Spied: MINI Cooper S E caught testing in the wild

MINI's first serious EV entry is inching closer to production.

This MINI Cooper S E, spotted being staged for an official photo shoot, gives us a completely undisguised look at the BMW subsidiary's first true entry into the all-electric market.

We say "true" entry because MINI has sold vehicles with an EV powertrain before. Like many early EV ventures, it was a lease-only program that lasted only one model year (2009) and was limited to just 450 units.

But this time, it's for real. Like all modern Coopers, the S E (Yes, it's a Cooper S, which means it's supposed to be fun.) will be front-engined and front-wheel-drive, though it borrows its powertrain largely from the BMW i3. The heart of it is a ~34-kWh battery pack, and according to early reports, MINI expects it to deliver roughly the same range as the BMW: somewhere in the neighborhood of 110-115 miles.

That may not seem to impressive on spec, but it's not far behind VW's e-Golf (125 miles) and much better than what could ostensibly be considered its closest competitor, the Fiat 500e. The baby Italian can only muster 84 miles on a single charge. It does fall far short of even the base Nissan LEAF's range (150 miles) and is nearly doubled by Nissan's 62-kWh option (226 miles).

Exterior-wise, it certainly looks the part, though the EV gets the typical closed-nose treatment and unique wheels to set it apart.

That all said, the MINI promises to deliver one thing most compact EVs aren't really intended to: driving fun. At 3,000 pounds, it's not going to be quite as nimble as the gasoline-powered Cooper S Hardtop, but the S E should at least be able to hang with the heavier convertible.

This photo shoot is a clear sign that we're getting close to the Cooper S E's official launch, which is expected late this year or early next. Stay tuned.

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