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2024 Mini Cooper EV: How BMW's coming baby electric car, and GWM Ora, Cupra Born rival, does retro design properly

Clean, crisp minimalism is the design mantra inside and out for the 2024 Mini Electric, sharing nothing with previous Minis.

This is the 2024 Mini Cooper Electric.

It possesses all the fundamental styling cues beloved by fans of the brand since the British Motor Corporation’s 1959-2000 original changed the small car forever – from the round headlights, upright turret with a floating roof, a long wheelbase with wheels tucked in each corner for tiny overhangs front and rear, and a low, stout stance.

Plus, as with every Mini throughout history including the three generations under BMW stewardship since 2001, there’s a powertrain under the stubby bonnet driving the front wheels. All are immovable brand fundamentals.

Yet the car you are looking at, the J01 Cooper three-door hatch unveiled weeks ago in Munich on September 1 prior to entering production in China next year and Oxford in the UK from 2026, is - from a design perspective - the most radically different Mini since the first one from 64 years ago.

And we mean dramatically different. Not in looks, though every single detail has changed and been restyled, but in proportion. It’s as big a step as going from the last ADO15 of 2000 to the first R50 the following year.

That’s because the J01 Cooper Electric – surprise, surprise – will be an electric vehicle (EV) only proposition. No internal combustion engine (ICE) version will be made. And having 100 per cent electrification subtly reshaped the Mini – much, much more so than in the outgoing F55 SE model released in 2020.

In that case, an electric motor and battery were stuffed into an existing ICE platform known as UKL1, and shared with a cornucopia of other Mini and BMW models including the Countryman and X1 respectively.

The one under the J01 Cooper Electric is all-new, and co-developed with GWM of China as a modular, flexible architecture to be spread across a host of multi-branded EVs – though BMW insists the Mini’s is unique and bespoke.

Plus, to add some confusion, the current, F56 Mini petrol (and diesels still sold elsewhere) three-door and five-door hatch models will undergo an extensive restyle next month. Codenamed F66, it will still use a modified version of the UKL1 platform, now known as FAAR, to carry on the Mini hatch ICE range until the brand’s entire line-up goes all-EV by 2030.

So, in other words, there will be the all-new J01 Cooper Electric hatch, as well as the heavily-revised F66 ICE hatches, arriving in Australia from about the middle of next year, selling concurrently.

Overseen by Head of Mini Design, Oliver Heilmer, preliminary J01 styling commenced in 2018, using a working theme of ‘heartbeat, responsibility, curiosity and daredevil’ as four fundamental values that the 2024 Mini Cooper, the Countryman and one more as-yet secret model (five-door hatch? Convertible? Nobody’s saying) had to possess.

“Why these values? Because they are not tackling a kind of specific form language, because if you are too specific, one year later it can become dated and cannot be used anymore,” Heilmer told the Australian journalists in Munich earlier this month.

“We knew already there would be a family of three, so they were developed more-or-less the same time, to create each of those in a specific way and with a specific character.”

The design freeze happened in March 2021, before the industrialisation of the design commenced in earnest. And, right from the outset, having a clean sheet of paper to create an all-new EV really reshaped things.

With the three-door hatch as the only reference point for us to dive into now, a side-by-side comparison with the previous F55 SE equivalent shows how much Heilmer’s team changed the basic shape. A smaller footprint. More raked windscreen. A stubbier nose. Different wheelbase lengths and track widths. Nothing is interchangeable.

“There are many opportunities we took with the Cooper Electric,” he revealed, “… playing with the wheelbase, playing with the length, gaining more interior space because you don’t have a tunnel anymore for exhaust and so forth – it’s all been really embraced.

“We pushed forward the lower area of the windshield, so the windscreen is not as steep anymore, but the bonnet became shorter. With the ICE, that is not so much possible.

“The wheel size is different, the wheel width is different because of the weight, and everything is purpose built for each of those (electric motor) types.”

That said, having a fresh start on an EV while still having to hit very clear and definite traditional Mini styling markers proved to be very tricky. There was a very real fear that the 2024 hatch would become too tall as well as too long, because of the repositioned battery pack.

“On the other side, you do have new challenges,” Heilmer admitted.

“Batteries are heavier. Electrified vehicles in direct comparison are heavier, and in terms of crash (test performance), you have to have a better kind of deformation elements, which then would result in the car getting longer again.

“And, in terms of structure, the batteries are in the lower area (under the floor in the newcomer) so the car becomes higher.

"So, especially in the Cooper, we took every possible chance to let it not happen, which means the Cooper is as (at least as) high as the (old Mini SE EV), even though we have the battery under the seats which the predecessor doesn’t have, we have (similar) height."

While Mini has yet to reveal full dimensions and specifications, it appears that the new Cooper Electric is at least 10mm taller at 1460mm. This, in turn, affects the all-important airflow qualities.

“Another big challenge is aerodynamics,” Heilmer said, adding that, with EVs, the thermal dynamics are different compared to an ICE vehicle.

“So, if you’re changing something in terms of aerodynamics, the impact is much bigger, so you have to pay a lot more attention to aerodynamics. Which then changed the length of the roof – the longer the roof, the better it is for aerodynamics. You have to have a certain amount of length behind the wheels… there are so many areas that are much more challenging to be honest than before with ICE. So, it’s a give or take.”

While all these minor dimensional changes may seem trivial, collectively, they threatened to distort the shape of the latest Mini – and given the visual icon of the brand, that could have turned disastrous.

“We always wanted to get the best result in terms of proportion because for Mini it’s important," Heilmer said.

“I am most proud of the approach that everything comes together, the merging of all the new elements together.”

Byron Mathioudakis
Contributing Journalist
Byron started his motoring journalism career when he joined John Mellor in 1997 before becoming a freelance motoring writer two years later. He wrote for several motoring publications and was ABC...
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