by Adam Lynton
As the motoring world turns its sights on green vehicles, Mini is building up to the launch of its first-ever all-electric production car for 2020 - the battery-electric Mini Cooper SE that's set to retail for around $30k. In the meantime, we have the Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 - a mouthful to say, but basically just a turbo-engined Countryman with an electric motor to supplement available power, eALL4 all-wheel drive, and some all-electric capabilities to boot. How effectively this has been achieved is a matter of debate. Back in the late 50s, Sir Alec Issigonis developed the original concept for the Mini car, which was to be highly efficient, have a small footprint, be fun to drive, and be accessible to the masses. Does the Countryman's PHEV contribution stack up to this list of criteria? Well, partially, at least. With its wonderful characterful driving habits retained, good predicted reliability, and a usable back seat, it does. But the claimed 27 mpg is below average for a hybrid and a 12-mile all-electric range is quite woeful, to say the least. Still, it's certainly worth a test drive against the likes of Kia's Niro Plug-In and the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, and even the non-hybrid BMW X1.
With an impending update for 2020, and the much-anticipated launch of an all-electric version for the year ahead, the 2019 Mini Cooper Countryman PHEV carries over unchanged for this model year, with the exception of a slightly pruned features list. The Countryman PHEV remains available with three sub-trims, with equipment and content increasing in the higher levels of trim.
The Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 has four doors and a tin-top, as a member of the slightly larger, bulkier Countryman range. As with its stablemates, it boasts 18-inch alloy wheels and a standard panoramic sunroof, with the rest of the roof and exterior mirrors color-coded off the factory floor, or capped in either white or black as options. Roof rails, foglights, and daytime running lights are fitted, with upgrades to LED headlights with cornering ability, available.
Sharing dimensions with the rest of the Countryman range, the Countryman PHEV's length is 169.8 inches, it's width without mirrors is 71.7 inches, and it stands at a height at 61.3 inches. Set on a 105.1-inch wheelbase, it weighs in at 3,660 pounds, which is around 335 pounds heavier than it's non-electrically-assisted sibling, the Mini Countryman JCW. It's generally smaller in stature than both the Kia Niro and Subaru Crosstrek, yet quite a bit porkier than both - almost 800 pounds heftier than the Kia Hybrid.
The Countryman PHEV combines a 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine with a 7.7 kWh battery-powered electric motor to make a combined 221 horsepower and 284 lb-ft of twist. It's paired to a six-speed shiftable automatic that drives power to all four wheels via Mini's eALL4 system. According to Mini, the instant torque-release allows for a 0-60 time of 6.7 seconds, which is supposed to be on par with the Mini Cooper Clubman's John Cooper Works ALL4 - a benefit of the hybridized powertrain. In the subcompact SUV segment, buyers want agility and capability, and Mini does this quite well - the motor and transmission combination is brilliant on the Countryman Plug-In, allowing it to retain the signature nippy, energetic, and responsive drive. Acceleration from a standstill is electrifying (pun intended), and the auto box shifts at just the right time to keep it entertaining to drive.
Mini has a reputation for designing vehicles that are engaging and enjoyable to drive, and with the Countryman PHEV there is even more to offer - we'd wager it's to do with the torque-rich electric power mated to an already-excellent three-cylinder engine, with a responsive and intuitive transmission. This translates to typical spirited Mini drive - the steering is solid and precise in hand, albeit a little heavier than in some rivals; still, it inspires confidence and hints at the sporting DNA under the Mini's skin, allowing for stable, accurate piloting at high speeds. We'd appreciate a little more feedback though, especially in a car with this sort of character. It's also a little bouncy over uneven road surfaces, likely due to a shorter wheelbase, and yields quite a bit of body roll in corners. This doesn't mean it's unpleasant though, and there's some tenacity in the way the car hugs the road at least. The Countryman PHEV also has Mid, Sport and Green driving modes to tweak throttle responses noticeably, with Mid being the default setting, Sport adding some weight to the steering and oomph to the gear-shifts, and Green focusing on economy through the use of electric power. The conclusion here is that despite being a Hybrid vehicle, this Countryman earns it's 'S' badge, too.
