The Well-Traveled 2022-2023 MINI COOPER SE
An inexpensive electric car with a high fun-to-drive quotient
A review of the MINI Cooper SE as well as the changing ways in which to buy a car.
By Roy Nakano
Tue, Jun 28, 2022 10:52 AM PST
Featured image above: The all electric MINI Cooper SE. MINI has turned the ritual of ordering a car and following its journey from Oxford to your dealer into an art.
All photographs by the author.
This is a review about the MINI Cooper SE - the electric version of MINI’s Cooper S, and one of the least expensive electric cars with one of the highest fun-to-drive quotients. It’s also a story about the changing ways in which to buy a car - particularly if you want to avoid paying more than the sticker price of the car.
With the computer chip shortage with us for the long haul, and a war in Ukraine causing other part shortages throughout the industry, buyers are compelled to turn to ordering their cars and waiting months for its arrival.
The Worst Time To Buy A Car?
This may be the worst time to buy a car, ever. Car dealerships look like ghost towns with depleted inventories. The cars they have in stock command record prices. Where once a buyer could count on a purchase below the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), they are now lucky if they can get a car at the sticker price. Unfortunately, with the inflation trending the way it is and talk of a looming recession, things may get worse before they get better.
According to a Wall Street Journal story earlier this year ("A New Brand of Sticker Shock Hits the Car Market," Mike Colias and Nora Eckert), the authors wrote, "With vehicles in short supply, prices are skyrocketing. Many dealers say they must make do with their scant vehicle supplies and be realistic about what the market will bear, especially for high-demand models. In extreme cases, dealerships are charging $35,000 to $40,000 above the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP, on luxury cars that normally sell for $80,000 or more." In a report issued this past February, the consumer research arm of Edmund.com confirms 8 out of 10 consumers paid over MSRP for their new car.
Making Your Wait As Painless As Possible
The carmakers are well aware of this situation, and many envision customer orders becoming a bigger part of the sales transactions than ever before. This is certainly the case with MINI. Fortunately for them (and for the car buyer), MINI has for years been trying to make the routine of ordering a car and waiting for its arrival as painless as possible.
As is the case with many car dealers, almost all MINI dealers will sell you a car at sticker price, so long as you’re willing to order it and wait months for its arrival. That wait can be agonizing, but MINI has developed a way for buyers to track the progress of the car’s development and delivery.
For our 2022 all-electric MINI Cooper SE hardtop 2-door coupe, we ordered the car through the manufacturer’s website at miniusa.com. In a sign of the times, the site takes you to Amazon.com to pay the refundable $250 deposit (and, no, Amazon Prime membership will not guarantee delivery of the car in two days).
The local dealer you selected will contact you to acknowledge receipt of the order. Shortly after the order, the dealer representative can provide you with a seven-digit production number for your car, which you’ll need to track its development and delivery via MINI USA’s My MINI Garage site at mygarage.miniusa.com.
On A Slow Boat To Your Home
Once you enter the production number into the Track My MINI page of My MINI Garage, you can watch as your car goes from being on order, to being scheduled for production in Oxford, England, to going into the paint booth, to assembly, to inspection, to dock delivery in Southampton, to boarding the vessel to take the MINI Cooper across the Atlantic Ocean.
When the car has boarded the vessel on the Track My MINI graphic timeline, it will be marked IN TRANSIT. At this point, you’ll want to contact your local dealer representative (for us, a very responsive Javier Escalante at MINI of Monrovia) to find out what vessel the car is on and the port destination. With the vessel information, you can go to marinetraffic.com, type in the name of the vessel in the Search box, and track the voyage of the vessel at no cost.
In our case, the MINI Cooper SE boarded a Japanese cargo ship called Artemis Leader. On marinetraffic.com, we were able to track the voyage of the ship on a map from the Port of Southampton, through a port stop at Bremerhavan, Germany, through its Atlantic Ocean crossing (coincidently, it was crossing it around the same time the Felicity Ace cargo ship caught fire in the Atlantic and sank), through the Panama Canal, up the coast of Southern California, and finally to the Port of Long Beach. Viewing the maps provided by MarineTraffic are part of the fun of tracking the voyage.
Track My MINI
Once the vessel arrives at the destination port, the Track My MINI graphic timeline shifts from IN TRANSIT to AT THE PORT. When the car is loaded onto the car carrier trailer, the timeline moves forward again to IN TRANSIT. Your car is now on its way to the local dealership. Very shortly thereafter, you’ll be contacted by the dealer representative and informed your car has arrived. Expect the whole process to take 3-4 months.
All in all, MINI USA has done a commendable job of easing the pain of waiting for your car to arrive by adding an element of fun to the process. To share in the excitement (or commiseration) of the wait, there are plenty of support groups for the car on Facebook and across the Internet.
The Case For The MINI Cooper SE
Now that we know the best way to get a MINI Cooper SE, why would you get one in the first place?
This is not a car for everybody. By today’s expectations, its range is too limited. It’s a subcompact two-door coupe, which makes getting in and out of the back seat a gymnastics feat. Compared to the most popular vehicle sold in America - the Ford F-150 truck - the MINI Cooper SE is miniscule. And it’s electric, still a very foreign concept to buy into for many consumers today.
On the other hand, for its price, it’s the most fun-to-drive electric car from a major manufacturer you can buy. For a while, it was the cheapest electric car from a major manufacturer, until Nissan dropped the price of its (not-so-fun-to-drive) base Leaf. Chevrolet recently announced the price of its (pretty fun-to-drive) 2023 Bolt EV will drop to $25,600. That’s a helluva price for the Bolt, even if General Motors/Chevrolet no longer benefits from the $7,500 federal tax credit.
What set the MINI Cooper SE apart from the rest in its class is agility, subcompact dimensions, and excellent 360 degree view of the road. The three attributes work together with the inherent responsiveness of electric propulsion to allow around-town acrobatics you wouldn’t dare try with other cars. Things like zipping in and out of traffic and making tighter lane changes, not to mention finding abundantly more available parking spaces.
It’s not uncommon to find Tesla Model 3 and Model Y owners on the Internet boards that have opted for a MINI Cooper SE as a second or third car. You can hear and read them say they prefer the MINI for around-town driving, even though the Teslas are exceedingly sporty. That’s because the around-town maneuverability of the MINI is liberating in a dense, urban environment. And at about half the price of the Teslas (which no longer enjoy the $7,500 federal tax credit), perhaps there’s also less apprehension about flogging the car around town in the Cooper SE.
The MINI Cooper SE Thinks It's Upscale
Considering it’s one of the cheaper electrics on the market, the car has interior appointments, fit and finish that defy its price and size. Every Cooper SE comes standard with lighted door handles, puddle lights that illuminate the ground when the door opens, and accent lights on the dash, door panels, and foot wells. The steering wheel is wrapped in leather, and seats are heated (a heated steering wheel was standard in 2022, but is now an option for 2023).
An 8.8-inch display screen - once only available on the top Iconic trim - is now standard on every Cooper SE, so is wireless Apple CarPlay capability. And while the standard audio system is by no means high end, the car comes with shallow 8-inch "subwoofers" mounted under the front seats. It actually sounds pretty decent at moderate levels on certain kinds of music, like Chet Baker tunes or chamber music.
The interior is devoid of the cheap-looking plastic usually found on cars in this price region. Instead of plastic, MINIs are replete with hardware and switchgear with the feel of solid, chrome-plated metal. Automatic, rain-sensing wipers are standard. Every Cooper SE has frameless glass windows. When the door opens, they retract a fraction of an inch, and return to full up position upon door closure. It’s an expected feature on upscale German cars, and the MINI thinks it runs with this crowd.
Having owned a 2010 MINI Cooper S, one of my favorite driving modes was with both windows down, enjoying the cool air in the early mornings and throughout the California evenings. The Cooper SE retains this pleasing driving mode. If you’re locking up the car, both windows will close if you left them open. And when you return to the car, the smart key provides you with the option of automatically rolling down both windows when you unlock the doors.
You Think It's Going Faster Than It Really Is
The small two-door MINI Cooper shares a quality with the small Mazda Miata: You think you’re going a lot faster than the car really is. This applies to acceleration as well as cornering. Perhaps it’s related to the size of the car, or maybe it’s also the proximity of the driver to the road. You can probably also factor in the short wheelbase/steering responsiveness into the equation.
In any case, if you think the car is going faster than it really is, this means you’re having fun even if you’re not breaking any traffic laws. That’s got to be a good thing, right? In any event, I can tell you I’ve driven cars that are objectively quicker than the MINI Cooper SE that aren’t anywhere near as fun to drive (the dual motor version of the Hyundai IONIQ 5 comes to mind).
The Sound Of Silence
Unlike the 2010 MINI Cooper S I previously owned, the all-electric MINI Cooper SE lacks the engine noise and vibrations of its petrol-powered variants. It was the one quality of the old Cooper S that gave it a frenzied quality that was tiring at times. The electric Cooper SE has none of that, meaning you can have fun and enjoy it in the luxury of silence.
The only sound you’ll hear is the safety-related electric vehicle-warning device to notify unsuspecting pedestrians that a silent electric car approaches. Some drivers will find it annoying, but the one fitted in the Cooper SE sounds like a 1950s science fiction spaceship that changes pitch upon acceleration, and vanishes as it reaches speed. It’ll turn a few heads in indoor parking garages.
Hone On The Range
The EPA-rated 114 miles of range on the MINI Cooper SE will be a deal-killer for many. But it’s the reason the car is so cheap. And now CNET and sustainability experts advocate consumers consider getting enough range to meet your needs, but not more. Getting more range than needed results in excess weight (which can result in increased safety risks), and excess battery life cycle sustainability issues.
MINI asserts that keeping the range down also keeps the Cooper SE light enough to still respond like a MINI. The suggestion here is that greater range requires a heavier MINI Cooper, which will be less responsive on the road and feel less like the MINI Cooper we all know and love.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, the national average daily drive in America is about 39 miles in pre-pandemic 2019. For Californians, the daily average is a little less - about 34 miles. Of course, everyone has different driving needs, but the point is you may not need as much range as you think - and opting for less may also be more environmentally friendly in the long run.
MINI Range Extenders
MINI has equipped the Cooper SE with two features to make that range a little more palatable. The first is DC fast charging capability, which will allow you to charge up to 80 percent of its range in 36 minutes. At a charging station suitably equipped, you can plug in, go on a coffee break, and return with enough charge to continue onward.
The other range-extending feature of the Cooper SE is four driving modes: Standard, Sport, Green and Green+. The latter stretches the last drop of mileage from the car by disengaging the AC and keeping the speeds moderate. It’s actually been great for my cool, morning commutes from Monrovia to Santa Ana. I’ve then got more than enough range to engage Sport mode when warranted and blast the AC on the warm commute home.
So, What's Not To Like In The MINI Cooper SE?
There are a few annoyances on the MINI Cooper SE. For one, there are two regenerative brake-driving modes: High and low. There is no option for “no regenerative braking”, which would emulate the driving characteristics of a gas propulsion car.
I ordinarily prefer the one-pedal driving mode associated with high regenerative braking, but the one in the MINI seems to have a built-in lag. Maybe it’s to make it less annoying for passengers (who ordinarily are annoyed with one-pedal driving), but the lag makes me prefer the low regenerative brake-driving mode. At least the low mode has the benefit of keeping the car stopped at a stoplight without the need to keep the foot on the brake.
The other annoyance is the trunk release on the convex smart key. On more than one occasion, the trunk release engaged while the key is in my front pocket. I understand the key can be programmed to require two pushes to open the trunk. That should take care of this problem. Neither annoyance is a deal breaker.
Goodbye 2022, Hello 2023
Here’s a bit of bad news: The $29,900 Signature trim version of the MINI Cooper SE can no longer be ordered. That’s too bad, since the Signature trim version brought the price of the car below $20,000 when factoring in the federal tax credit and California state cash rebate incentives. Alas, if you order a 2023 model, it’ll have to be either the Signature Plus version ($3,325 more) or the Iconic (another $2,475). You can blame it on the part shortages. MINI can only make so many cars, and they prefer to sell you the more premium versions, which yield better profit margins for them.
The good news: $34,225 for the Signature Plus comes out to approximately $23,725 when factoring in the federal tax credit and state incentives. That’s not much more than what one paid for the bare bones MINI Cooper S back in 2010 with far more downscale interior appointments.
For the extra dollars, the Signature Plus will get you a panoramic moonroof that extends to the back seats, Sirius XM satellite radio with a one-year subscription, a beguiling multi-tone roof option, and some extra snazzy seat options.
To get the Harman/Kardon premium sound system, which includes a more extended bass range and ear-level tweeters to take you out of the balcony and into orchestra level listening, you’ll now need to opt for the Iconic trim (it’s another victim of the microchip shortage). The Iconic also gets you a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, and the trick 17-inch MINI Electric Power Spoke wheels that mimic the look of UK electric outlets.
Should You Wait For The 2024 MINI Cooper SE?
There’s a new MINI Cooper SE coming in 2024. It’ll most certainly have greater range. There are pictures of the new car floating around the Internet. The Union Jack taillights have been clipped down (they are triangular rather than rectangular). Most noticeably, the retro look of the interior with its sparkling metal switchgear and full array of controls is being replaced with a stark, Tesla Model 3-like minimalist design. Last, but not least, it’ll be manufactured in the People’s Republic of China under a partnership with Great Wall Motor. Given the tariffs attached to the current trade riffs with China, there’s a likelihood the new car will come at a premium price. In the meantime, the 2022-2023 will be the final MINI Cooper SE built in Oxford, England.
7 Takeaways Regarding The MINI Cooper SE
So, if you’re considering going for an electric MINI, here are the seven takeaways to keep in mind:
1. To get the best price, order your car and be prepared to wait.
2. MINI has a great tracking system to follow the build and delivery of your car.
3. The 2022 base Signature trim model was a terrific bargain (factoring in the federal and state incentives), but it’s no longer offered for 2023.
4. The 2023 base Signature Plus trim model is less of a bargain, but it’s still the preeminent fun-to-drive EV in its price class.
5. Resist the temptation to add options, as they can easily take you into the stratosphere.
6. The MINI Cooper SE is not for everyone, but it can be a uniquely enjoyable second or third car.
7. The current car will be the last MINI Cooper SE built in Oxford, England. Subsequent Cooper SEs will be built in China.
Review Summary - MINI Cooper SE
In summary, the MINI Cooper SE is not a car that does all things for all people. First of all, you won’t want passengers in the back seat except for infrequent occasions. It’s actually somewhat comfortable back there (if the front passenger is not a Daddy Long Legs), but getting in and out requires some acrobatics. And if you go on road trips, you certainly won’t want to do it in the Cooper SE. You’ll want a second car with greater range (maybe even an internal combustion engine) for that purpose.
On the other hand, the Cooper SE may be the perfect electric car if you value its fun-to-drive factor over everything else, and don’t want to pay a premium. It’s great for around-town driving, maneuvering in and out of traffic, and finding rare parking spots. It almost makes driving in heavy traffic a joy - and there are very few cars that can make that claim.
Specifications (That Matter)
2022 and 2023 MINI Cooper SE
2022 Signature trim: $29,900 (approximately $19,400, factoring in federal tax credit and CA cash rebate and CA utility company rebate)
2023 Signature Plus trim: $34,225 (approximately $23,725, factoring in federal & CA rebates)
Power delivery: Electric
EPA-rated range: 114 miles
Range impacting driving modes: Mid, Sport, Green, Green+
Regenerative braking driving modes: High regenerative braking (default) and Low regenerative braking
Drive configuration: Front motor, front-wheel drive
Performance: 6.9 seconds 0-60 mph (manufacturer’s estimate)
For more information on the MINI Cooper SE, click here.
For even more information about the tracking process, go to Inside EVs’ How to Track Your MINI SE Build and Shipping site.
About The Author
Roy Nakano gave birth to LACar in the late '90s, having previously delivered LA Audio File back in the '80s. Aside from the occasional review, Roy likes to stray off the beaten automotive path: "Six Degrees of Reparations" reflected on the regretful ethical paths taken by car companies throughout history. "Traveling Through the Past and Present of the Green Book" looked at businesses that took a stand against racism and the man that wrote the book on where to find them. "Best Cars to Drive in Rush Hour Traffic" was an LACar guide published in the pre-GPS era. "In Search of the First Datsun 510 Tuner" looked at one of the milestones in the origin of import tuners.