Plug-in all the way & every day !
As our family car for three years, 2013-2016, was a diesel MINI Countryman, I was excited to get my hands on MINI’s latest addition to the range, the MINI Countryman S E ALL4 PHEV, the first MINI plug-in-hybrid. Launched without too much fanfare, MINI are targeting customers who have flocked to the likes of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV & have produced a much smaller, more user-friendly alternative to the much larger Outlander. MINI says 90 per cent of its buyers drive only 30-40 miles per day, which if that’s true, makes a compelling argument for owning this latest model.
The Countyman PHEV looks well, just like the other models in the range, which makes it both wider & longer than it’s predecessor & it sits on the newest UKL2 platform architecture found underneath cars like the latest MINI Clubman & the BMW X1. Stepping back to look at the new version, at first, it’s quite hard to see what’s different, but on closer inspection, both the front & rear are significantly changed, with a larger, more pronounced front-grille, bloated headlights, plus a noticeably squared-off rear end, actually making the new version less attractive than the old one. Inside thankfully, things get better with a completely redesigned dashboard. MINI have kept the retro circular display & chrome toggle switches, which sit in the centre of the dash, whilst the speedo, rev counter & fuel gauge now sit in front of the driver. The speedboat- style handbrake has also been replaced by an automatic one.
The materials inside the cab feel more premium than the outgoing model, with a mixture soft touch plastics on the dash & fabric trim on the door’s that matched my seats, finished in a fetching mid-grey.Interior black trim piano black on the dashboard, an extra £155 adds to the upmarket feeling. The Cooper-spec Countryman gets SatNav, DAB radio, cruise control, parking sensors, Bluetooth & autonomous city braking. As with BMW’s, there’s a massive options list, with my test model fitted with amongst others the Media Pack, which adds MINI Nav, MINI connected, & enhanced Bluetooth with wireless charging.
The standard infotainment system is a 6.5″ colour display with SatNav including European mapping For £950, you can upgrade to MINI’s new 8.8″ XL infotainment system that now features touchscreen capability for the first time. My test car had this fitted & I found it great to use & simple to understand. I tended when driving, towards using the scrolling wheel & buttons located in front of the hand brake., rather than touching the screen. Whilst this works extremely well, it’s both too low & too far back to be completely comfortable & takes some getting used to. Wireless smartphone charging is also part of the Media Pack, with the charger located in the armrest between the front seats. Apple Car Play & Android Auto are available too.
Interior space is definitely improved with the Countryman now 4.3m long, 1.82m wide & 1.56m tall, which is 20cm longer & 3cm wider than the previous car, although the height hasn’t increased. MINI has extended the wheelbase of the Countryman by 75mm, which benefits rear legroom. Two will fit nicely in the rear, but passenger three will struggle for legroom thanks to the large transmission tunnel running through the middle of the car. Bootspace is less than in the standard Countryman, at 405 litres, which is still 55 litres up on the old car. It also extends to 1345 litres with the seats folded, whilst the three rear seats can be split 40/20/40 for increased versatility. This is further enhanced by a useful split-folding boot base, two elastic fabric holding ties, one on each side, a small storage bin on the left & a 12v input on the right. Inside the cabin there’s two cup holders behind the gear lever & in the front & rear doors, 4 door pockets that will also hold cup as well.
In fleet, where diesel was once King, the growth of PHEV sales has steadily increased & MINI are hoping to cash in on this. With the new Countryman diesel handling brilliantly, I wanted to find out how different the PHEV version might be, so that if you pick one, it’s not just for tax & fuel purposes, but as a car that drives well too.
I’m pleased to say that he PHEV Countryman handles just as well as the diesel model, as I discovered driving on the motorway & on a selection of main & country roads. I’ll get the bad news out of the way first.
The PHEV only offers a 25-mile EV range, so when you put your foot down & you’ll want to trust me, the range goes down quite quickly. The PHEV’s 87bhp electric motor actually gives the Countryman a bit of oomph, 0-62mph in just 6.8 seconds, which at the same time is pleasingly quiet. The six-speed auto box is also very nice & makes for relaxing driving. Couple this with MINI’s standard taught steerin & four-wheel on the corner design & this version of the Countryman really is good fun to be in. The enjoyment is further enhanced by the exemplary MINI build quality especially inside the cabin, where everything would not look out of place in an upmarket Scandi- noir.
If you opt for the PHEV will you save any money ? Emissions of just 49g/km means it falls into the lowest BIK company car tax bracket off just 9% & coming in at under £40,000, it escapes the £310 road tax surcharge for cars costing over £40,000. Having said that, our basic model will set you back £32,195 OTR, compared to the basic Cooper D Countryman, the most popular fleet choice at present, which retails at £23,850.
The entry level Countryman diesel is currently available to lease non maintained from £239 per month ( 6+35 ), whilst the PHEV is only £16 more at £255 per month ( 6+35 ). With a claimed fuel economy of 134.5 mpg and emissions of just 49g/km, there won’t be a shortage of interest. Be warned though. My week in the PHEV version was highly enjoyable & even though I utilised the battery by charging at home, I used all of this storage up in a 40 minute crawl on the M6. The remainder of my 100 mile journey each way, was on the motorway, where my petrol combined fuel economy only just climbed above 33mpg.
In conclusion, this version of the Countryman is not cheap but that’s not the point. If you want all of the MINI fun, in the larger package that is the Countryman, with the bonus of the MINI’s excellent build quality, you can now have this as a plug-in-hybrid, with super low emissions & brilliant fuel economy. What’s not to like ?