Adding the grin-inducing pace and immediacy of electric acceleration would perfectly suit the MINI's impish character, and subtracting local emissions would make it even more attuned to life in the towns and cities it would regularly scamper through.
Not surprisingly, then, MINI’s owner BMW filled this particular vacancy in 2020 with the MINI Electric, which is based on the latest three-door version of the much-loved hatch and, like its more traditionally powered partners, has the distinction of being built in Britain. It’s also fortunate enough to have a very highly regarded sibling to provide its mechanicals – its 181bhp motor comes courtesy of BMW’s i3S, so it’s immediately off to a good start.
Some have argued that it’s also a little too ready to come to a stop, though, because its 32kWh battery allows for a relatively modest range of 144 miles, which trails some competitors by quite a distance. Nevertheless, as an urban runabout and super-clean commuter the MINI Electric has an awful lot to recommend it, but what should you look for if you’re scouring the classifieds for a competitively priced used example? Read on to find out…
It’s one of the BMW Group’s most charming and engaging models, not to mention its most affordable fully electric one, so it should come as no surprise that demand for the MINI Electric is pretty high, and is likely to stay that way. Prices on the used market aren’t likely to soften significantly any time soon as a result.
The 181bhp motor and 32 kWh battery combination is your only option from a ‘mechanical’ point of view, but it can be combined with four trim lines – Level 1, 2 and 3 and the top drawer ‘Collection’. New On the Road prices for the Level 1 start from £28,500, but it’s currently eligible for the Government’s Plug-in Car Grant, which rounds the cost down to £26,000. For the time being, there’s not a huge amount to be gained by turning to the classifieds, where you’ll find used examples of the Level 1 continuing to command upwards of £24,000, even with five-figure mileages. As a certain supermarket has often reminded us, though, every little helps…
Buyers plumping for a Level 1 version are unlikely to regret keeping it simple. A digital cockpit and large 8.8-inch central monitor, navigation and internet connectivity, an Apple CarPlay interface and cruise control are among the trimmings that ensure owners won’t be left wanting.
Moving up to Level 2 brings on board feature highlights such as rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and seat heating, as well as some extra safety kit, while Level 3 ups the ante with posher LED lighting, audio and navigation, plus nice-to-haves like a head-up display and a panoramic sunroof. Level 3 versions will even park themselves at the touch of a button!
At the top of the tree, the more recently introduced Mini Electric Collection features an exclusive specification that combines everything in levels 1 to 3 with bespoke paint colours and trim details and a fetching ‘multi-tone roof’.
Spotting a MINI Electric
Aside from the absence of exhaust tailpipes and the addition of special badging, the MINI electric doesn’t give much away about its lust for power rather than petrol. It could be any moderately sporty three-door MINI, but that’s not a criticism because even in its purest Level 1 form it cuts a dash.
LED headlights and tail lights are standard, and it offers the option – at no extra cost - to stand out a little further by opting for a contrasting roof colour in either white or black, and mirror caps in the same colours or a rather more vivid hue called ‘Energetic Yellow’. An upgrade from the standard 16-inch alloys to jazzier 17-inch two-tone Electric Power Spoke wheels is also available free-of-charge – no prizes for guessing which boxes the majority of original owners of used examples have chosen to tick on the options list!
Higher specification models are available with a wider choice of body colours to combine with the roof and mirrors and different wheel designs.
Inside, it’s familiar MINI territory, with a pleasing blend of retro touches referencing MINIs of old and the latest digital devices, all of which are executed to a very high standard. Naturally, its digital cockpit and navigation system display electric-specific info such as the battery’s level, available range and charging station locations, but in most other respects it’s business as usual, which means more charm, character and quality than you’ll currently find in any competitor at this level.
Fully digital and fittingly well connected, the MINI Electric has all the bases covered when it comes to the latest trendy technology. Its new driver-facing digital cockpit with 5.5-inch colour screen and 8.8-inch touchscreen in the centre of the instrument panel are widely regarded as the sharpest and slickest of any small car currently available, and we wouldn’t dispute that. This top infotainment kit is available right from Level 1 trim.
Upgrade as far as Level 3 and things get really sophisticated – it adds the navigation package plus, which enhances the navigation system with clever journey planning features and includes a head-up display, wireless phone charging and even a concierge service, enabling the MINI Electric driver to contact their very own assistant via the car’s phone connection around the clock to source information, addresses and other info during a journey. Also included at this level are a swanky Harmon Kardon audio system, a parking assistant capable of manoeuvring the car into tricky spaces and adaptive LED headlights with a matrix function. This essentially means that their high beams can be automatically diverted around oncoming and leading traffic, giving the driver much more illumination without dazzling other road users.
Given the MINI Electric’s unashamedly modern, tech-savvy image, it might come as a surprise that the battery and motor that are its lifeblood don’t really blaze any trails. In ideal conditions drivers should be able to extract up to 144 miles from a charge according to WLTP testing, but the general consensus is that 125, and in some cases little more than 100, will be the best they can hope for. This rather stingy range is to be expected given that, at 32.6 kWh, the MINI’s T-shaped battery is very definitely on the small side by today’s standards. Even so, it still manages to rob the rear seats of some space due to its mounting just beneath them, although the boot’s capacity remains the same as other three-door MINIs. In the plus column, though, it doesn’t weigh the car down in the same way as competitors’ heftier units and isn’t as costly to make, helping to preserve the car’s quick-witted character and keep its price within the realms of reasonable.
Some of that perhaps rather too precious energy can be recouped using the MINI Electric’s engine braking capability, whereby the motor recharges the battery each time the driver eases off the throttle pedal. Via a switch in the cabin the driver can decide how much braking the motor takes care of, which can be anything from very little to enough to render the brake pedal redundant.
In reality, research has shown that most daily drive distances fall well within the MINI Electric’s range capability, and any shortfall on that front could be compensated for in the eyes of many buyers by the fact that it stands a better chance of injecting fun into every one of those journeys than any of its rivals. The MINI Electric zigzags through city streets and bobs and weaves down twisty roads with the familiar alacrity that has brought a smile to the face of many a MINI owner before now.
What goes wrong?
It’s too soon for any gremlins lurking in the MINI Electric’s darkest recesses to rear their ugly heads. Most reported MINI issues relate to specific combustion engines and to the six-speed manual gearbox, neither of which are relevant to this automatic-only model. Aside from some complaints about overly creaky dashboards and unexplained mobile phone connection dropouts the MINI’s copybook doesn’t appear to be too badly blotted. This model generation has been recalled twice, the first time because there was a danger its spare wheel could unexpectedly detach from its underside, and the second because its front seats were found to be prone to excessive movement.
The MINI Electric’s drive system has proven to be predictably sound in its donor car, the BMW i3, but it’s reassuring to know that the battery is covered by an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
Another mitigation for the compact size of the MINI Electric’s battery is the relatively speedy charging times it enables. A full fill from empty takes a little over three hours using a 7kW home wall box, and at public CCS points the car can charge at a rate of up to 50kW, meaning 80% of total capacity can be restored in around 36 minutes. If you’ve no option but to rely on a good old fashioned three-pin domestic socket, you’ll need about 12 hours to reach that same percentage. The MINI Electric also has the advantage of being compatible with the newer 11kW AC chargers for home or public points, which can buy you considerable amounts of time.
If a rather faint-hearted driving range doesn’t make the MINI Electric fall at the first hurdle for you, and it easily could for many drivers potentially looking to take that first tentative step into electric driving, then stick with it.
It’s a compelling package, albeit a snug one. Passenger space is at even more of a premium than in standard three-door MINIs, but we’re presuming that if you’re considering a three-door hatch practicality isn’t foremost on your wish list.
As a cost-effective second car, or a gadabout that will spend most of its time flitting around town, the MINI Electric is definitely worthy of attention. Anyone willing and able to make the necessary compromises will be rewarded with a great-looking, great-driving hatch with a blend of style, character, quality and technological sophistication that really stands out at this level.
Sadly, though, that all-round appeal is reflected in the fact that used MINI Electric prices won’t be heading southwards to any great degree any time soon, but it could be worth the wait. If you don’t have the luxury of time, the more plentiful all-wheel-drive MINI Countryman Hybrid with its 15-mile electric-only range might be worth a look instead. Prices of used examples start at around £15,000.