I spent a week’s worth of quality time with Mini’s entry into the sport activity and hybrid segments, and here are my 5 takeaways on the MINI Cooper S E Countryman All4 plug-in electric hybrid.
Is it still a Mini? Yes!
Say ‘Mini’ and a 3-door hatch comes to mind. While Mini’s current line-up has grown to an array of vehicles, Mini DNA is there – inside and out. Squint at the Countryman and you still see the shape of the Mini of old. The round console also remains center stage and a focal point of the interior. This is all a good thing and it looks different from the sea of SAV’s in the parking lot. Mini’s strong design language means that even future generations will still look the part.
Is it fun to drive? Yes, but not in a way you expect.
The Countryman PEHV turns ‘energy management’ into a fun game.
Disclaimer: my daily driver is a 3-door Mini Cooper S and as you would imagine, it is a rorty drive. Just on pure numbers, the Countryman comes with 134hp/162lb-ft from the engine plus another 87hp/122lb-ft from the electric motor, but gives up quite a few pounds when it comes to curb weight so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Happy to report that the driving dynamics are largely there – the electric motor provides a punch of torque when you need it! But what this Countryman does is that it turns ‘energy management’ into a game. You become really aware of how much energy you spend to go forward and it makes you look for ways to recover that back into battery charge. There is literally a game buried in the Green Mode menu to give you more incentive, fun!
Can it haul stuff? 99% of the time.
According to Mini, the Countryman is “The most spacious Mini ever” and that bit is certainly true. It can haul 5 people comfortably and with 2 additional doors in the back there is no gymnastics involved in climbing in. The rear hatch opens up to a tall and shallow space but the split rear seats can be folded down if needed. Carry-on luggage, a cooler for grocery shopping, and if you’ve just bought a home theater system, yes it all fits. A couch? Not so much.
Does it have bells and whistles? Oh yes.
Beyond this being the plug-in hybrid version, the one I had came well optioned with most every acronym in the Mini options list. Except for automated driving aids, it has all the modern toys you would wish for. Step in and settings for 3 drivers (and a guest!) are there; distance warnings and a backup camera to get you out of your spot and a heads-up display and navigation guides you to your destination. Pop open the moonroof for some sun, pair your phone and off you go (iPhone users have all the fun with CarPlay).
The (electric) elephant in the room – is it worth it? It really depends.
After a week I was able to get 30mpg out of it, certainly not stellar and easily done by many conventional cars. By comparison, my own Cooper S returns 25-27mpg over the same weekly commute. That being said, I only had access to a charging station for one day and was relying mostly on recovery to charge the battery. On that one day though, I was able to top-up the battery to 85% charge and did my 13-mile drive home on pure electric power. That certainly hints at a very real potential to be less reliant on the engine but it really depends on the charging infrastructure available. In an ideal case you would have access to a charging station at home or at work, and of course your electric range would depend a lot on your particular conditions. Things like stop-and-go traffic or hilly terrain will sap your battery faster. On the plus side, there is no ‘range anxiety’ to speak of as there is still the engine to get you places.
There are also tax credits for energy efficient vehicles that may be available to you, and benefits from your employer or power company such as free charging or incentives for installing a charger at home. So the ROI for going plug-in becomes a complicated equation. The one thing that is clear is that the traditional, quick 1-hour test drive is not enough to make a buying decision on any EV or PEHV. A potential buyer will need a few days to really determine if it fits the way they drive, and manufacturers need to find a way to allow for this extended test drive in the car buying experience.
By the numbers: 2018 MINI Cooper S E Countryman All4
Base MSRP: US$ 36,800
Price as tested: US$ 45,350
Drivetrain: Hybrid all-wheel drive with total 221hp and 284 lb-ft torque. 6-speed automatic transmission.
Battery: 7.6 kWh lithium-ion
DISCLOSURE: The Countryman PEHV was provided as a complimentary loaner vehicle by Mini of Austin while my Mini Cooper S was undergoing repair work. No additional compensation was provided for this review.
For more information, visit: MINI USA and MINI of Austin
This article also appears on DRIVETRIBE: EV World