Johannesburg - Before I start liking it too much, please take it back.
Or maybe because I only had it for four days the novelty hadn’t worn off yet, but either way, believe it or not, my time behind the wheel of the Mini Cooper SE was thoroughly enjoyable and interesting.
It was my first short foray into the electric future if you don’t take a day in a Porsche Taycan into consideration, but that’s a whole different experience.
It looks just like a normal Mini Cooper at first glance, but closer inspection reveals what Mini calls Energetic Yellow, trimmed alloys and strategically placed plug icons that, unlike some other EVs, don’t have a completely different and odd design.
Power comes courtesy of a lithium-ion high voltage battery pack powering the front wheels via a single speed automatic transmission with 135kW and 270Nm.
When the car arrived it had about 60% of the battery left and because range anxiety was my constant companion, I plugged it in the wall plug at the office and charged it for about two hours while I continued to work.
The battery pack is relatively small, it is a Mini after all, and you can use 33kW on maximum charge that gives you a range of around 160km.
Mini claims a range of 217km but even after an overnight charge the maximum predicted range was 167km. Not much to be honest, but it takes a paradigm shift in your thinking to get your head around it.
Perhaps it’s because we’re so used to the internal combustion engine that we never think about range and often overstate how far it feels we’ve driven.
In an EV you’re constantly aware of distance and regularly glancing down on the digital display soon becomes second nature.
In the four years my son has been in school I’ve never really thought about how far the drive is. I just assumed it was about 40-45km, climbed in a car and driven off.
Zeroing the odometer I discovered that the front gate was 32km away, easily reachable and plenty left to run a few errands and still get home with power to spare.
Like all Minis, boot space isn’t exactly its biggest selling point but 211 litres is enough for two or three school bags, and a secondary storage area below the boot floor houses two charging cables, one with a three-point plug and another for the bigger chargers at dealers and shopping malls.
Plugging it in at home with the battery on 42% at 18h00, it showed that it would be fully charged at 03h30, not the fastest charge thanks in part to Eskom’s reliability and current fluctuations out in the sticks where I stay.
The default Mid mode is the happy medium, but using Green and Green+ (which switches off non-essential things like the air conditioner and limits speed to 100km/h) is an interesting experiment to watch how the regenerative braking adds slightly to the range.
It's something to get used to as you take your foot off the accelerator and it quickly slows down, especially in Green+, so much so that in traffic you hardly have to put your foot on the brake.
There’s also the inevitable Sport mode which will dig deep into the battery but does give an electric (geddit?) drive.
That well-known go-kart analogy is further accentuated by the low centre of gravity with the battery deep down in the underbody. It’s a helluva lot of fun zipping around tight bends but inevitably you have to settle down as you think about getting to your destination with the remaining charge.
It feels a lot faster than Mini’s claimed time of 7.3 seconds for the 100km/h sprint and it will top out at 150km/h, all done without any sound at all.
After one such spirited drive we decided to test the charging facilities at Menlyn Mall.
There’s no specific signage indicating where the points are and after finding someone that looked like he worked there he explained that it was on the third level at the entrance. Even then there’s no signage and with South Africa’s fascination with malls the parking garages are enormous so it took a while to locate.
The dedicated cable was plugged in and, after swiping the card Mini provided, it kept showing an error message. Replugging and going through the whole process again produced the same result.
I was about to give up and reinforce my “no replacement for displacement” theory when a security guard explained that it was out of order but that the other three were in working order.
Again, not great in the explanation stakes.
After an hour and a half, where we had a coffee and a waffle and a catch-up on school activities, there was an extra 30% charge, more than enough to get home and still drive to dinner in the evening.
I didn’t think I would enjoy the Mini Cooper SE as much as I did and it did much to change my attitude towards what our children and grandchildren will eventually know as the norm.
Look, with its limited range it’s strictly a city runabout and if you’re in the top LSM range possibly a second car but, thanks to our government's higher taxes on EVs and zero incentives, R681 000 without optional extras to enter that market is a hefty premium.
Realistically, too, there are an almost unlimited amount of ICE vehicles at your fingertips at that price point including a few that will snap, crackle and pop from their exhausts through the corners.
Mini Cooper SE Hatch
Price: R681 000
Drive: Front-wheel drive
0-100km/h: 7.3 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 150km/h (claimed)
Range: 217km (claimed)
Boot capacity: 211 litres
Kerb weight: 1 365kg
General warranty: 2-year/unlimited km
Battery warranty: 8-year/100 000km
Maintenance plan: 5-year/100 000km