21.12.2018Mini Countryman Cooper S E All4 review
Mini's Countryman is proving a hit with buyers, combining excellent driving dynamics in a practical crossover package. The British brand has a plug-in hybrid version of the Countryman, which has the potential to prove extremely economical for a number of buyers. Having had an early drive of the PHEV Mini in the past, we've now had a proper go in one, testing the systems over the course of a week with the Countryman Cooper S E.
Review by Chris Lilly
Mini makes use of a 1.5 litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol unit for the core of the Countryman Cooper S E's work, which produces 136 hp on its own. Since this is the PHEV model though, there is also a 65 kW (88 hp) electric motor to pick up much of the slack, and the combined powertrain provides 224hp to the driver when everything is on song. This allows for a 0-62mph sprint time of a rather sprightly 6.8 seconds, thanks largely to 385 Nm of torque going through a six-speed automatic gearbox. Power goes to all four wheels, with the engine driving the front axle and the electric motor sitting on the rear. It's a familiar set-up for PHEV drivers, and is an identical powertrain to that used by BMW in the 225xe. It works well, and although isn't the most efficient or fastest system around, the Countryman Cooper S E offers an excellent blend of performance and economy to drivers. The engine is eager to rev and hits its stride after the electric motor begins to run out of puff, so there is plenty of performance potential there. The gearbox isn't the sharpest around, and can blunt pick-up a little when the electric motor isn't available. Still, this isn't meant to be a performance car, rather a practical crossover in the Mini fashion, and few drivers will even give the acceleration figures a second thought. The system is obviously very refined in electric power, with only a faint electric motor whine at lower speeds. Even at higher speeds, the petrol engine will settle down nicely for a three-pot unit, and the Countryman Cooper S E is comfortable whether pottering around town, or stretching its legs on a country road or motorway.
As mentioned above, this is a Mini, and therefore handling has been a key focus of development. The Countryman is one of the best crossovers in its class in terms of driving thrills, with the ride a little firm, but allowing for excellent road holding and almost no lean from the body around corners. It handles more like a hatchback than a crossover, and Mini's engineers have done a good job at instilling a little fun into the family workhorse. The PHEV version has all these attributes, and although is heavier than a conventional petrol model - thanks mainly to the battery and motor - the weight is low down and between the axles, keeping the centre of gravity low. The stiff-ish suspension may not suit terrible road surfaces around town as much as softer-sprung rivals, but the ride isn't uncomfortable unless bouncing from pot-hole to pot-hole. The benefit of this set-up is that the Mini feels very agile in tight junctions and car parks in town, which translates well to twistier roads out of built up areas too. The car settles nicely on the motorway, though these compact crossovers are rarely a match for a conventional saloon or estate at speed, due to the inherent shorter wheelbase. It's absolutely fine on long runs though, and performs well as a Jack-of-all-trades machine.
Yes this is supposed to be a Mini and Mini's aren't mini any more. But we are well beyond that shock now, and this generation of the Countryman looks good as a crossover. The previous generation looked a little bulbous to my mind, but this version is tauter, has sharper lines, but is still unmistakably a Mini. The squared off stance helps interior space no end, and the Countryman is spacious enough to cover day-to-day life for most. There is plenty of space inside for four adults, and head & leg space isn't at a premium. The boot space is slightly smaller on the PHEV version compared to conventional models, with around 45 litres lost to additional battery/motor needs. It's still a good load area though, with usable space, only a slight lip, and a wide hatch to access the rear. The load area does taper off quickly above the waistline, as seat backs lean rearward and the rear window tilts forward, so the Countryman isn't van-like when the rear seats are flat and you're embarking on your biggest of tip runs. For normal use, the Mini will easily deal with the supermarket shop or a weekend's worth of luggage away. It's not the most practical car in its class, but it's far from the worst either.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Like the styling, the PHEV version of the Countryman is more or less standard across the range. There are a few little touches that hint at the electric power available - primarily the lime green colour used to indicate this is the Cooper S E. There is a drive mode switch, which allows drivers to pick between electric power, hybrid mode, or battery hold, but otherwise the cabin is pretty standard spec. There's a dominant 'dial' on the centre console that houses the infotainment screen - a good system that can be controlled by a rotary dial near the gear selector. A few media commands are included within this space, and the only other conventional controls are those of the heating system sitting below. Towards the bottom of the centre console is a line-up of toggle switches - which always feel good to use. The driver gets a good sized steering wheel to help with the feeling of agility from the Mini, and a simple instrument display. The seats all round are good, and the driver can get into a nice position easily.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Mini quotes a CO2 figure of 55 g/km for the Countryman Cooper S E, supported by a range of 26 miles on electric power only according to the official WLTP figures. This helps with a fuel economy figure of 117.7 MPG, which as with all PHEVs is a largely arbitrary figure. Charge the Mini regularly and stick to the real world range of around 20 miles in town driving, and that fuel economy figure will easily be surpassed. Longer trips without the ability to charge will see a realistic figure of around 38 MPG when running without battery charge. My average after a mixed time with the Countryman Cooper S E was a little over 60 MPG, which challenges diesel models, with the additional benefit that I regularly drove further than the electric range on a single trip. Having stuck more to local routes, I reckon a real world average of more than 100 MPG would be a realistic goal. The lowest electric range figure I saw was 15 miles on a charge, having spent almost all that figure on a dual carriageway. To tax, the Countryman Cooper S E will cost nothing for the first year thanks to the £10 Alternative Fuel Discount, and then £130 thereafter. Company car tax is only 16% for the current year, 19% next financial year, and return to 16% for 20/21.
There is the usual suite of green car systems on the Mini that would find across a number of plug-in models, including the powertrain mode select to allow the driver to stay in EV mode, hybrid, or hold the battery charge. Brake energy recuperation tops up the battery when under braking or heading downhill, and the Countryman's sat-nav will predict when to deploy electric, petrol, or hybrid power automatically when left to its own devices, depending on the route. Drive mode select allows for a normal, sporty, or eco setting to be implemented. The key green system is the 7.6 kWh battery, which will take a couple of hours to charge on a home or public charge point, via the Type 2 on-board charger. The Countryman Cooper S E is by far the greenest car on Mini's fleet, and is a forerunner to the pure-electric Mini due next year. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 35.
Mini's PHEV systems come as standard on the Cooper S E, which includes the likes of power mode select on top of the more obvious charging capabilities. Included as standard on the well-equipped crossover is a 6.5-inch infotainment system with satellite navigation , Bluetooth, USB, and Apple CarPlay connectivity. Also included are cruise control, 17-inch alloys, rear parking sensors, automatic wipers, keyless entry and start, puddle lights, multi-function sports steering wheel, connected services, and drive mode select.
The Mini Countryman Cooper S E can be viewed as a little pricey, like many plug-in models. Comparing against a similarly specification without the electric powertrain, the Cooper S E costs around £3,000 more now that the Plug-in Car Grant has effectively been removed for PHEVs. However, for a number of buyers, the PHEV model will make great sense, both in terms of driving enjoyment and costs. Low VED and BIK rates will save money, and for those who primarily need a car for short trips, the electric powertrain will quickly rack up the savings. It's as fun to drive as the conventional Countryman, almost as practical, and the electric motor improves performance and efficiency.
Model tested: Mini Countryman Cooper S E All4
Body-style: Compact crossover
Engine / CO2: 1.5 litre petrol and electric motor/ 55 g/km
Trim grades: Classic, Exclusive, Sport
On-road price: Cooper S E range from £31,895
Warranty: Three years / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars