The Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid has remarkably low emissions
And it hasn’t helped that there have been so many forays into new segments; some successful, some not. To many the Mini should be a fun, small car yet this latest Countryman isn’t remotely small.
Why? It’s an attempt to take on other premium rivals head-on. This Mini Cooper Countryman Plug-in Hybrid is the first Mini to have a plug-in hybrid capability and offers a greener, more economical option for urban families.
Not only does this Countryman hybrid offer family transport in a desirable crossover form, it does 134.5mpg during official tests (but expect less in the real world) and has super-low emissions of just 49g/km.
As it’s a plug-in hybrid it can be charged at home overnight on cheap electricity. Do this and its electric battery can take you as far as 25 miles before its 1.5-litre, three-cylinder, petrol engine kicks in.
Suddenly your school run or commute is guilt-free. Despite its retro-looks this Mini boasts the latest technology.
It is driven by all four wheels: its 134bhp three-cylinder petrol engine drives the front wheels while the 88bhp electric motor drives the rear.
The system uses sat nav to determine when to charge the battery
At times, depending on conditions and what’s being demanded of it by the driver, all four wheels are utilised. In electric only E-Drive mode the rear wheels alone are used at speeds of up to 78mph.
Above this the engine engages the front wheels to help out. You can, though, if you are really determined, stand on the accelerator pedal and demand early intervention from the engine at slower speeds.
The car is at its most satisfying in the electric-only mode. The electric motor pick-up is instant, then constant. You experience a simple near-noiseless electric whoosh plus a little wind noise at higher speeds.
If you fancy a quicker pace, the 0 to 60mph sprint can be covered in just under seven seconds with both the engine and motor working simultaneously.
This Auto E-Drive mode is comfortable with the car cheerily switching between petrol and electric power, occasionally using both if the work load demands it.
The system is even clever enough to use the sat nav to decide to charge the battery if you’re driving downhill.
There is a further mode called Save, which prioritises the petrol engine and allows you to charge the battery for later in-town use.
The weight of the extra 130kg of hybrid components is only really significant when braking. Although on quick country roads you are aware of the extra weight, it doesn’t take any of the enjoyment out of the driving, feeling grippy and responsive.
The Mini can manage 0-60mph in 6.6 seconds
The Mini also offers a choice of dynamic settings: Sport, Mid, and Green. In Mid, the steering and suspension are a little too light.
The car promises to be something of a motorway tourer and a class above in terms of refinement but for anything more entertaining you need to engage the Sport setting.
Here the suspension and steering tighten and the throttle response improves. The driving becomes far more engaging.
You can also choose to do this in the electric only Max E-Drive setting which is very entertaining. The high quality interior feels well made, comfortable and stylish in that retrospective Mini way.
In this model, though, there are technical displays to reflect the car’s hybrid technology. The optional larger infotainment display dominates the dashboard but still looks great.
You can choose multiple display options to read system information about the car’s performance or turn them off.
One fun element is the LED lighting around the infotainment display. The lighting can be set to increase with audio volume or even display the battery charge level.
The centre console also has wireless charging for phones. Intriguingly the Mini Countryman PHEV has few rivals as there are so few small plug-in hybrids on the market, though you should expect more in the near future.
BMW also sells a hybrid version of the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer, while Audi sells the A3 Sportback e-tron. The Mini Countryman PHEV is aimed at young, urban families and with 405 litres of space available in the boot it should offer enough, yet somehow still feels reasonably small driving around town.
If you thought hybrids were dull, this is something altogether different. At its heart the Mini Countryman plug-in hybrid is still a Mini and it genuinely feels like one to drive.
The Mini is one of the only small plug-in hybrids on the market
Engine: Petrol, 1.5-litre turbo plus electric motor
Power: 0 to 60mph in 6.6 seconds, 123mph top speed
Fuel economy: 134.5mpg CO2 emissions: 49g/km
Rivals: Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, BMW 2-Series Active Tourer