Automakers across the globe are embracing electrification. To the general public, Tesla is leading the charge for electric vehicles, while the Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Volt are top of mind for hybrids and plug-ins.
Engine: 1.5L 3-cylinder turbo and electric motor
System Output: 221 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 65MPGe, 27 MPG
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km equivalent): 3.6 in EV mode, 7.1 combined
EV Range: 12 miles/19 kilometers
US Price: $$37,650
CAN Price: $45,735
But those automakers and vehicles fit only a very small set of scenarios. Luxury car buyers seem to be a big priority for PHEV makers with Cadillac, Volvo, BMW, and Mercedes all offering plug-in variants of their large vehicles. There’s a PHEV in nearly every shape and size so long as you want a luxury car and have the budget for it. But what about those with more modest budgets? It seems there’s a limit on choices at the moment. MINI’s biggest model, the Countryman, debuted with the promise of solving that concern.
Having driven it for a short stint in Montreal and the surrounding areas, I can confirm there’s no compromise with the Cooper SE Countryman. A plug-in hybrid capable of traveling 12 miles on a single charge, it’s the brand’s first PHEV and a successor to the MINI E pilot program that debuted in North America about eight years ago. Where the MINI E was a fully electric city car, the SE Countryman is a plug-in hybrid and is much bigger and more practical.
Like normal Cooper models (and unlike the Cooper S with a bigger engine) this EV features a three-cylinder turbocharged engine that is paired with an electric motor for a combined output of 221 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque, which is a nice bump over the 189 hp and 207 lb-ft that’s found in the usual Cooper S. The electric motor powers the rear wheels while the three-pot handles the front axle. Providing the juice to that electric motor is a 7.6-kWh lithium ion battery that can be fully charged with a 240-volt Level 2 charger in three hours and 15 minutes.
When it’s fully charged, the vehicle can travel 12 miles on electric power. It may not sound like much, but the plug-in hybrid Countryman still has a total range of 270 miles thanks to its gasoline components. Combined, the MINI gets 65 MPGe, or 27 MPG when the battery is out of juice. Other cars that the Countryman SE can be compared to might include the Ford C-Max Energi, which gets about 20 miles on a charge, so it looks like MINI has some more work ahead in this department.
That 12-mile electric range might sound low, but it’s versatile. Using a toggle on the dash, drivers can toggle between three driving strategies for the electric powertrain. There’s Auto eDrive, which allows the electric motor to propel the car up to speeds of 55 mph, asks the combustion engine for help at higher speeds, and will also fire up that engine when the battery drops below 7 percent. There’s also Max eDrive, which allows the electric motor to power the car up to 78 mph, and will get some help from the combustion engine under hard acceleration. Finally, there’s a Save mode that helps hold the battery level above 90 percent.
These modes also work with the MINI’s usual drive modes of Sport, Green, and Mid. The car still feels peppy and fun with the personality that MINIs are known for. There’s a six-speed automatic transmission fitted to the car and when the PHEV is equipped with navigation, the car can actually route you through the most fuel efficient trajectory to your destination.
The battery is located under the rear passenger seats and doesn’t impact space in any egregious ways. The cabin is still spacious with a lot of headroom. If you need extra space, you can fold the rear seats split 40/20/40, which is extra convenient.
On the Road
What’s it like to drive? In Auto eDrive, it feels and rides like a regular gas-powered MINI Countryman S. There’s a bit more oomph, as the electric motors make up for any lag from the turbocharged three-cylinder engine and they seem to provide an extra bit of torque, which gives the subcompact crossover a more zippy feel on the road.
Driven in the eSave mode, the car can hold highway speeds, but making passes are a bit more time-consuming. I chose to test the eMax mode on the highway as well, and the electric motor seemed like it was at its limit at these speeds. But choosing the eMax mode in the city, where I thought it’d be nice to not choke pedestrians and cyclists with emissions and the noise of an internal combustion engine, the car was very responsive with enough power to squeeze through busy, rush hour gridlock. Each mode clearly has its strengths, but leaving the drivetrain in its auto setting was easy and provided improved fuel economy and fewer emissions as well.
That Electric Style
There are a few unique touches that make the SE Countryman stand out. Neon yellow markings and accents are found inside and outside of the vehicle. Rather than being bold and red, the S badges found on the vehicle are yellow to denote it being an electric MINI. This splash of color can also be found on the door sills.
Inside, there’s a new EV mode selector in the center console where the other toggle switches are. The infotainment system also packs additional screens that are used for determining how effectively you’re utilizing the hybrid powertrain in the SE Countryman.
Including destination and before any rebates, this vehicle comes in $37,650 in the U.S., meaning it’s $5,100 more than the all-wheel-drive combustion engine MINI Cooper S Countryman and $1,000 less than the sporty John Cooper Works version of the car. It seems a bit pricey, but rebates will help cut that price tag down. With the build quality and stylish design that MINI is known for, it seems like an appropriate price, but it’d be much more of a bargain if the Countryman SE had more electric range.
The Verdict: 2018 MINI Cooper SE Countryman Plug-In Hybrid Review
And for that price, you end up with a new way to think of plug-in hybrids. The MINI is fun to drive and the extra batteries hardly impact interior space. It’s a new, stylish and unique option in a world that has previously been dominated by Priuses and Volts.