Impressive on a techy level, but weight mars the driving experience of Mini’s Countryman Plug-in hybrid
The £31,585 Countryman Cooper S E All4 is Mini’s debut petrol-electric plug-in. It comes hard on the heels of its mechanical lookalike, the £33,025 225xe Sport Active Tourer from Mini’s parent company, BMW.
The BMW connection goes even deeper than that. You’ll find a very similar hybrid drivetrain in the i8 sports car, albeit running at a different angle in the five-seat Mini, whose turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine sits crossways between the front wheels generating 134bhp and 162lb/ft at a low 1250rpm. The 87bhp/122lb ft electric motor forms part of the rear axle assembly.
Totting that up in the hybrid way gives you maxima of 221bhp and 284lb/ft. That compares to the £28,025 Cooper S Countryman’s 192bhp and 206lb ft. The petrol engine only powers the front wheels via a six-speed auto gearbox, while the electric motor powers the rears through a two-stage fixed-gear transmission. When both hybrid motors are running, the Mini is a four-wheel drive car.
A 7.6kWh lithium ion battery sits under the back seats. Charging times are 3.25 hours from a normal mains socket or 2.5 hourrs by an optional wall charger unit. The electric motor, battery and associated gubbins add a not inconsiderable 295kg to the weight of the regular Cooper Countryman.
Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4
Engine: 1.5-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol plus electric motor
Gearbox: Six-speed automatic, single-speed fixed ratio
Kerb weight: 1660kg
Top speed: 123mph
CO2/tax band: 49g/km, 9%
On the road you have a choice of three modes: Auto eDrive, Max eDrive and Save Battery. Auto eDrive is the default mode, giving electric-only operation for up to 26 miles at up to 50mph, with the petrol engine being allowed to kick in when more acceleration is required. Max eDrive extends the electric motor’s ability to deliver maximum power up to 78mph: in this mode the petrol engine only joins in at higher speeds or for extra performance. Save Battery maintains battery charge if energy reserves are already lowered, or can lift them over 50 per cent on a trip by storing energy created by the petrol engine and during braking/ coasting.
In Auto eDrive the new Mini uses its potent low-speed torque to step off the line with real vim, to the accompaniment of a distant electrical whine. It always feels faster than the claimed 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds (the Cooper S Countryman’s time is 7.2 seconds), but the car feels faster than that, especially in town driving. Discerning the switchover point between pure electric running and the addition of petrol power is pretty difficult, and there’s no quibbling about the level of performance on offer when both motors are running hard.
In terms of handling, it’s a case of ‘could do better’. Our car held lines nicely on its optional 18-inch wheels and 255/45 tyres, demonstrating incisive front-end bite and fine body control. Unfortunately the steering is both puzzlingly heavy and lacking in feel, and the quality of the ride has taken a hit from the extra weight. Another downside of the hybrid powertrain is that it cuts boot capacity from 450 litres to 405 litres.
Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by the Cooper S E’s city abilities in rear-drive electric mode. Quiet motorway cruising is another point in its favour, as is its handling tenacity on bendier roads, but that added weight puts it behind other models in the Countryman range when it comes to driving fun.