes an artificial noise at low speeds, so that you know it's running (via the cabin's speakers) and so do pedestrians (via a hidden external speaker). It's a curious sound, a bit like a small spacecraft docking, or a slightly mournful cyborg sighing.

Can't imagine accelerator pedal software calibration engineers get many shout-outs, so here's one: the Mini Electric's is amazing. Creeping millimetre by millimetre up to obstacles in tight parking spaces, gunning down sliproads or cruising in the outside lane, it's incredibly precise. Big up yourselves.

Mini electric ltt boot

Small boots to fill
The Electric has exactly the same small boot as a regular Mini. The passenger footwell becomes a second boot for surplus bags on a medium-sized food shop.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Mini Electric Level 3

Price £24,900 (£33,900 as tested)
Performance 32.6kWh battery, single e-motor, 181bhp, 7.3sec 0-62mph, 93mph
Efficiency 3.9 miles per kWh (official), 3.5 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 4.7p per mile
Miles this month 138
Total miles 1453

Month 1 living with a Mini Electric: hello and welcome

As potential EV customers go, I'm what you'd call a hard sell. I frequently need to do long journeys at the drop of a hat; I live in a mid-terrace house without space to park outside, so I can't easily charge at home; I have a garage but it isn't joined to my house and there's no power to it, so I can't fit a wallbox charger; and I'm a worrier by nature, so if anyone's going to suffer from range anxiety attacks, it's definitely me.

Treating the new Mini Electric, with a mileage range to match its name, as my primary car is going to be a challenge for both the car and for me. But in the spirit of adapting to change, I like to think I'll come out of the experience the better for it, and it will give the car a chance to show what it can do beyond its design brief.

A more typical Mini Electric user would be part of a household with home-charging capacity and with more than one car. Based on research that shows the average distance driven by most drivers on a typical day is 26 miles, the Mini Electric's WLTP-rated range of up to 145 miles should be entirely practicable for its target users.

Getting near that figure in real life is proving difficult, however. You'll recognise this car from the London adventure elsewhere in this issue, its first proper journey. I set off from the office, 90 miles from central London, with a full battery but in less-than-ideal cold weather. There are four different driving modes: Sport, Mid, Green and Green+. In the latter, which deactivates the air-con and seat heating, the estimated range suggested 104 miles. In Green mode (it was cold, I needed the heater), it dipped to double figures.

Mini Electric LTT rear

Despite driving well below the national speed limit, it needed a quick top-up at a motorway services to be sure of reaching our destination, and then topping up overnight at a roadside charger.

And then after the next day's photography in London, I had to charge it again during the return journey to Peterborough. So motorway journeys are definitely not this car's forte.

I do have access to a petrol car for emergencies, and I'll need to drive numerous other cars during the course of work, but I'm aiming to use the Mini as my main car as much as possible. I live around 15 miles from the office, where there are charging points. So on days when I'm at my desk (remember those?), it'll be more than manageable. But there aren't that many normal days in this job, and at the time of writing (from my kitchen table), normal days in general are in short supply.

Our Mini Electric is a Level 3, top of the trio of trim levels, chiming in at £33,900 post plug-in grant. A basic Level 1 costs £24,900, comparing favourably with a regular petrol three-door Mini Cooper S auto, which would cost around £22,285 in base spec. Mini expects most customers to lease the car, however, with its own rates starting below £300 a month.

All cars get sat-nav, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and cruise control, and Level 2's enlarged toy box includes speed-limit info, high-beam assist, heated seats and a reversing camera. For the extra dosh over a base Electric, our Level 3 spoils us with a head-up display, larger touchscreen for its expanded sat-nav system, more parking sensors and full leather upholstery.

But think of the bigger financial picture. According to Mini's maths, conducting my average commute under electric power could save me up to £56 a month over a comparable petrol car. Some rudimentary arithmetic based on the miles I've been able to cover so far, factoring in the pricey public charging during the trip to London, puts the estimated cost per mile at 6.5p less than my Lexus RC 300h averaged.

I've driven a good few electric cars in this job but I've never run one day-to-day, week-in, week-out. My personal growth starts here.

Our Mini's spec choices

Mini Electric LTT side

Badge and gun
In the UK this car is called the Mini Electric but it's known as the Cooper SE elsewhere. With 199lb ft available, it's swift enough to wear the traditional performance badge with at least some authenticity.

Art attack
Mini Electric buyers can mix and match body, roof and mirror colours and wheel designs at no extra cost. Level 1 cars are silver or grey. Level 3 gets a choice of six hues. This is Chili Red, which can't be had with the Electric's optional yellow trim pieces, to avoid a Rupert the Bear situation.

Wheels keep it real
The Electric's showpiece wheel option is a three-pin-plug design (originally called, believe it or not, Corona Spoke) but our test car has these more demure Minilite-style Cosmos Spoke wheels. At 17 inches, they're as large as Mini Electric rims go.

Level up
Or go without. Paint and wheels aside, Mini isn't offering individual cost-options for the Electric, so the kit that comes with each level is the kit you get. If you want a head-up display, for example, it's Level 3 or bust. If you don't fancy a Union Jack dash motif, best stick at Level 2.

Logbook: Mini Electric Level 3

Price £24,900 (£33,900 as tested)
Performance 32.6kWh battery, single e-motor, 181bhp, 7.3sec 0-62mph, 93mph
Efficiency 3.9 miles per kWh (official), 3.4 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 10.3p per mile
Miles this month 302
Total miles 1315

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer