- Fabulous handling in true MINI Style
- Generously equipped and modern, eye-catching interior
- Excellent economy and low emissions to keep costs down
- Quite expensive to buy
- Pure petrol Countryman model is more exhilarating to drive
- Boot and fuel tank capacities are reduced to accommodate batteries
If you take a brief look back at MINI’s heritage it has always produced cars that were a driving enthusiast’s dream and that continued to be the case when BMW took over the reins. However, the latest model is a plug-in hybrid which is a massive step for the thrill-seeker’s brand that prides itself on go-kart style handling.
Thankfully the five-door MINI Cooper S E ALL4 PHEV Countryman (we shall call it the MINI Countryman PHEV) delivers on all counts. It looks the business, boasts all the quirky design cues associated with the company such as the circular dials and toggle switches, it has all-wheel drive capabilities and, yes, it’s a hybrid.
On The Road
The MINI Countryman PHEV is the brand’s first plug-in hybrid model featuring a three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor combining to produce a total output of 224bhp and 220Nm of torque. Prices start from £31,585 and the test car, in an eye-catching Melting Silver shade, boasted a number of optional packs that bumped up the asking price to £37,795.
The car maintains all the dynamism associated with the MINI marque and can sprint to 62mph from a standing start in just 6.8 seconds with acceleration through the 6-speed Steptronic automatic transmission proving beautifully sharp and responsive. The car tops out at 123mph.
The lithium-ion high-voltage battery can be charged at a wallbox in 2 hours 15 minutes (or an hour longer from the mains) and it can achieve electric-assisted driving up to 78mph with a range of 26 miles. There are three driving modes AUTO eDRIVE is for purely electric driving up to 50mph with the petrol engine joining in when necessary. Second up is the MAX eDRIVE for speeds up to 78mph thanks to the help of the combustion engine. And finally, SAVE BATTERY mode which means the car is driven by the engine alone.
This all sounds rather technical, but the fact that cannot be ignored is how sharp the car is to drive. It handles fabulously well and can be thrown into tight bends with confidence. The road-holding is ultra-grippy, the steering feedback excellent and the power just seems to be relentless.
MINI cars have an established reputation for delivering on every count when it comes to handling and driving fun. But hybrids are generally viewed as being a tad sluggish mainly due to the extra weight they carry. So this was one test drive where one theory was going to be quashed and I’m pleased to say it was the latter one.
That’s because the MINI Countryman PHEV delivers a spectacular all-round performance and driving experience. I may sound like I’m gushing a bit here, but the car really is that good. In busy town centres, it ambles along and the agility and ease of manoeuvrability is ideal for tight turning circles or squeezing into small parking spaces.
But it’s out on the open road where this car shows what it’s made of. The acceleration is as rapid or controlled as you choose and the gear changes are beautifully timed through the automatic box. Different driving modes can be chosen with a green glow around the dials when driven in an Eco style. Everything turns a bright shade of red when Sport is selected and this certainly sharpens up the car’s dynamics. The body roll is non-existent as it carves its course through the lanes and even in the wet the grip is undeterred.
On the outside, the MINI Countryman PHEV oozes the charm and distinctive design that helps it stand out as a MINI. It boasts an athletic, yet beefy stance with roof rails, chunky alloys, tinted windows and smart LED headlights. The roof and mirror caps on the test car were in a contrasting black colour which added a sense of menace. And the additional ‘E’ badging is a gentle reminder that this is no ordinary MINI.
Move inside and there is a wealth of technology to be explored. The large circular dial in the centre of the dashboard is the main focal point and systems such as the sat nav, music, phone and car’s setting can be accessed here.
There is the string of traditional toggle switches - I particularly liked the mustard yellow one that fires the car into action and other switches control the eDrive modes accordingly.
The leather upholstery and steering wheel adds a sense of class to the car and the piano black surface looks both modern and chic.
In The Car
Being a hybrid model, there is a need for some additional readouts and these are displayed via an e-power gauge next to the central speedo. Thankfully, it’s all quite easy to take on board - basically, if the needle is in the yellow then the car is running on electric, accelerate a tad sharpish and the needle moves to the eBOOST section. Step off the throttle and the needle drops into the ‘charge’ sector.
It does get a little more complicated if you start monitoring the drive modes graphics which offer details about the car being run in front-wheel drive with petrol engine input, rear-wheel drive with electric power, or in all-wheel drive in power mode. It’s all a little gimmicky to be honest and I found it easier to ignore the data overload and let the car do its stuff.
Comfort levels within the MINI are high and the test model featured sports seats which were nice and supportive. And there’s a host of technology included, such as sat nav, air conditioning, a DAB radio, Bluetooth, cruise control and a clear touchscreen that is accessed via the Touch Controller.
MINI has a specific target audience for the Countryman PHEV as it is designed to suit the driver who is looking for the benefits of pure electric driving when commuting between home and work, but wants the opportunity to use the vehicle for family trips that clock up the mileage too and the MINI covers both bases. It can deliver an EV range of 26 miles, but with the 35-litre fuel tank topped up, the overall limit is raised to 310 miles.
It’s also worth remembering the ALL4 all-wheel drive capabilities of this compact SUV model.
The packaging of the batteries beneath the rear bench means the hybrid model has a slightly smaller boot compared to the standard Countryman. It is reduced by 45 litres to 405 litres, but the 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats can be dropped to increase the capacity to 1,275 litres.
Elsewhere there are a number of convenient storage compartments, including deep cup holders, a glovebox, door bins, a storage box beneath the central armrest and a handy tray.
Despite the loss in luggage space and a slightly reduced fuel tank capacity, there has been no compromise regarding passenger space and a couple of full-sized six footers can sit comfortably in the back of the car making it a very practical option.
So, onto the cost of buying and running the MINI Countryman PHEV. It is available from £31,585 but the low CO2 emissions rating of just 49g/km brings some additional benefits including a £2,500 Government grant.
This low emissions rating also means that owners will face a Vehicle Excise Duty cost of just £19 for the first tax year and £140 after that.
And when you factor in the claimed 134.5mpg average fuel efficiency, then owners will be laughing all the way to the bank.
The insurance group rating for the car is 26E.
The build quality within the vehicle has a premium feel to it. The doors close with a solid thud, the toggle switches feel sturdy and the touchscreen is easy to keep clean from fingerprints.
The combination of cloth and leather seat upholstery is of a high quality and feels like it will last the test of time.
MINI enjoys a good reputation for reliability and the hybrid running gear shouldn’t pose any issues either as the BMW hybrid models have proved good examples of the group’s technology.
The MINI Countryman PHEV, including the high voltage battery, is warranted by the Authorised MINI Retailer to be free from defects in materials and workmanship for a period of 36 months from the original date of vehicle registration, with no mileage limitation. In addition to this, the high voltage battery has a warranty up to six years from the date of first registration, or up to 62,000 miles, whichever occurs first.
The MINI Countryman PHEV has been awarded the maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP safety tests and is generously equipped with safety kit as standard with the likes of anti-lock brakes with cornering brake control, dynamic stability control including automatic stability control and traction, electronic brake force distribution, hill assist, eight airbags and three-point seatbelts.
And it’s worth remembering the car features ALL4 all-wheel drive which is an intelligent torque vectoring system that maximises traction on virtually any surface which translates into optimal traction, maximum stability and even more fun cruising around corners.
There are optional packs that introduce some extra safety features such as the high-beam assistant which is part of the optional Driving Assistant Pack. At speeds of 30 mph and above, it automatically switches the high beam off to prevent glare affecting oncoming traffic – and back on again once the vehicles have passed.