Sadly, the Countryman PHEV offers a meager 12-mile all-electric range, which is particularly ghastly in comparison to what other plug-ins manage before running out of electrons. Not in any rush to fully charge the battery either, a full recharge takes around five hours on a standard household power outlet, and in just a bit over three hours on a Level II charger. Hybrid mode on the Countryman PHEV, as the name suggests, uses combined power sources to allow for a 270-mile driving range, averaging around 65 MPGe, while the Save Battery mode channels power from the gas engine to recharge the battery up to 90% while driving - a nifty feature as a backup plan to running out of fuel. Gas-only mileage is not impressive either, unfortunately, offering only 27 mpg in mixed driving styles, as opposed to the 46 mpg and 35 mpg of the Kia Niro and Subaru Crosstrek, respectively.
While not overly spacious, the Mini does well to seat five for a subcompact crossover; front passengers have ample space and seat adjustability, but the rear - although usable for smaller, leaner passengers and children - can be a little tight. Still, rivals like the Kia Niro and Subaru Crosstrek don't offer vastly more space either, with only an inch here or there that's barely worth noting. SensaTec synthetic leather is the standard fare in Carbon Black, although the various sub-trims do allow for an upgrade to Cross Punch, Chesterfield, or Mini Yours Lounge leather, with colors ranging from Black Pearl and Satellite Grey to British Oak on the upper two sub-trims (Signature and Iconic). Heated front seats are only standard on these top sub-trims, too, while optional on the base Classic.
Not much space is available behind the second-row seating, with only 13.1 cubic feet for your groceries, briefcase or a few trays of seedlings you've picked up from the local garden center (since you're going green, and all that). The Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid offers almost 16 cubes, and the Niro ups this to 19.4 with the rear seats upright. Fold the seats down, and the Countryman PHEV gives a bit more - 40.7 cubic feet. The charging cable's storage case, attached to the side of the trunk, tends to get in the way too, and you'll need to take it out if you want to capitalize on cargo volume fully.
Door pockets, large water-bottle holders, a center console storage bin, and a small-item storage tray in front of the shifter, are available for holding keys, phones, and other paraphernalia.
Standard features on the Countryman Plug-In include a panoramic sunroof, a rearview camera, rear park distance control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, dynamic cruise control, SensaTec upholstery and an Anthracite headliner. The base sub-trim has only manual climate control. Heated seats, keyless entry, and dual-zone climate control get added if you choose the mid-level Signature sub-trim, while a head-up display, a power tailgate, roof rails, and a picnic cushion are optional on both the top two sub-trims. The top-end sub-trim also equips power-folding exterior mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power front seats with memory function and a rear-seat center armrest.
The standard equipment on the Mini Countryman PHEV is comprised of a 6.5-inch high-resolution display, set in a circular theme which is now quite iconic to the Mini range. Menus can be accessed by either the knob controller or via the touchscreen, but the latter is a little iffy, to say the least. Bluetooth connectivity, SiriusXM satellite radio, voice control, and two USB ports are standard, as is a six-speaker sound system. The Signature sub-trim adds navigation, while the Iconic upgrades the infotainment system to an 8.8-inch display and adds Apple CarPlay and a premium Harmon Kardon sound system. Android Auto is nowhere to be found, and the lower sub-trims seem a little under-equipped for this price bracket.
With two recalls for the Countryman S E range since July 2018 - pertaining to a missing fuel pump crash protection plate and a crankshaft sensor failure - J.D. Power still rated the Mini Countryman PHEV at 85 out of 100 overall, with 82 out of 100 allocated to quality and reliability. Should you be concerned about issues cropping up, Mini offers a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, as well as coverage for the lithium-ion battery for a period of eight years or 80,000 miles.
The NHTSA has not rated the Countryman Hybrid, nor the Countryman S E on which it is based. The IIHS has put the standard Countryman through various crash tests, and awarded it top scores of Good in five categories, with headlights earning below-average results, and the front-crash prevention system scoring an Advanced rating.
Although eight airbags are factory fitted, the lower sub-trims are a little sparse on advanced safety features. A rearview camera, LED lights, and rear park distance control are standard, but forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are only standard on the top-most sub-trim; a head-up display can be equipped to upper sub-trims but must be optioned on additionally.
As far as fun-to-drive subcompact cars go, the Countryman itself isn't a bad car - it's just quite overpriced in our opinion, but there's some appeal to it, so we understand those who simply want one splurging on it. But, as far as plug-in hybrid vehicles go, the Countryman PHEV isn't all that great. With only a measly 12 miles of EV range, it just doesn't live up to the standards set by the original designer in 1959 - it's not efficient at all, and it just doesn't do as well as some of the rivals on the market with cheaper starting prices. Going back to Sir Alec's original idea, only the fun-to-drive box has really been ticked; it's heavy on gas, it's footprint is not quite as small as it used to be, and, with its exorbitant starting price, it's not all that accessible to the masses either. Still, it looks great and isn't particularly awful to sit in, but loading cargo and some dodgy braking abilities add to the already questionable hybrid range to make this a toss-up between buying it for the sake of novelty, and buying it because you were going to buy a Mini anyway and just want to soothe your conscience about going green. We'd shop around if you are a serious buyer in the market for a plug-in hybrid.
Marketed under the banner of three sub-trims, the Mini Cooper Countryman Hybrid (or Cooper S E ALL4, if you want the official moniker) has an MSRP of $36,900 in Classic configuration and $39,400 for the Signature sub-trim. The fully-loaded Iconic is priced at $44,400, with all prices mentioned exclusive of destination and handling fees of $850, as well as licensing, registration, and taxes. Location-specific emissions incentives may apply, with $2,500 offered in tax rebates in the state of California. Purchasing a hybrid vehicle also gives you eligibility to federal tax credit, with up to $4,000 available for owners of the Mini Cooper Countryman Plug-In Hybrid.
|Cooper S E ALL4||
1.5-liter Turbo Inline-3 Plug-in Hybrid
Chances are that if you are reading this review, you have already made up your mind to buy a Mini anyway, and since the lower-end sub-trims are a little bare in terms of advanced features, we'd say just throw caution to the wind and go all in for the Iconic version - it adds much nicer interior upgrades, the enhanced 8.8-inch touchscreen, a premium Harman Kardon sound system, and makes Apple CarPlay standard at least. There's a substantial difference between prices from the base sub-trim to the fully-loaded version, but who cares? Nothing about buying the Countryman PHEV makes that much sense anyway.
Also marketed as a crossover, the Kia Niro offers a much more affordable option to the Mini and is available as either a standard hybrid, an all-electric vehicle, or a plug-in hybrid. While the all-electric range on the Mini's PHEV is particularly awful, the Kia Niro offers a much better 26 miles, which is more than double what the Mini PHEV manages. Another bonus for the Kia is a much faster charging time, while the Mini remains tops for its characterful and agile drive. That's not to say the Kia Niro doesn't drive well - it does, with only complaints pertaining to a noisy cabin and a bumpy ride hindering its reputation. It does offer a fraction more cabin space, and around six cubic feet more cargo space in the back over the Mini, and with much more impressive gas mileage - and a starting MSRP closer to the $30k mark - we'd opt for the Kia in this comparison.
Subaru's contribution to hybridization comes in the form of the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid - a small crossover with slightly bigger dimensions than the Countryman PHEV - it also has around three cubic feet more cargo space in the trunk, more legroom for front passengers, and more head and shoulder room in the back. Performance-wise, it's not quite as impressive as the Mini is, performing the 0-60 sprint in 8.3 seconds (quite a bit longer than Mini's claimed 6.7 seconds). While the Subaru manages only around 17 miles of all-electric range, this is still a step up from the 12 pathetic miles achievable in the Countryman. The Crosstrek also uses a CVT transmission exclusively, as opposed to the six-speed shiftable auto in the Countryman. Although the Mini didn't fare as well in our review of it as we had hoped, it still has unmistakeable style and flair, something the rather bland Subaru is conspicuously missing. While the Subaru is a brilliant contender in the segment (especially considering it offers superior versatility at a much cheaper price), we'll have to settle for the Mini here as it drives much better and feels more premium.