Mini Cooper SE vs Mini JCW
"Is it really a Mini?" That's the first question I had when the Mini Cooper SE pulled up to the office. You see, Minis are unique. They’ve got a simple combination of features — a tiny footprint, that cutesy face, rowdy engines, go-kart-like dynamics — that come together to ensure these cars are brimming with character. They’re cute, fun, agile little cars that refuse to be taken seriously and put smiles on faces whether you’re in them our outside. Now here’s the thing — electric drivetrains tend to be fun suckers. They strip away the character from most cars and leave them slightly sterile. And when you’ve got a car such as the Mini, whose entire identity is built off of fun, that could be a very problematic problem. Which is why I am putting my investigative journalist’s cap on, roping in the help of the hilarious Mini JCW and am undertaking the enviable task of deciding whether the Cooper SE actually deserves to be called a Mini.
Hey, good lookin’
The Mini’s looks are fundamental to its playful character and an appropriate place to begin. It remains small and cute-looking while packing a punch — the kind of car that makes you go aww, but then smacks you in the face when it smokes you at the traffic light. Does the SE fit the bill? Well, it does have the same bug-eyed face but as is with an EV, there’s no grille. The front bumper is different, the rear bumper is different and the wheels are very different. There are yellow accents all over — a neatly executed touch and interestingly, the body is higher by 18mm to make space for the batteries on the floor without compromising ground clearance. Compared to the JCW beside it, it’s a lot cleaner and neater — sans the vents and scoops — but it stays honest to what a Mini is supposed to be. It retains the proportions, the attitude and quirks that make a Mini a Mini. Well, on the face of it at least!
Minis need to be quick! And the SE should have this one in the bag. We’ve seen the videos of electric sedans smoking Lambos off the lights — if there’s one thing that EVs do well, it is acceleration. The Mini Cooper SE’s drivetrain is fairly simple. It’s got a 32.6kWh battery that is hooked up to a single electric motor on the front axle, one that puts out 181bhp and 270Nm. And as with all EVs, there’s no real torque curve and maximum torque can be deployed from the get-go. Lined up beside it is the JCW with its 2-litre turbo-petrol motor that puts out 231bhp and 320Nm. More impressive figures, but doesn’t have the instant responses of the EV. Launched together, the two keep up off the line. But then the JCW starts pulling a big lead, despite the fact that it needs to shift gears and interrupt the torque delivery. Pulling out the spec sheet, I realise the gulf in performance — the JCW goes from 0-100kmph in a claimed 6.1sec, while the SE takes 7.3. The SE then, is more on par with the Cooper S in terms of performance, but that’s plenty quick as well and hence the SE passes this test! I wonder if they’ll do an SE-JCW version?
Handling is fundamental to a Mini’s character! The JCW delivers on the go-kart like handling, and how. It feels sharp, nimble and willing to turn at the drop of a hat. The short wheelbase and quick steering really do wonders. Can the SE keep up? It does! The SE is heavier than the JCW but a lot of that weight is low down — the batteries are under the rear seat and in the floor. That combined with a firmly sprung chassis and a quick steering means the SE feels sharp as well. The suspension isn’t as dialled in as the JCW — meaning it isn’t as pointy, but ride is better. And the fact that it weighs much more (and has smaller wheels) means it understeers quicker when you enter a corner. But the steering weight is spot on and it feels very direct, very predictable and is brimming with that feel that Minis are so renowned for. It may not be the sharpest tool in the Mini box, but it is 90 per cent there and that is more than enough to engage and thrill.
We all know how this one is ending, don’t we? When being driven hard, Minis are rowdy little things. And that’s because they sound so good. Snarling little things, barking and growling as you attack traffic, or the next corner. The JCW does exactly that — with the BMW turbo-petrol under the hood piped through to make some naughty sounds. The SE… well, silence. You get a little whirring on start-up inside the cabin, to let you know the systems are live. But apart from that, it is just wind noise, tyre noise and your passenger yapping away to glory. No fun.
Minis have to be impractical, don’t they? And the Mini Cooper SE is the king of impracticality. You’ve got the usual business with Minis — a boot that’s too small, a backseat that requires you to be a circus-grade contortionist to fit into, the works. But this little electric car has an added issue with practicality — its range. The fact that the battery capacity is only 32.6kWh means that you get a maximum of 130km of range on a full charge. Forget inter city, that won’t get you from one end of the NCR region to the other and back without needing a top up. This Mini is pretty much limited to the local stuff. The school run (provided your kids are small enough to fit into the tiny rear seat), the grocery run and maybe a trip to the gym. Aces this test, the Cooper SE. On a side note, the only good thing here is the fact that charging times are ridiculously low. 36 minutes on a fast charger to get up to 80 per cent while a standard 11kW wallbox charger will take a mere 2.5 hours.
Minis have always been expensive, and that doesn’t change with the Cooper SE. At `48.7 lakh (ex-showroom), it is precisely `1 lakh more than the JCW, while being `9 lakh dearer than the base three-door Cooper S. There are two ways of looking at this — compared to the other Minis? It isn’t too much of a premium. EVs tend to be very expensive compared to their ICE counterparts but that isn’t the case here. But objectively? As a car? Well, like every other Mini, it is expensive. Another cliche clinched. Back to my original question, then. Is this a proper Mini? Let’s take stock of the score sheet — it scored five out of six. It looks the part, is quick, feels go kart-like, is expensive and impractical. Checks all the important Mini boxes. The only place it flunked was the sound test, where you’d need to rip its entire guts out to have it any different. So yes, the Mini Cooper SE is a proper Mini. It nails the brief and delivers on (nearly) all the fun you can have in a regular Mini, all while having kicked the smoking habit!