Mini Cooper Countryman Hybrid

Any Top 10 car list should include the Mini, a cultural icon of the 1960s. The Mini provided the template for just about every front-wheel-drive sedan or hatchback on the market today.

Since it was introduced in 1959, the Mini has had a series of owners, ending up with BMW in 1994. The first of the BMW-produced Minis was very much in the mold of the original. Though it was larger and heavier, it was still quite small and great fun to drive. Since then, BMW has added more Mini variations, and in response to demands for a larger Mini (ignore the irony), it introduced the Countryman in 2011.

While it is one of the smallest utility vehicles on the market, the Mini Cooper Countryman has plenty of room. Even adults in the backseat will be comfortable. And there is enough cargo space behind the rear seat, 17.2 cubic feet, to accommodate a surprising amount of stuff. Folding the seat increases cargo capacity to a very respectable 47.4 cubic feet.

For 2018, Mini has added a new variation to the Countryman. This model, which Mini loaned us for review, is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. This might be a first step toward a rumored pure electric Mini lineup.

There is good and not so good news here. First, the good news.

The new Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 is great fun to drive. It's frisky and responsive, with crisp and informative steering and a balanced feel during cornering. Lean is more noticeable than in other Minis, but it never feels unstable. People who have outgrown their smaller Minis should feel right at home in this Countryman.

The ride is firm, but not uncomfortable. Highway cruising produces an above-average noise level, but again, this should not be a problem, even on longer trips.

Base Mini Cooper Countryman models feature a 134-horsepower, turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine. Performance is a bit tepid. Upgrades include two four-cylinder engines rated at 189 and 228 horsepower. These provide zippier performance and work better with heavier loads or when driving in hilly regions.

Our review E Countryman ALL4 uses a twin turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine and an electric motor that produce 221 horsepower when used in tandem. The gasoline engine drives the front wheels while the electric motor delivers power to the rear wheels, which makes every E Countryman ALL4 an all-wheel drive vehicle. Lesser Countryman models feature front-wheel drive with all-wheel drive optional.

The result of this gasoline-electric motor combination is a spirited performance. Our run to 60 miles per hour took just 6.6 seconds, a roughly three-second improvement over the base version.

As a plug-in hybrid, this Mini can run on electric power alone. Or, the driver can specify gasoline engine operation, saving the battery for places where electric power makes more sense. For example, if your daily commute starts out on a highway, and then hits city traffic, you might want to save the battery for the city portion of the trip.

While running on gasoline power alone, the car recharges the battery. You can also plug the car in to a household outlet or a Level 2 charger. However, the ability to take advantage of this plug-in hybrid’s partial electrical operation without actually plugging it in could broaden its appeal. Studies have shown that one group inclined to give electric and plug-in hybrid cars serious consideration are younger apartment dwellers. Unfortunately, many of them lack access to a charging outlet.

As for the not so good news, this Mini, for all its fun, falls short of what many hybrid and electric car buyers want. The hybrid crowd, which prizes fuel economy above all else, will definitely be disappointed. Where other hybrids, such as the last Toyota Prius we reviewed, soared past the 50-miles-per-gallon mark, our Mini returned fuel economy of only 28.6 mpg. Meanwhile, plug-in hybrid electric vehicle enthusiasts want battery-only range. And, here again, this Mini could disappoint with its 12-mile electric-only EPA rating. We managed nearly 16 miles on one stretch, but other plug-ins offer more range. Combine this with the second highest starting price for a Mini -- only the John Cooper Works version costs more -- and it is probably fair to say you won’t see the plug-in version of the Countryman topping the sales charts. Still, for buyers who want to combine a plug-in with the driving fun only a Mini can deliver, this is the only game in town.

 

Paula Says:

The 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman is a cute little car that turns out to be not so little on the inside. It also turns out to be very nicely finished, with materials and assembly that deliver a premium look and feel. The controls, especially all those toggle switches, will take some time to master, however. And the infotainment system is definitely going to take time to learn. Its large screen is in the center of the instrument panel, occupying the space older Minis used for the speedometer, which is now in front of the driver.

Driving this Mini was a pleasure. It's quick, and its responsiveness gave me a sense of being in charge. Noise levels and suspension firmness rate above average, which could make the car less attractive to some buyers, but I found it to be perfectly acceptable. The six-speed automatic transmission, which is standard in this E model, shifts nicely. Premium gasoline is called for in all Mini Cooper Countryman models.

Our review car had few options, but its price came to nearly $40,000, which is a lot, even for a car with the premium touches that set this and other Minis apart. Among these features are dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, a panoramic sunroof, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel that was just about perfect for its thickness and feel. Newly standard for 2018 are a backup camera and rear-park distance control.

But the price would give me pause. The Mini's performance, however, would not. This is a really neat car.

 

Mini Cooper Countryman: $26,600 starting price plus $850 for destination charges. Our Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 started at $36,800.

 

Engines: 1.5 Turbo 3-cylinder         2.0       E Countryman

HP:      134     189     221

Torque           : 162   207     284

Manual Transmission

EPA FWD:      24/34             22/29

EPA AWD:      22/32             21/31

Automatic Transmission

EPA FWD:      24/32 23/32

EPA AWD:      23/30 22/31                        

65 MPGe/27 MPG combined gas only

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