Mini's fourth-generation supermini icon reaches for sleeker looks, extra range and the latest digital technology

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The latest ‘new Mini’ represents an interesting change of tack for its maker - and in more ways than one. 

Firstly, there’s the nomenclative departure. This fourth-generation modern Mini hatchback is now the Mini Cooper in a formal make-and-model sense (there will be no more Mini Ones or Mini Electrics, etc). Secondly comes the technical shift; although the combustion-engined version of this car survives to mirror it as part of a broader Mini Cooper model range, ‘the all-new Mini’ is, in point of fact, electric-only (the new ICE version being ostensibly an overhauled third-generation car with a new interior). 

And thirdly? Well, as we’ll come to shortly, that’s all about the fine detail of the all-electric version’s execution. This is a slightly different kind of electric Mini, I’d say: in its appearance, its positioning and its makeup. More mature- and sophisticated-feeling, and a little more versatile and usable with it; but also just a little less of a singular, fun-loving kind of car. Less of a sporting statement car, more of a real-world premium prospect. The same, but different.

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mini cooper se review 2024 02 side panning

The Mini Cooper, then, comes as a Cooper C or -S (built at Mini Plant Oxford, and powered by combustion engines) or as a Cooper E or SE (built in China, at BMW Group’s joint venture Spotlight factory, with the help of Great Wall Motors). UK first drives in the former should come soon - but for the latter, Mini laid on a pan-European press launch event in Barcelona last week, with right-hand drive UK examples arriving in summer 2024.

This time, there are two electric Minis, then - and, critically, both offer bigger drive batteries and more electric range than the famously nippy-but-short-legged outgoing Mini Electric. The Cooper E gets a new nickel-manganese-cobalt drive battery with 36.6kWh of usable capacity, up from 28.9- in the outgoing car - and a WLTP Combined electric range of 190 miles (up from 140-) - with prices starting from just under £30,000. That’s Mini delivering a 36 per cent boost on usable range, and keeping peak power the same as the old car, for broadly the same value for money. Not bad.

But if you want more of any of the above, the new Cooper SE now goes that little bit further. Here, usable battery capacity climbs to 49.2kWh; electric motor power to 215bhp; WLTP Combined range to 249 miles; and the departure-point price to £34,500. There were only Cooper SEs to test in Barcelona, so that’s the model we’ll focus on here - but Mini expects most Cooper electric buyers to plump for the SE in any case.

And design-wise? Well, Mini has treated the design of its three-door, heartland-territory ‘icon’ model rather carefully since it first appeared in 2001 - but this fourth-generation car is a bolder move. In pursuit of a cleaner- and more upmarket look, it has taken away much of the old car’s brightwork, and a few of its trademark design details.

There are no cutsie foglamps, front wing badges, plastic wheelarch extensions or chunky chrome doorhandles on the new car. There’s a much more restrained front grille; and the wraparound clamshell bonnet - which so famously helped to define the look of the 2001 BMW Group modern Mini, and through which the headlights of subsequent generations have cheekily poked - has gone, too. The designers wanted a sleek ‘pebble-like’ look for the new car, they say; but to these eyes, the effect is slightly less charismatic and endearing on the eye than we’ve become used to from Mini. Neater, perhaps - but a little bit less distinctive and more generic.



mini cooper se review 2024 09 dash

An apparent effort has been made to drive up the material richness and perceived quality of the Cooper’s interior, and it comes across even in base-grade Cooper Classic models (above which sit Exclusive and Sport grades - although their impact on the car is mostly cosmetic, with technical content delivered as part of Minis Level 1, -2 and -3 options packs). 

Just as they do in the larger Countryman, Mini’s recycled polyester textiles for the car’s dashboard and door panels make a nice tactile addition, and wider fit-and-finish standards are quite high. 

The key differences, though, concern the car’s driving position and its instrumentation layout. On the former side, because Mini’s new chassis carries its lithium-ion drive battery sandwich-style under the cabin floor rather than within the negative space of the transmission tunnel and under the back seats (as the Mini Electric did), you sit two or three inches higher at the wheel than Mini regulars will be used to, without so much of that ‘bum-on-the-deck’ trademark sporting feel. Passenger space in the second row is slightly better than in the old Mini Electric, however; it’s just about fit for adults of average height over short trips, or for younger kids - although fitting childseats back there would be tough.

Back up front, there’s no conventional driver’s binnacle; just Mini’s new centrally mounted OLED circular infotainment display, which conveys instrumentation, navigation mapping and trip computer data, and carries most of the car’s secondary controls. It has some useful shortcut buttons and menus, and certainly is crisply rendered; but (and for those who read our recent road test of the Countryman, I’m sorry to repeat all this) it’s a poor excuse not to have a proper instrument pack closer to the driver’s line of sight, in this tester’s opinion, and would be more usable still with a physical cursor controller. 

