You either love them or hate them. The bug-eyed look, small dimensions, and odd interior isn’t for everyone. But for the most part though, at least in the US, people seem to love the quirky Mini brand.
The revamped Mini Cooper (owned by BMW) began US sales in 2002 and ramped up to a peak of over 54,000 unit sales in 2008. It’s dropped into the 30,000 to 40,000 range in recent years—coincidentally, as gas prices have stayed quite low.
But cheap gas can’t last forever, and Mini is planning for an electric future like so many other brands.
Now the all-electric Mini Cooper debuts in 2019, but if you can’t wait that long, there’s the Mini Cooper S E Countryman All4 plug-in hybrid. Yes, it’s a mouthful, but there’s a lot to like about the car, as well as some things we disliked.
Let’s start with the good. Powering this Countryman is a twin-turbocharged 3-cylinder engine producing 134 horsepower that’s paired with a 87-hp electric motor. Total power output is 221 horsepower with 284 lb-ft of torque. The setup is unique for Mini in that the gas engine powers the front two wheels, with the electric motor powering the rears, hence the “All4” designation.
The 7.6-kWH lithium-ion battery pack combined with the electric motor can give drivers around 12 miles of fully-electric range. That’s nice enough for putzing around town, but that’s about it. The Mini’s electric range does not fare favorably with other plug-in hybrids like Toyota’s Prius and Chevy Volt. In fact, I often found the Countryman shifting out of all-electric power before the 12-mile limit. However, I found the car to charge quite quickly from the quick-charge port in my apartment’s garage, taking around 4 hours.
When in ‘dynamic’ mode the car will use the two sources of power in conjunction, firing up the electric motor to produce more power in spirited driving. Combined, the car will hit 0-60 in 6.7 seconds. Mini’s estimate here feels conservative, as I found the car to be quite snappy in dynamic mode.
Despite the unique powertrain and bigger Countryman footprint, I found the car to still have that Mini-ness that fans and enthusiasts love. The car felt small and surefooted, exhibited nice handling characteristics, and turn in was pleasantly flat for a car that mostly operates in front-wheel mode. The Countryman itself is bigger than the regular Mini Cooper, and that’s a welcome change for those taller than 5’6″ and want some room for their belongings and maybe even some guests along for the ride.
Inside, the quirky Mini cockpit is still apparent, but some improvements have been made with regard to materials, with panels appearing and feeling better to the touch, including an altogether better head unit. Seats were comfortable, but could use a bit of bolstering.
I’ve been a fan of Mini interiors for quite some time now, and I find the latest iteration in the Countryman to be a winner. To be fair, it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think most would agree the feeling inside the cabin is definitely premium level.
One of the major disappointments for me was its confusing All4 system. The car is marketed as all-wheel drive, but there is no real way to engage all-wheel drive when you want it. The car does this automatically, when it feels that either rear grip is needed because of slippage or when extra oomph is required for acceleration. The driver has no control over the drive system, which I found annoying. There were times I wanted to engage all-wheel drive (due to inclement weather) and I wasn’t able to do so.
Another annoyance for me was the battery charge gauge above the steering wheel. It was inconsistent with providing readings of the status of the battery. At times, it would show me a power level, and most often show me nothing. I wasn’t sure when it would give me a reading.
Now when it did show me a reading (usually in all-electric mode), charge was depicted in the form of a series of half circular light bars (which didn’t make much sense either, as a reading). When you were in dynamic or normal mode it was the driver’s guess as to whether the reading would appear.
These criticisms aside, the car is a somewhat interesting proposition. You get a lot of the fun of a Mini with practicality of the Countryman’s size, plus some all-electric capabilities to do light errands around town. But, from an overall mileage perspective you’re only getting 27 mpg combined — only 2 mpg better than the gas-only powered Cooper All4. So unless you’re using the car in all-electric mode a lot for short drives, you won’t be getting any real significant improvement with efficiency.
If Mini can make changes like allowing drivers to select two-wheel or four-wheel drive on demand and improve battery range, it’ll have a real winner on its hands. I did like my time with the Mini Cooper S E Countryman All4, but at this point, you could have a lot more fun (with a minimal efficiency hit) just going with a tried-and-true Cooper S Countryman ALL4 and save around $4,000.
The Mini Cooper S E Countryman All4 starts at $36,800. Our tester came in at $39,700 and included options like metallic paint, parking assist, and Sirius XM radio.