2020 Mini Cooper SE. Photo: Mini

This week I'm driving the 2020 Mini Cooper SE, a cute little electric hatchback that provided a few surprises.

The big picture: Mini, owned by BMW, was actually a pioneer in electrification a decade ago, before Tesla burst on the scene, notes CNET. But the 2009 Mini-E was mostly built for demonstration fleets and never offered for sale. Now the first electric Mini is finally available.

First, the disappointing surprise: The 2020 Cooper SE has an estimated driving range of just 110 miles, much less than its contemporaries like the Chevrolet Bolt (259 miles) or the Nissan Leaf (150 to 226 miles, depending on which battery it has).

  • But the Mini makes up for the short range with its unique styling and fun electric driving characteristics.

To maximize battery range, it features two regenerative-braking modes:

  • One allows the car to coast like a normal non-EV when you lift off the accelerator.
  • A more aggressive mode slows the car immediately, without touching the brake pedal. (It takes some getting used to.)
  • The electric motor converts the kinetic energy lost during deceleration into stored energy for the battery.
  • Charging to 80% capacity takes 35 minutes at a DC fast-charger, or four hours using a home AC charger.

One fun surprise: The Mini's taillights reflect the Union Jack, making its funky design even cooler.

I saved the best surprise for last: the price.

  • The Mini Cooper SE is available in three trim levels, starting at $29,900. With a $7,500 federal tax credit and available state tax incentives, you could knock the price below $20,000.
  • The top-of-the-line Iconic trim layers on the premium features, but still costs just $36,900.

Go deeper

GM's high-stakes electric move

The Cadillac Lyriq. Image courtesy of Cadillac

Cadillac on Thursday unveiled the Lyriq, the luxury brand's first all-electric model and GM's first consumer electric vehicle unveil since the Chevy Bolt several years ago.

Why it matters: It's the first reveal by GM of an electric vehicle that will use the company's new modular platform and Ultium battery system — technologies meant to underpin the 20 electric vehicles that GM plans to launch by 2023.

GM toys with spinning off its electric vehicle business

Coming in 2022: the electric Cadillac LYRIQ. Photo: GM

Wall Street still views General Motors as yesterday's news, so one way for GM to get credit for its in-house capability is to spin off its electric vehicle operations as a stand-alone business.

Why it matters: Pure plays on electric vehicles are all the rage among investors — just look at Tesla's valuation.

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