20.12.2017Mini Countryman Cooper S E All4 first drive
BMW has a very strong line-up of plug-in cars, covering many bases already with more in the pipeline. However, until recently there was no plug-in Mini offering - an omission corrected in the shape of the Countryman Cooper S E All4. NGC took the new Mini PHEV for a quick spin to see how BMW's electric expertise translate into the fashionable British brand.
Review by Chris Lilly
Under the snappily titled Countryman Cooper S E All4's skin there resides a powertrain that also finds employment in the BMW 225xe Active Tourer. This means that a 1.5 litre three-cylinder petrol engine combines with an 88hp electric motor for a combined power output of 224hp and pretty hefty 385Nm of torque. Power goes through a 6-speed automatic gearbox, with the engine powering the front wheels and the electric motor the rears. All of this gives a 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds, before the Mini tops out at 123mph. As the performance figures suggest, the Countryman PHEV is pretty sprightly then when you put your foot down hard, with the free-revving engine taking the strain once the early shove from the electric motor begins to run out of puff. Compared to some other PHEVs - thinking of the likes of the VW Golf GTE here - the gearbox can blunt the initial pick-up from the Countryman, which is strange considering instant acceleration is a natural characteristic of electric vehicles. Should you really wish to avoid this very minor attribute though, there is a manual-shift mode for the transmission, or you can put the Countryman into sport mode. Overall, the Mini feels like a Mini should; fizzy, eager to run, and capable of putting a smile on your face when required.
Speaking of typical Mini characteristics, the Countryman Cooper S E All4 tackles corners eagerly, avoiding excessive lean around bends considering the car's height and practicality. The steering is sharp and accurate, making driving the Countryman genuinely enjoyable - something that is missing from a number of practical family cars. The suspension could be deemed too hard for some, but if you are looking at a Mini, you should be expecting a stiffer ride, compromising some comfort for better driving dynamics. As such, the Mini is most at home on a country road, though it's not too stiff to make driving around town uncomfortable. The weight of the battery is low down in the car so it feels planted on the road, and the normal Countryman's nimble nature is carried over to the PHEV version, meaning tackling car parks and tight junctions is no problem at all.
Apart from a few small yellow badges and an extra filler flap, there would be little to give the game away that the Countryman Cooper S E All4 is a PHEV. It looks very similar to the rest of the Countryman range - especially the Cooper trim models - and retains the 'Mini-ish design features on a compact SUV' design of the model as a whole. This generation of Countryman is a more grown-up design than its predecessor, and has a number of distinguishing features that help make it stand out from an increasingly saturated market. Leaning towards the Tonka-toy school of design, the Countryman is a curious blend of Mini styling elements and those natural dimensions that come about when creating a crossover model. The only real area of difference is in the boot, where the additional electric powertrain robs some load space.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Like the exterior, the PHEV Mini's interior is largely standard Countryman - the key change being the addition of a drive mode switch. Otherwise, the interior is what you would expect to find from a Mini - large round central display, collar switch around the base of the gearstick, and toggle switches for the controls. It's a high quality cabin, the car's infotainment system is a good one, and the switches - although small - are easy to find and use. The instruments aren't the most clear or high-tech in its class, but this isn't a comment specific to the PHEV version of the Countryman. There is plenty of space both up front and in the rear though, with a low transmission tunnel helping with the open-plan nature of the Mini. The rear will seat two adults comfortably of three kids. The PHEV elements of the Countryman do remove the flexible seating options found in the non-electrified model though.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Having the Countryman Cooper S E All4's keys in my mitts for only a short time means I can't give a thorough insight into its true running costs. However, the official electric range of 26 miles and CO2 figure of 49 g/km are about par for the course currently in PHEV terms, with the 134.5 MPG fuel economy figure largely irrelevant apart from for comparison purposes. The stretch of driving I was able to complete on electric only obviously boosted the MPG score, but the battery wasn't fully charged when I climbed aboard. Running in conventional hybrid mode though saw the Countryman return mid-50s MPG figures, a perfectly respectable return for a family car. As with all PHEVs though, the more it's charged, the better the system works.
The Countryman Cooper S E All4 is Mini's first hybrid model, and the first full-production plug-in vehicle - ignoring the 2009 Mini E which was only used as a trial vehicle. Like many PHEVs, the Countryman starts in electric mode and remains there until either the 7.6 kWh battery's charge runs out, acceleration is too aggressive, or the driver selects an alternative drive mode. There are three drive mode available - Auto eDrive, Max eDrive, and Save Battery. The first will keep the car in electric mode as long as it can up to 50mph or when the charge drops below 7%, while Max eDrive boosts that speed to 78mph. The last is self explanatory and uses the engine as the sole propulsion method. A clever feature from Mini is the anticipatory management system that makes use of the car's sat-nav when a route is being used. This will help the car make best use of the car's electric powertrain, prioritising the engine at high speed sections and holding the battery's charge for the urban section of a commute for example. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 39.
As you would expect from a fairly hefty price tag, the Mini PHEV comes will equipped. Kit includes sat-nav, air conditioning, alloy wheels, DAB radio with Bluetooth, and cruise control. Available as extras are the likes of a Harmon Kardon sound system, head-up display, reversing camera, wireless phone charging, keyless entry and start, and leather trim. As with other Mini's various packs can combine certain features to keep choices simplified.
Unfortunately the time spent with the Mini Countryman Cooper S E All4 was all too brief, so a definitive verdict would be impossible to give fairly. However, a good general impression was given, and the PHEV elements worked well, complementing the Mini's existing attributes with few compromises. The Countryman will face direct competition from the likes of the Kia Niro PHEV, but it is a more premium product with the price to match. It's a comparatively expensive proposition, but will appeal to a number of buyers who want the low running costs a PHEV can offer, but are prepared to pay a premium for the Mini brand.
Model tested: Mini Countryman Cooper S E All4
Body-style: Compact SUV
Engine / CO2: 1.5 litre turbo petrol and electric motor / 49 g/km
Trim grades: Only one
On-road price: From £29,075 (inc Cat 2 PiCG).
Warranty: Three years / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars