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2022 Mini Cooper SE long-term introduction: Small EV, big fun

The electric Cooper SE is our favorite new Mini, so we're putting it through a year-long test.

2022 Mini Cooper SE
Welcome to the fleet, little guy.
Steven Ewing/Roadshow

What the Mini Cooper SE lacks in range it totally makes up for in fun. And as far as little electric city cars go, it doesn't get much more fun than this.

That's why we've added a 2022 Mini Cooper SE to our long-term fleet, though we're taking a slightly different approach to this test. Usually we drive long-termers around the country, racking up the miles on road trips. But given the Mini's core purpose as an urban runabout, we're confining it to the mean streets of Southern California, because, (1) a bunch of Roadshow editors live here, and (2) Los Angeles has perhaps the best public EV charging infrastructure of any US city.

The goal here is to see if the Mini's 114-mile EPA-estimated driving range is really that big of an issue. Yes, 200- and 300-plus-mile ranges make a lot of sense for a lot of people, but as a daily driver in an urban setting, we think 114 miles ought to be plenty.

How we spec'd it

Mini's all-electric Cooper Hardtop is a couple years old at this point, but rather than grab one of the original cars, we decided to wait for the updated 2022 models. You can only get the Cooper SE in Mini's traditional two-door body style, and it starts at $30,750 including $850 for destination and excluding any potential tax credits. All Cooper SE trims come standard with heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, 8.8-inch infotainment system with navigation and LED headlights. But we kicked it up $7,000 and went for the Iconic trim, which includes a panoramic sunroof, leather seating, a Harman Kardon sound system, adaptive cruise control, parking assist and piano black exterior trim.

It's hard to tell in photos, but the Enigmatic Black exterior of our tester is actually more of a super-dark blue, and it looks great in the sunlight. We paired that with a white roof and yellow mirror caps, and had to go for the Cooper SE's awesome 17-inch Power Spoke (not Corona Spoke) wheels. Mini offers nine wheel options for its EV, and these are by far the best.

Inside, gray leather and piano black trim round out the options, and we don't have any extra-cost add-ons. Choosing the Iconic trim level is basically the easiest way to get a fully loaded Cooper SE, and our long-termer hits the road with an as-tested price of $37,750.

Aside from a few tiny details, the SE's cabin is the same as other Mini models.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The first 1,000 miles

I've been the sole custodian of our long-term Cooper SE since its arrival in late July and I've been driving it a ton. Not because I don't have other cars to drive, mind you -- as Roadshow's test fleet manager, my driveway is always full, plus I've got a 1999 Mazda Miata that I absolutely adore. But when it comes time to run errands or head across town, I find myself favoring the Mini to just about everything else. As I write this, the Mini and a Mercedes-Maybach S580 are parked outside. Guess which one I'm going to take to the grocery store.

The 32.6-kilowatt-hour battery pack sends power to an electric motor on the front axle, and total output is rated at 181 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. That doesn't sound impressive -- especially in a small hatchback that weighs 3,144 pounds -- nor does the claimed 6.9-second 0-to-60-mph time. But buzzing around town, I swear, the acceleration spec has to be wrong. Instant boost off the line gets this thing up and moving immediately, and if you stomp on it hard enough, hold on for torque steer. I have yet to take the Cooper SE up into the canyons for a fast drive, but chucking it around corners in my neighborhood and blasting past slow cars on the freeway is a constant delight. The weighty steering and thick wheel contribute to that go-kart dartiness, and while the suspension is definitely on the stiffer side, it keeps the Mini reasonably composed should I decide to whip a U-turn upon realizing I left a face mask at home.

Why would you get a Cooper SE with any other wheels?

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

I've been driving the Mini in its Green mode most of the time. There's still plenty of motivation to get the Cooper up and moving quickly, but in the name of better range, it keeps me from getting too unnecessarily rowdy. There's a Green Plus mode that I've used on occasion, though it deactivates the climate control and I'm not really seeing a noticeable range benefit. On the opposite end, Sport livens up the whole package (and changes the interior ambient lighting to red), but it's not really that much more engaging than the normal (Mini calls it Mid) mode. Between Mid and Green, I'm happy all the time.

The Mini Hardtop really lends itself to electric power. I honestly enjoy driving this car more than any of the gas-powered Minis I've tested recently -- John Cooper Works GP included. It's quick, smooth and a hoot and a half. Plus it's got all the usual great Mini attributes: Excellent sightlines, an airy cabin, comfy accommodations and a decent-sized hatch, especially if you fold the seats. Additionally, Mini's strong regenerative braking is something I love to use around town. I know not everyone is a fan of one-pedal driving, but it's a unique part of the EV experience, and I'm glad Mini embraces it with strong regen as standard. 

As for range, the car's doing better than expected. I've been averaging an observed driving range of about 120 miles per charge, which is slightly better than the EPA's estimate. I've even taken the Mini on a couple of longer drives -- like from Los Angeles to San Diego and back -- and really, having to stop on the way isn't such a hassle. Plug into a fast charger, pop in to use the bathroom and grab a water, flip through Twitter and email, and the Mini is good to go.

Yes, obviously.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Speaking of fast charging, I've found this to be hit or miss. The Mini can accept a maximum charge speed of 50 kilowatts from a DC fast charger, but the ones I've plugged into tend to feed juice between 30 and 40 kW. And that's when they work, too -- my experience with companies like Electrify America continues to be less than stellar, and I don't have a home charger, so I'm relying solely on the public network. (For what it's worth, I've had good luck with the EVgo network.) That also means I'm having to stop and plug in a lot more than an owner would, which obviously requires some planning. If I could plug this thing in every night, I'd almost never have to use a public station.

Other issues? Not many. The 8.8-inch infotainment screen is great, but the outdated BMW iDrive-based tech could use a refresh. At least Apple CarPlay connects wirelessly and the screen can be operated by touch. The digital gauge cluster is nice, too, but it easily washes out in the sunlight, so be sure to keep the sunroof shade closed.

Really, though, I'm enjoying the hell out of this Mini, and it's a perfect companion for daily life in LA. It's a car I always look forward to driving, which isn't something I can say about other affordable EVs. 

Here's to a year of fun.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Check in with Roadshow's other long-term testers: