New MINI Electric Level 2: long-term test review

Second report: The MINI Electric supermini is a winner on and off the track

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

Verdict

The phrase ‘handles like a go-kart’ has never been more apt, thanks to instant acceleration and sharp steering. This EV is more than just an urban one-trick pony, even if it still has some big drawbacks.

  • Mileage: 1,595
  • Efficiency: 4.0 miles/kWh

The MINI has always been one of the finest-handling small cars on sale and a model closely associated with the phrase ‘handles like a go-kart’; so much so that MINI even makes reference to it in places.

Keeping true to that term, the three-door hatch has retained its playful handling with each new generation, building on a tried and tested formula with more powerful engines and clever chassis tech.

But as well as all the usual petrol models, the zero-emission Electric version of the Oxford-built runaround still handles exactly like you’d want and expect a MINI to.

The single electric motor makes 181bhp and 270Nm of torque, so it’s got the grunt to rival even the fastest MINI models. But does it still handle and entertain like the best cars MINI makes? In short, yes, it does.

As coronavirus restrictions have lifted I’ve been using the MINI more. Whether it’s a trip to see the in-laws, or a run out of London to collect a new test car, I’ve tried to largely ignore the MINI’s range readout. With a growing number of rapid charge points accepting contactless bank cards, range anxiety is less of a worry. The fact that every MINI Electric comes with a three-pin plug means I can top up at a mate’s while catching up over a coffee, too.

In fact, the only time I’ve had to consciously leave the MINI at home was on a recent round trip to Devon with our newborn daughter. Range aside, fitting in all the associated baby paraphernalia doesn’t bear thinking about. Even carrying the bulky buggy requires folding the rear seats.

All this means I’ve now had a chance to experience the MINI on a variety of roads. It’d be easy to dismiss the MINI Electric as little more than a short-range urban runaround, but with more than 1,500 miles under our car’s belt, I fear I may have underestimated its talents.

In fact, on a recent run on the roads around Goodwood, West Sussex, the MINI came into its own. It felt just as fun as the conventional Cooper S, retaining every ounce of that car’s responsive handling.

But in order to bring that statement to life, I took the MINI to Revolution Karting in Mile End, east London, for a side-by-side comparison with one of its innovative electric karts, which can hit 45mph.

While the similarities between one of these custom-built karts and the new MINI Electric are admittedly tenuous, taking a seat in one of Revolution’s electrified racers highlights our long-termer’s fantastic low-slung seating position. Both offer a hit of instant acceleration, and while the kart’s steering is quick, it’s heavy; in comparison the MINI’s wheel is beautifully weighted.

Back to how the MINI has slipped into my life though. Ignore the dismal rear-seat practicality and you’ll find there’s plenty of space to stretch out in the front, while the infotainment is easy to navigate thanks to the clickwheel on the centre console. There’s no Android Auto, but I’ve found the wireless Apple CarPlay great, launching seamlessly every time I switch on the car.

So, while the MINI Electric is far from perfect, not least because of its 100-mile range that, up until recently, I’ve managed to work around, after three months I’m quickly discovering its positive points – not only as a cheap-to-run city car, but as a genuinely entertaining quick hatchback.

MINI Electric: first report

The MINI Electric has been handy for trips to the shops during the lockdown

  • Mileage: 859
  • Efficiency: 3.5 miles/kWh

Full disclosure: the car you see here wasn’t supposed to be the Auto Express MINI Electric. We planned to take delivery of a fully loaded Level 3 car, but with lockdown measures brought in before it arrived, we held on to a mid-spec model instead.

It’s the same car that featured in the MINI’s road test debut, where we pitched it against the latest Renault Zoe. While the MINI was beaten in that outing, we’re looking forward to unpicking the new EV as we live with it over the coming months.

I’m pleased the top-spec car has been switched for the more affordable Level 2 model. The trim structure really is as simple as one, two, three – the higher up the range, the more kit and features you unlock.

Standard equipment is generous, though. All cars include sat-nav and Apple CarPlay (but Android Auto isn’t even an option), as well as MINI’s latest range of ‘Connected’ services, including live info on public charge point locations. Dual-zone climate control is included, as is cruise control, and a digital instrument cluster that’s also seen on the flagship MINI GP.

Step up to Level 2 (£2,000 extra) and you’ll open up a range of colours – each of which can be paired with a contrasting roof. This British Racing Green paint isn’t available on the basic model, and nor are the Tentacle Spoke wheels. Level 2 also gains heated seats, a parking camera, keyless operation and the Driving Assistant Pack with traffic sign recognition and auto high beam.

I’d have stuck with the ‘Electric Spoke’ wheels; a defining MINI Electric feature, they were designed to mimic a three-pin plug. These look great, and along with the yellow details, ensure there’s no mistaking the EV for its petrol sibling. Still, our car’s rims don’t detract from the classy look.

Level 3 commands a further £4,000 on top. These cars get a larger sat-nav screen (the set-up in our car is big enough, I reckon), plus a Harman Kardon stereo, head-up display, panoramic roof and leather seats. These are luxuries, I think – so save your cash and spend it on something else.

And now for full disclosure, part two: although the twin test was shot a week or two before the UK went into lockdown, the MINI has since done little more than tootle to and from the supermarket. In truth, we’ve wished for little more during this time; the short range – officially 144 miles, though nearer 100 miles in practice – is certainly sufficient for a trip to the shops, and charging once a month is no hardship.

Of course, that range may be cause for concern when the government relaxes its restrictions and the world goes back to normal; for me, a week can include a couple of days in our London office, followed by another flying from Heathrow, or down at our test track, so I foresee a more rigorous test of the EV’s versatility later.

Furthermore, I take particular issue with the fact the MINI Electric is only available in three-door form, despite the fact it sits on the same platform as the firm’s five-door petrol hatch, too. With a baby on the way, I can see this becoming an ever-pressing issue as I fumble with child seats and seat belts through the three-door’s tight opening. My colleague Joe thinks the same, as he found recently when trying to clamber into the back of the MINI’s cramped cabin.

But that’s a minor gripe, because the MINI excels when you get it out on the road. Even to and from the supermarket the Electric feels quick, agile and fun. I love the sharp steering, and the ride isn’t too firm, either.

Like all of us, I’m looking forward to things soon resembling some form of normality – at which point I can explore exactly what the MINI Electric is all about.

Model:MINI Electric Level 2
On fleet since:March 2020
Price new:£26,900 (incl. PICG)
Engine/battery:Single electric motor, 181bhp/32.6kWh
CO2/tax:0g/km/£0
Options:British Racing Green paint (£0), Black roof and mirror caps (£0), 17-inch Tentacle Spoke wheels (£0)
Insurance*:Group: 22 Quote: £478
Mileage:1,595
Economy:4.0 miles/kWh
Any problems?None so far

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points

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