Review: Mini electrifies the Countryman, with plug-in hybrid drive system

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

January 22, 2018


2018 Mini Cooper SE Countryman All4 plug-in hybrid

The distinctive design and individual styling possibilities, along with efficient driving fun of the Mini, have been thrilling fans for over 15 years.

During that time, the Mini Clubman and Mini Countryman have placed the brand in the premium compact segment. A plug-in Clubman hybrid was introduced for 2017, the British brand’s first, paving the way for pure electric driving in the form of a Mini Electric.

The 2018 Mini Cooper SE Countryman All4 plug-in hybrid, subject of this review, brings the most-advanced technology to date, with a world-class 134-horsepower 1.5-liter inline three-cylinder TwinPower Turbo engine and an electric motor powered by a 7.6-kWh battery for an instant 87 horsepower boost and combined 221 horsepower of unstoppable power. The hybrid has a six-speed automatic transmission.

This model is also the most spacious, versatile, and powerful Mini ever, with enough range for a trip beyond the everyday drive. EPA estimated overall driving range is 270 miles, with an estimated electric-only range of up to 24 miles at speeds up to 77 mph.

Six Countryman models are available, priced from $26,600 to $37,800, with electric-enhanced ALL4 all-wheel drive now available on all variants. The Plug-in Hybrid can be charged at any standard three-prong 110-volt outlet, using the included charging cord as long as the outlet is within 15 feet. Using an extension cord is not recommended. Charging is optional, thanks to battery charging by the gasoline engine. The Plug-in-Hybrid drivetrain makes the new Mini Countryman a pioneer in sustainable mobility.

The latest Mini Cooper models present a great racetrack feeling, with a drivetrain, chassis, and exterior and interior styling taken from motor sports and track-tested. The versatile Clubman and Countryman also bring an explicit sporty appearance, go-cart driving feel, and impressive sound. The all-wheel drive is standard for both models.

Unique eALL4 all-wheel drive uses the gas engine to power the front wheels and the electric motor to power the rear. Starting at 50/50, the system is able to send up to 100-percent of power to the front wheels. Interestingly, at highway speeds power to the rear starts to diminish as speed increases, reaching 100 percent front-wheel drive at approximately 80 mph. Of course, the power ratio is changed automatically if slipping is detected in the rear.

Three distinct modes determine how the engine and motor operate. Electric Mode uses the power stored in the lithium-ion battery for short distances such as city driving, producing zero emissions.

Hybrid Mode uses both the engine and motor for trips outside city limits, for up to 270 miles and EPA estimated 27 mpg combined. The fuel tank holds 9.5 gallons.

Save Battery Mode uses power generated by the engine to partially recharge the battery and keep it at 90 percent, allowing longer trips without worry.

My Mini Countryman ($36,800) was Melting Silver, one of five metallic exterior colors for $500 – Island Blue is the color of the Pacific Ocean, and British Racing Green is an old favorite. Standard Moonwalk Gray is very light. Non-metallic Lapisluxury Blue adds $1,000, and Light White adds $500.

Mirrors and top are available in either body color or black. My tester had black, with charcoal around the vehicle on the ground effects front and rear, wheel arches, and rocker panels (with a matte silver strip), a nice contrast against the silver. Hood strips in black or white are available for $100. Eighteen-inch pin-spoke black wheels with run-flat tires completed the sporty theme.

The design theme of the Mini is circular/rounded, seen in the Mini winged logo, the prominent, multicolor fender emblem/light, the headlight and headlight housing, the fog light and surround, the vertical taillights; interior door handles, steering wheel center/air-bag cover with Mini emblem, headrests, door armrests, overhead controls, shifter surround, instrument panel, air vents, and center-stack display.

The charging port is behind the fender emblem on the driver’s side. Lots of "S" badging distinguishes the hybrid from full gasoline models.

A movable ring around the base of the shifter can be moved from side to side for Sport Mode or Green Mode. Sport provided stiffer steering, while Green reduced fuel consumption. A feature included with Connected infotainment provided a game-like screen to help drivers monitor acceleration, braking, and more, giving and taking stars as incentive. A silly fish in a virtual bowl also provided visual encouragement.

My Mini had carbon black leatherette upholstery, with Hazy Gray plastic trim on the door panels and dash. Upholstery is available in a variety of colors, in leatherette, leatherette/cloth, and leather or leather/cloth combinations from $750 to $2,250, with coordinating trim in four color choices from $200 to $400 (Hazy Gray is standard).

The round 3-D instrument cluster was unique, attached to the steering wheel shell (moves up and down with the steering wheel) with the speedometer layered in front of the tachometer and the fuel gauge displayed on the outside as an illuminated graduated backward "C."

The display panel was integrated into the middle of the dash, housed in an extended "tube." An LED ring around the edge could be configured to reflect the driver’s mood. Mood lighting, with lots of colors and settings, also accented the doors and foot wells. A projector in the driver’s side mirror greeted me with the Mini logo on the ground.

My tester had Navigation System XL with turn-by-turn directions on the vivid, 8.8-inch high-resolution touch screen, included in a $2,250 Technology Package along with Mini Connected 5.0 with App Integration (Apple CarPlay, no Android at this time), Real Time Traffic Updates (avoid jams/delays, navi will recalculate if desired), Wireless Device Charging (a cradle under the center armrest), Head-Up Display (rises from the dash behind the steering wheel, includes speed, navi, and other important info), Parking Assistant (Mini parallel parks itself with speed and braking controlled by the driver – very handy), and Mini FindMate Personal Item Tracking Sensors (two; attach to keys, sunglasses, etc, search/find via smartphone).

Standard Rear Park Distance Control worked with the rearview camera to alert the driver with a beeping sound if they got to close to another vehicle or object while backing, with the sound increasing in frequency as the vehicle moved closer.

Performance Control uses a computer to monitor the rate of wheel spin and adjusts power or braking to keep the car in line in curves – cutting down the power on the inside wheels rather than completely cutting power.

Standard Mini Connected was loaded with features – a Command Center for vehicle information, entertainment, trip computer info, and phone calls/texts; a navi system with real-time traffic; a dynamic LED ring changes color in response to speed, driving mode, audio volume, climate control, or interior lighting; Green Route when Green Mode is selected to help determine the most economical route to the destination; Mini touch controller with simple buttons or handwriting recognition on the touch pad (on the center console); Twitter; Minimalism analyzer (the driving behavior game with goldfish); Life 360 to monitor the location of family and friends, start route guidance or call; Pandora, web radio, Spotify, Rhapsody, TuneIn, Audible, and Glympse safe, temporary location sharing.

Of course, Mini still has the toggle switches for various functions, although the hybrid switches to yellow for the ignition.

My tester had room for five, although the rear middle was slightly less-comfortable. Heated front seats were standard, Sport front seats and steering wheel were optional. The rear seat was raised slightly to accommodate the electric drivetrain. The rear seatback could be folded 40/20/40 to customize seating and cargo arrangements.

SiriusXM Radio added $300, Melting Silver paint added $500, the Tech Package added $2,250, and destination charges added $850 to the base price, for a total delivered price of $40,700.

The Mini Cooper SE Countryman ALL4 plug-in hybrid was fun to drive, without worrying about charging. The change from gasoline to electric was imperceptible, and the go-cart ride was actually enjoyable.