New MINI Electric: prototype ride ahead of 2023 launch

The next-generation MINI Electric hatchback will arrive in 2023; we’ve ridden in a prototype to get our first taste of the reborn Renault 5 rival

MINI Electric prototype

The next-generation MINI Electric won’t make its official debut until late 2023, but that hasn’t stopped the British brand sharing official images of the new zero-emissions hatchback undergoing cold-weather testing near the Arctic Circle – and letting us ride in one of the prototypes.

Two versions of the new MINI Electric will be available. First up is an entry-level model with a roughly 40kWh battery that should offer around 186 miles of range on a charge, compared to the current model’s 140 to 145. The electric motor’s circa-180bhp power output will be much the same as the current car’s. This version is likely to cost about the same as that car, too – around £27,000. 

Above the base car will be a longer-range variant, featuring a roughly 50kWh capacity battery, with nearly 250 miles possible on a charge. This version will also get a power boost to around 215bhp. We expect the current MINI Electric’s 50kW rapid-charging speed to see a significant increase, however that’s yet to be confirmed. 

The next-generation MINI Electric will use a brand-new platform developed in Europe by BMW specifically for MINI – in contrast to the updated petrol MINI, which will stick with an evolution of the current car’s platform. 

We can glean a lot about the upcoming MINI’s styling from the latest images of the car testing, as well as some undisguised prototype pictures that surfaced in 2021. The front end isn't radically different to the current model's, but the rear has been heavily restyled, with a new, aggressive-looking triangular design for the tail-lights. Inside, the trademark MINI circular dashboard display remains, but in the new car it takes the form of a slim, disc-shaped touchscreen that's mounted to the dashboard rather than nestling within it.

The fourth-generation MINI hatchback will be a more compact package than the current model, with the electric version set to rival the Renault 5Honda eFiat 500 and the zero-emissions Nissan Micra successor. By 2025, the MINI Electric will be offered in convertible form as well.

New MINI Electric prototype ride in Sweden

At the time of writing, we’re still 18 months from the introduction of the fourth generation MINI Hatchback – the second to be available with electric power. While exact specifications remain under wraps for the time being, massive changes are coming in this latest iteration of the iconic car. To get a taste of what to expect, we headed to Sweden to experience the all-new MINI for the first time from the passenger seat.

The version we rode in was the more potent, longer-range model with its circa-50kWh battery and roughly 215bhp on tap. Before we climbed on board with MINI engineer Klaus Bramer, we took in the car’s updated dimensions. The design is still secret, but former brand boss Bernd Koerber told DrivingElectric in 2019 that he wanted to make the MINI ‘mini’ again. On first encounter, it’s clear that this more or less translates to a car with a similar footprint, but much better packaging, than its predecessor.

It’s ever so slightly shorter than the current model, but a longer wheelbase, a flat floor and shorter overhangs mean the new car makes more of its size when it comes to interior space. Bramer claims: “you can drive longer ranges with it. It’s comfortable. You can also have passengers in the rear. It’s more spacious than the last version.”

At this stage of development, MINI is evaluating how the car’s electric drivetrain, battery and charging react to extreme cold, while driving on snow-covered roads and prepped frozen lakes allows engineers to assess how the second-generation MINI Electric corners and ensure that it’ll deliver the “go-kart handling” the compact hatchback is renowned for.

“We search all over the world for the worst scenarios,” says Bramer, “and then we make sure that our car works in these conditions.” Testing in hotter climates and high-speed calibration have yet to come, but alongside evaluating the systems in the cold, ensuring that the new MINI has a playful side is high up Bramer’s to-do list.

“It is important for us that our fans like to drive it,” he says, while explaining that the new platform has allowed a better centre of gravity and a slight reduction in weight. “We have a larger, wider track and wheelbase to make it more comfortable. With the centre of gravity we can make it more agile than the last one; it feels more playful.”

The more powerful version will have a sportier set-up than the base model, and MINI’s engineers are finalising this. We can’t fully gauge how darty and nimble the car is from the passenger seat, but it took the ice in its stride, changing direction happily. With another year-and-a-half to go before it’s unveiled, there’s still plenty to come. But Bramer isn’t phased by the challenges. “We have 18 months to go and right now, it’s driving pretty good. I’m pretty sure our customers will be happy with it,” he claims.

Future electric MINI models

MINI confirmed earlier in 2021 that it'll transition to an electric-only brand by 2030. Since then, it has confirmed several electrified models will be joining its ranks very soon alongside the new MINI Electric hatchback and its convertible counterpart, which will hit the road by 2025. 

Before either of those models debuts, 2022 will see MINI launch a fully electric crossover, which could see the return of the Paceman name. However, no details about that particular have surfaced yet. We expect this five-door Smart #1 rival will feature the same powertrain and battery options as the new hatchback, meaning a maximum range of 250 miles is possible.

The successor to the current MINI Countryman family SUV will also launch in 2023; this will be offered with either combustion or electric power. The new Countryman will use the same underpinnings as the next-generation BMW X1 SUV, debuting later this year, with the zero-emissions iX1 following shortly after.

MINI is also planning to launch a new vehicle concept in 2023, aiming to “meet the wishes of many customers for additional space and comfort and increased variability." This could potentially be a production version of the MINI Vision Urbanaut concept that was unveiled in June 2021.

Finally, MINI has confirmed that it’s developing electrified John Cooper Works (JCW) models, one of which we expect will be a hot version of its electric hatchback. Former head of MINI Bernd Koerber previously hinted at this, and the brand released photos of a camouflaged fully electric JCW MINI testing at the Nurburgring circuit in Germany (above). It also supplied a prototype 'MINI Pacesetter' electric safety car to the Formula E series, and said this could point the way to a future roadgoing high-performance model.

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