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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.

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