The MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 plug-in hybrid feels like a completely different car to the diesel model, being much more refined, better to drive, and potentially more economical.
We liked the previous generation Countryman even though it had a terrible ride and, in diesel form at least, the engine was very coarse. The new Countryman has a more comfortable ride and the diesel engine is more flexible and refined. But with all the concern about diesel emissions, should you opt for the petrol-electric plug-in hybrid?
The MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 PHEV has a 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder petrol engine together with an electric motor powered by a battery, all channelled through a 6-speed automatic gearbox. This combination may not sound as though it’s going to deliver much performance, but it seems to do a good job in the BMW i8. The same applies to the all-wheel drive system: in the MINI, the petrol engine powers the front wheels, and the electric motor powers the rear wheels – which is the same principle as in the i8, but the other way round.
If you’ve read our review of the new Cooper D Countryman you’ll know that we’re not fans of the Countryman’s new styling. We just feel that an opportunity has been missed to move the design forward in the MINI brand, whilst also giving it more of a fun SUV appearance. And we wouldn’t have one in black – or with the wheels on our test car.
The interior is more upmarket and more functional than the last model in most areas – but not all. The boot has grown compared to the outgoing model – which has also resulted in the overall car growing in size.
If you drove back to back the Cooper D Countryman and then the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 blindfolded, you’d swear they were completely different cars. The Cooper D Countryman may be economical, but it really isn’t one of our favourite cars to drive. However step into the Cooper S E Countryman and there’s a huge transformation. The plug-in hybrid model is quiet and refined, it has lots of low down torque thanks to the electric motor, it has good performance, the automatic transmission is smooth, and all-wheel drive provides good levels of grip. It really is a much, much better car to drive than the Cooper D Countryman.
There are three powertrain settings: Auto eDrive Mode, the default setting when you switch the car on, means that the hybrid system works out for itself what to do; MAX eDrive mode aims to keep the car on electric power all the time; and Save Battery mode enables you to drive on the petrol engine and keep (or increase) the battery charge for later. These modes work perfectly well, but rather than having a big switch somewhere convenient to swap between the modes, instead there’s a small switch tucked away down the far bottom left of the centre console to choose between them. It looks like a hastily-added after-thought.
However driving the MINI Countryman around town as an electric car is excellent. It’s quiet, refined, and has lots of torque, resulting in impressive, linear acceleration. You can drive in electric mode at speeds up to 78 mph, with an official range of up to 26 miles (but more on that later). If you need more power, then floor the accelerator and the petrol engine will kick in.
When you venture further afield in hybrid mode, things are still good, as there’s lots of performance, and the car is still refined. The automatic gearbox is so much better than the manual ‘box in the Diesel model, and although front-wheel drive works absolutely fine in the MINI Hatch, the (electrified) ALL4 all-wheel drive results in much better handling in the larger Countryman. We’re not quite back in ‘go-kart’ handling territory with a MINI that’s this big, but the plug-in hybrid seems to handle much better than the Diesel.
You can opt to change gear manually. This has to be done by means of the gear selector, as there are no steering wheel-mounted paddles. And if you select manual, then the car takes you out of the EV setting and puts you in hybrid mode.
There’s also a switch at the base of the gear selector which gives you choices of Sport, Mid and Green driving modes, resulting in more or less throttle response. The infomedia system is generally very good, as it’s based on BMW’s iDrive.
Our chief complaint about the Cooper S E Countryman is that little effort seems to have been made to adapt the interior displays and controls for the electric powertrain. You have to do a LOT of scrolling through the stalk on the left hand side of the steering column to bring up the displays showing remaining battery charge and battery range. This information should be visible in the instrument cluster at all times. As it is, it’s all a bit of a secret about what state the battery is in. To be honest, the same could be said about clearly displaying which powertrain mode you’re in, and even showing what the all-wheel drive system is doing.
Further evidence of the lack of being bothered to adapt the car for the EV powertrain is shown by the mpg readout, which only goes up to 99.9mpg. This seems to be a bit of an oversight on a car that supposedly averages 134.5mpg.
Although the dashboard is better designed and has improved material quality than the previous Countryman, you still have ridiculously small graphics at the bottom of the centre console to show what’s going on with the heating and ventilation system. And the instrument cluster housing the speedometer appears to be on an angle.
The official NEDC economy figure for the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 PHEV is 134.5mpg, equating to 49 g/km CO2. Regular Green Car Guide visitors will know that this figure is a complete waste of time, as real-life economy completely depends on how far you drive on electric power. The new WLTP fuel economy test for plug-in hybrids will hopefully provide slightly more useful figures. So, bearing in mind that you could potentially use no fuel at all if you drive on electric power all the time, we think that a more useful economy figure is what a plug-in hybrid will do at 70mph on the motorway on petrol power. The answer for the S E Countryman in real-world driving is 44.7mpg. Having a compact SUV body style means that the Countryman isn’t particularly aerodynamic, so this economy figure isn’t as good as, for example, a BMW 330e. However it’s better than most larger and heavier plug-in hybrid SUVs. Overall, after a week with the car, with 80% of journeys being long distance, we averaged 50.8mpg.
The MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 PHEV officially has a 26 mile electric range (and a 310 mile total range). Did we achieve that in real life? No. The range on the fully charged battery varied between 14 and 22 miles, but the average was 17 miles. We think that PHEVs should deliver a minimum 20 mile range to make it worthwhile engineering in all of the hybrid complexity, so 17 miles is a bit disappointing.
Like all electric cars, you’ll need to plug in the Countryman. Using a home charger, a full charge should take around two and a quarter hours.
The MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 PHEV costs £31,575. When you subtract the £2,500 government plug-in car grant, this comes down to £29,075. Our test car had a scary amount of options, as follows: Media Pack (£950), MINI Yours Leather Steering Wheel (£125), Automatic Operation of Tailgate (£375), Comfort Access (£350), Chrome Line interior (£130), Darkened Rear Glass (£290), First Aid Kit & Triangle (£55), Exterior Mirrors – folding with anti-dazzle (£400), Storage Compartment Pack (£210), Seat heating, front (£270.00), Anthracite Roof Lining (£150), Interior Surface Piano Black (£155), Park Distance Control (PDC), front and rear (£335), Automatic Air Conditioning (£460), LED headlights with cornering lights – which admittedly worked impressively (£1,100); and Driving Assistant Pack (£810). In total our test car cost £39,340. That’s quite a lot for what is basically a family hatchback.
The MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 PHEV is an excellent car. It’s great to drive, having good levels of refinement, impressive performance, fun handling and the potential of good economy – and zero tailpipe emissions – if you drive most miles on electric power. Even on petrol power it’s reasonably economical. It’s an ideal car to live with if you primarily drive locally, such as on the school run, with occasional longer journeys. Importantly, the benefit in kind rate of 9% will make this car attractive to company car drivers. However we’d like to see the interior instrumentation and controls more electric powertrain-focused, and it’s getting fairly expensive, certainly in the case of our test car. Overall the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 PHEV is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10.