Mini seems bent on differentiating its Countryman SUV from the BMW X1 that rides on the same platform by virtue of its powertrain options. You can edge into a front-drive, three-cylinder ’man for only $27,450, which represents $7445 in savings over an entry-level X1. Or you can opt for a Cooper S or John Cooper Works version, which offer varying degrees of heat from the same four-banger that’s found under the hood of the BMW. And, unlike the X1, all three Minis offer a manual transmission option.
Now Mini has tossed an entirely different powerplant into the mix, a plug-in-hybrid version called the Mini Cooper S E Countryman All4, which, if we’re frank, is a name nearly as bad—if not as amusing—as BMW Individual M760Li xDrive Model V12 Excellence THE NEXT 100 YEARS. As you may recall, that was a real car that BMW actually sold, presumably with the sort of straight face that’s diametrically opposed to the lighthearted mien the Bavarians try to project via their funky British brand.
While the previous-generation Countryman felt too cheap inside for its lofty price point, this latest model is a nice piece, one not bedeviled (at least when new) by the shakes and rattles that seem to plague any Mini Hardtop more stiffly sprung than the base Cooper. The material quality is vastly improved inside, and it retains the brand’s whimsical circular motif that folks either find adorable or cloying. We usually find ourselves in the latter camp. The S E hybrid comes well equipped, and our test car was low on discretionary additions, featuring only parking assist ($500), a head-up display ($750), and $300 for a one-year subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. The last 500 bucks on the options sheet were eaten up by the Melting Silver metallic paint.
Dynamically, the electrified Countryman falls a bit short of the brand’s zippy heritage. At 3915 pounds, it’s a whole ton and a quarter heavier than Sir Alec Issigonis’s original Mini. It’s motivated by a combined 221 horsepower from a 134-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-three driving the front wheels and an 87-hp electric motor powering the rears. The pair of powerplants push the Countryman to 60 mph in a respectable 5.8 seconds, but there’s a sort of leadenness to its behavior that the spry BMW X1 avoids, even if the Mini bests the last AWD example of the Bimmer we tested through the quarter mile by 0.3 second.
The BMW does manage to outperform the Mini on the skidpad, pulling 0.84 g to this Countryman’s 0.82. The Mini’s steering is direct, accurate, and reasonably weighted, although we’d ask for more feel through the tiller. Occasionally, the steering seems eager to write checks the portly chassis is hesitant to cash, resulting in moderate understeer and some wallowy behavior during spirited driving. Where we felt the plug-in Countryman really fell down was under braking. Its 193-foot stop from 70 mph was 17 feet farther than the nonhybrid S we recently tested. Worse is that the hybrid’s pedal features a dead, empty bit of travel at the top, where there’s no noticeable action—regenerative or mechanical—going on. Fundamentally, the electrified portion of the car feels like a hastily engineered afterthought, and perhaps the most miraculous things about the hybridization are that packaging the extra mechanicals raises the rear seat by only 1.2 inches and impinges on cargo volume—with both seats up and down—by less than half a cubic foot.
Pretty Mild for Plug-In Hybrid
It seems curious that Mini went to the trouble of launching a new plug-in hybrid for 2018 that offers, per the EPA, a mere 12 miles of electric-only range from its 7.6-kWh battery pack. To put that in perspective, the Toyota Prius Prime is rated at 25 miles on electricity alone, while the Chevrolet Volt carries a 53-mile stamp from the EPA. Even BMW’s 330e, which uses the same battery pack paired with a torquier electric motor, nets a 14-mile score. We saw 27 MPGe overall. Blame our eager right feet. Coincidentally, its EPA combined fuel-economy rating is a mere 27 mpg, 2 mpg better than the three-cylinder Cooper All4 with an automatic and only 1 mpg better than the Cooper S All4. If you’re not diligent about plugging in, you’ll be filling up frequently thanks to the hybrid’s small, 9.5-gallon tank.
While the new Countryman, as a whole, stands as a big step up over its predecessor, the plug-in version is a bit of a mishmash. Despite the fact that Mini rates it as the second-quickest Countryman in the stable after the racy John Cooper Works, it’s not as enjoyable to drive as the nonhybrid Cooper S model. Its generous level of standard equipment means that if you’re not in need of the sharpest-feeling big Mini in the shed, and local EV sales incentives work in your favor, it could be a way to save some money on a well-trimmed Countryman. Plug it in religiously and have the right use case, and you might save even more. But if the goal is just to throw roughly $40K at a small crossover that’s a pleasure to drive, we’d point you toward the building that’s very likely right next door to your local Mini store. In case you missed it, there’s a blue and white roundel over the door.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-motor, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
PRICE AS TESTED:$39,700 (base price: $37,650)
ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-3, 134 hp, 122 lb-ft; permanent-magnet synchronous AC motor, 87 hp, 122-lb-ft; combined output, 221 hp, 284 lb-ft; 7.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack
TRANSMISSION (F/R): 6-speed automatic/1-speed direct drive
Wheelbase: 105.1 in
Length: 169.8 in
Width: 71.7 in Height: 61.4 in
Passenger volume: 94 cu ft
Cargo volume: 17 cu ft
Curb weight: 3915 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 5.8 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 21.2 sec
Zero to 110 mph: 31.5 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 6.4 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.0 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.0 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.6 sec @ 90 mph
Top speed (drag limited): 121 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 193 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.82 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY:
Observed: 27 MPGe
75-mph highway driving, EV/hybrid mode: 58 MPGe/30 mpg
Highway range, EV/hybrid mode: 12/280 mi
EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
Combined/city/highway: 27/28/27 mpg
Combined gasoline+electricity: 65 MPGe
EV range: 12 miles