Visibility to all quarters is just about acceptable; but the way the rearview mirror has migrated downwards from the header rail (mounted as it is underneath a pod of forward-facing ADAS sensors) to obscure a fairly large chunk of the slightly letterbox-like windscreen can make you crane your neck at junctions and roundabouts in order to see around it. Mini isn’t the only small, sporty hatchback to offend on this score in recent years (the Toyota Yaris is equally guilty) - but it’s certainly something for interior designers to be wary of. Because however important rearview mirror visibility may be for a car, it shouldn’t be allowed to trump the forward equivalent.


mini cooper se review 2024 17 front tracking

There’s plenty of power and responsiveness on tap from the Mini Cooper SE’s 215bhp drive motor, delivered exclusively through the front wheels. Having it accompanied by a choice of imitation propulsion noises (which, depending on chosen driving mode, vary from Millenium Falcon tribute artiste to 1959 A-Series Mini with a futuristic twist) will no doubt appeal to some; though I personally found some of the car’s Mini Sounds make-believe combustion noises overly loud and irritating before long. 

With plenty of more powerful, rear-driven EVs available for similar outlay, however, outright peppy performance isn’t the advert for this car that it might have been five years ago. There’s more than enough poke here to enjoy yourself with - but, even on the Cooper SE, you wouldn’t call it a selling point.

While the old Mini Electric’s battery would typically go into limp mode after a couple of fast laps of a circuit, the Cooper SE has a much greater appetite for intensive track use, the engineers say. I can’t imagine they’ll be used that way; but it’s reassuring to hear in any case.

Not in what has now become a 1.6-tonne Mini, at any rate. The electric Mini’s bigger battery, together with the weight of the extra chassis structure needed to support it, has added a little over 200kg to this car (although it has grown little more than an inch or so in any physical dimension). Given how battery technology has advanced these past five years, and in a car like a Mini, that came as a particular disappointment to this tester; and on the road, you can detect that extra ballast. 

Less in the way the Cooper SE handles on smoother winding roads, it should be noted, where there is still plenty of zip and incisiveness about the car’s steering, good roll resistance, and a mechanical grip level that you can lean on fairly hard.

But more in the way it rides, and deals with lumps and bumps. There is a slight snatchy heavy-handedness about the car’s damping, a pitchiness about its primary body control, and a fidgetiness over motorway wave inputs, that prevent it from feeling fully in touch and at one with a challenging road surface, or quite as well-prepared to bolt gleefully into the middle distance as the best modern Minis have been over the years.


mini cooper se review 2024 01 front cornering

Plenty of Mini Electric owners a little frustrated with limitations of running an EV with a real-world range of about 110 miles will be keen to read exactly how much range has been added to this car in true day-to-day driving over its generational leap; and the answer, at least as regards the Cooper SE version, is a lot - though perhaps not quite as much as the official numbers suggest.

We tested the car in wet conditions and dry, with the car’s HVAC system working harder in the former than the latter (although a heat pump is standard-fit on the car however you buy it). And our experience suggests that the Cooper SE should be good for around 200 miles of mixed-road, mixed-speed use; as is typical of an EV, perhaps a little more in lower-speed urban use, and a little less exclusively at motorway speed.

Mini claims peak DC rapid charging for the car at 95kW - or 75kW for the cheaper Cooper E. For a premium small EV, that’s a little slow - but still shouldn’t have you waiting at a charging station for a 10-80 per cent charge for longer than half an hour.

Showroom entry prices for the car are quite competitive-looking, but - as is typically of Mini - average transaction prices will be inflated a bit by model grades and options packages; so while a Cooper SE could in theory cost you less than £35,000 at list price, many will have their on-paper prices pumped up to way beyond £40,000 when fitted with Mini’s sportier trim packages and assisted driving technologies. If you are buying, the best advice is to decide what trim and equipment you want in advance.


mini cooper se review 2024 22 front static

There will be more overtly sporting zero-emissons Minis to come from the brand in due course than this (the next Cooper JCW is expected to be electric, for one). Moreover, among similarly priced compact electric cars, this one would still be amongst the natural picks for keener drivers. I don’t think it’d be an outstanding class leader, though.

Because, for all of the Mini Cooper SE’s gesturing towards character and fun, and in spite of all of its improved usability and range, it actually offers less driver reward than its forebear. It’s quicker, with an appetite for corners on smoother surfaces; but plainly feels heavier and less at one with a more uneven roads, and by seating you higher, makes you feel that little bit farther from the action.

Mini has chosen range, technology, sophistication and premium lustre here over a really telling dynamic selling point. In doing so, it may just have made what is undoubtedly a more competitive premium electric car feel a little less unique and special to drive.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.