Recently leaked spy pics forced BMW’s hand in releasing early photos of the next-generation Mini. But before that happened, we got to drive a camo-covered example—specifically, the all-electric Cooper hatchback in SE trim.
Kudos to chief designer Oliver Heilmer and his team, who contemporized the brand icon in a radically reduced yet emphatically modern manner. Although the official launch is still some six months away, we can now also tell you more about the advanced technology behind this masterfully evolutionary shape. Most importantly, we were able to gather initial driving impressions in a pre-production car on an entertaining handling course and over a one-hour mountain-road loop through Salzburg and Tyrol in Austria.
Although the cabin of the pre-production car is still covered with drapes of black cloth, the two major innovations—a much larger circular center touchscreen and the bar of toggle switches below it—are totally undisguised. The latter contains five elements: parking-brake button, gear selector, volume knob, on/off toggle, and Driving Experiences selector.
Since there is no minder in the passenger’s seat, we leap from the default Core setting straight to Go-Kart mode. The name says it all. Go-Kart speeds up the action, reduces driver assistance to a minimum, and sharpens the feedback. Not enough drama? Deactivate dynamic stability control (DSC) and brace yourself for an ample measure of liftoff oversteer enhanced by a device known as GMV, short for yaw moment enhancer.
The handling course is a short track, and our hosts set up plenty of cones to slow us down, but a couple of corners are wide enough to pay homage to “the Rally Professor,” Rauno Aaltonen, who competed in a Mini Cooper S. Heavy rain and near-freezing temperatures warrant interesting grip levels, there is an entertaining angst-inducing right-left-right up-and-down corner combination to be mastered, and the guy in the JCW lead car lets it all hang out for the heck of it. Good man. Front-wheel drive is, of course, a limiting factor through the lone 180-degree bend, where the two bad choices are either too much understeer or too little traction. But as soon as the 243 pound-feet of instant torque grabs the tires, the Mini picks up speed quickly and keeps accelerating seamlessly until that blind right-hander calls for a change of direction, velocity, and balance. This is fun, and we’re still only going seven-tenths.
Feeding the electric motor is a 53.0-kWh battery, which in real life needs to be recharged every 200 miles or so. No provisional EPA consumption figures are available, but tentative European estimates suggest the U.S. model will be rated considerably better than the 110 MPGe rating assigned to the current SE. That said, after 15 laps in full hooligan mode, the onboard computer dropped to 29.5 kWh of remaining charge. Never mind. The top speed, which in today’s Mini EV is restricted to 94 mph, reportedly will be increased to 125 mph in the new SE. Acceleration from zero to 62 mph is a claimed 6.7 seconds, which suggests the new one won’t be substantially quicker than the last Cooper SE, a 2020 model, we tested. But there is more grunt to come, starting with the dual-motor 313-hp All4 (including 14 additional horses summoned by an overboost function), followed by a fully electric John Cooper Works edition. Meanwhile, the Cooper SE keeps on drifting through every corner it can find with the tail-out antics actively supported by the aforementioned GMV, which is a welcome addition.
On public roads, Green driving mode will be the choice only for dedicated conservationists determined to better their personal consumption and range records. The rest of us should be perfectly happy with what the mainstay Core mode offers, namely an adaptive mix of instant on-demand performance, navigation-assisted predictive driving, and long-legged cruising that can either be relaxed or energetic. In addition to the three Driving Experiences, the powertrain and steering can be locked into Comfort or Sport. As far as the stability-control system goes, the spiciness scale ranges from Sport to Sport Plus to DSC Off. Customers also can choose from four different wheel sizes and opt for a sportier suspension setting.
The redesigned seats are comfortable and generously adjustable, but long-legged drivers may have a problem reaching the low-mounted toggle bar. The small optional head-up display is of the pop-up type, which limits its appeal. Although the three-spoke steering wheel is studded with buttons and multimode switches, the main user interface is the notably larger round touchscreen in the center of the dash. One can scroll through numerous menus on the hi-res main display, but vehicle speed, range, state of charge, performance, and cabin temperature are always prominently displayed.
And there’s more to come, including over-the-air updates, third-party app integration, additional experience modes, on-dash projections from your private image library, a wide variety of sound and light stagings, automatic radar-trap warnings, multiple user profiles, bespoke ambiance variations, digital personalization—you name it. In addition to four different new trim levels, Mini is going to introduce at least three mood settings provisionally named Calm, Heritage, and Vivid, which are supported by 3-D technicolor orchestration. Too much marketing BS? Thankfully, the unique driving experience remains. After all, dynamics always were and still are Mini’s main forte. The new battery-powered Cooper SE is chuckable yet composed, concurrently involving and balanced, refined but never lackluster. Silence that puerile soundtrack and enjoy the trademark handling and roadholding qualities Sir Alec would be proud of.
Although I was born the only son of an ornithologist and a postal clerk, it was clear from the beginning that birdwatching and stamp collecting were not my thing. Had I known that God wanted me to grow to 6’8″, I also would have ruled out anything to do with cars, which are to blame for a couple of slipped discs, a torn ligament, and that stupid stooped posture behind the wheel. While working as a keeper in the Aberdeen Zoo, smuggling cheap cigarettes from Yugoslavia to Germany, and an embarrassing interlude with an amateur drama group also failed to yield fulfillment, driving and writing about cars became a much better option. And it still is now, many years later, as I approach my 70th birthday. I love every aspect of my job except long-haul travel on lousy airlines, and I hope it shows.
Source: Reviews - aranddriver.com