AS successful as it is, Mini remains a divisive brand.
Fifteen years after BMW’s rebirth of the most British of motoring icons, the brand attracts as many gushing fans as it does detractors.
It hasn’t helped that there’s been so many forays into new segments, some successful some not.
To some, Mini should still be a small fun car, yet this latest Countryman isn’t remotely small.
Why then has Mini decided to go so big with this latest Countryman? It’s an attempt to take on other premium rivals head-on.
This Mini Cooper SE Countryman All4 is the first Mini to get plug-in hybrid capability and offers a greener and more economical option for urban families.
Not only does this Countryman hybrid offer family transport in a desirable crossover form, it’s good for as much as 134.5mpg (albeit during official tests so expect less in the real world) with super low emissions of just 49g/km.
As it’s a plug-in hybrid it can be charged at home overnight on cheap electricity. Do this and its electric battery can take you as far as 25 miles before its 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine kicks in.
Conceivably you could transport your brood emission-free around town before utilising the more conventional engine when you travel further afield. Suddenly your school run or commute just became guilt-free.
Despite its retro looks it boasts the latest technology. The car is in fact driven by all four wheels.
The 134bhp three-cylinder petrol engine drives the front wheels while the 88bhp electric motor drives the rear. At times, depending on the road conditions and what’s being demanded of it by the driver, all four wheels are utilised.
In electric only ‘E-Drive’ mode the rear wheels alone are used at speeds of up to 78mph.
Above this the engine engages the front wheels to help out. You can though, if you’re really determined, stand on the accelerator pedal and demand early intervention from the engine at slower speeds. In this electric-only mode the car is at its most satisfying. The electric motor pick up is instant then constant.
You experience, just a simple near-noiseless electric whoosh plus a little wind noise at higher speeds.
If you fancy a quicker pace, the 0 to 60mph sprint can be covered in just under seven seconds with both the engine and motor working simultaneously.
This ‘Auto E-Drive’ mode is comfortable with the car cheerily switching between petrol and electric power, occasionally using both if the work load demands it. The system is even clever enough to use the sat nav to decide to charge the battery if you’re driving downhill.
There is a further mode called ‘SAVE’ which prioritises the petrol engine and allows you to charge the battery for later in-town use.
The weight of the extra 130kg of hybrid components is only really significant when braking. On quick country roads, though you are aware of the extra weight, it doesn’t take any of the enjoyment from the driving experience.
The car feels grippy and responsive. Yet, amazingly, somehow the Countryman feels reasonably small when driving in traffic in town.
The Mini also offers a choice of dynamic settings: Sport, Mid, and Green. In ‘Mid’, the steering and suspension are a little too light to be truly. Here the car promises to be something of a motorway tourer and a class above in terms of refinement.
But if you want anything more entertaining you’re going to want to engage the ‘Sport’ setting. Here the suspension and steering tighten and the throttle response improves. The driving becomes far more engaging. You can also choose to do this in the electric only Max E-Drive setting which is very entertaining.
The high quality interior feels very well made and is comfortable and stylish, if in that familiar retrospective Mini way.
In this model though there are a number of more technical displays to reflect the modernity of the car’s hybrid technology.
Though the optional larger infotainment display dominates the centre of the dashboard it still looks great. You can choose multiple display options for reading system information about the car’s hybrid and eco performance or indeed turn them off entirely.
One fun element is the LED lighting around the infotainment display. Customisable, the lighting can be set to increase with audio volume or even display the battery charge level. The centre console include wireless charging for phones.
Intriguingly the Mini Countryman PHEV has few rivals as there are so few small plug-in hybrids on the market, though you should expect more in the near future.
BMW also sells a hybrid version of the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer, while Audi sells the A3 Sportback e-tron.
The Mini Countryman PHEV is clearly aimed at young, urban families and with 405 litres of space available in the boot it should offer enough.
If you thought hybrids were dull then this is something altogether different. At its heart the Mini Countryman plug-in hybrid is still a Mini and it genuinely feels like one to drive.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Mini Countryman Plug-In Hybrid
Price: 31,585 (before Government grant)
Engine: Petrol - 1.5-litre turbo plus electric motor
Power (bhp): 221
Torque (Nm): 385
Max speed (mph): 123
0-60mph: 6.6 seconds
Emissions (g/km): 49g/km