MINI Countryman Plug-in Hybrid SUV review
“The MINI Countryman plug-in hybrid is not only cheap to run – particularly for business drivers – it’s desirable and good to drive, too”
- Low company-car tax
- Suitable for families
- Good to drive
- Some practicality compromises
- Small petrol fuel tank
- Expensive options
The MINI Countryman Plug-in Hybrid ALL4 is a trailblazing model and one of the more interesting plug-in hybrids. When it first arrived - called the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 - it was the first PHEV made by MINI and it's now gradually being joined by a host of electrified models from the BMW Group, including the MINI Electric.
For 2020, it has been facelifted to give it a new lease of life, with an updated design and technology. As for the Countryman PHEV’s competition, it comes in the form of the Ford Kuga PHEV, the Toyota C-HR and Kia Niro hybrids, and plug-in hybrid hatchbacks like the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In. The plug-in hybrid market is expanding rapidly at the moment as manufacturers try to meet ever-stricter emissions regulations.
The Countryman PHEV will also surprise some because of the sporty Cooper S badge on the back, but this greener model fully deserves it, managing to get from 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds. In fact, the 1.5-litre petrol engine and the rear-mounted electric motor work together to produce a combined 217bhp and give the car its four-wheel-drive ‘ALL4’ status.
For the facelifted model, the 7.6kWh battery pack has been increased in capacity to 9.6kWh, but its real-world all-electric range of around 30 miles is the same as before. It should be enough to cover the daily commute of many drivers and has the advantage of reducing the official CO2 emissions figure to just 39g/km, making the Countryman PHEV a very desirable model for company-car drivers. This is because Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) company-car tax is reduced for cars under the 51g/km threshold.
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Private customers will be attracted by the promise of low running costs, particularly if they live near London, where the Countryman plug-in hybrid qualifies for free access to the Congestion Charge zone.
Aside from the low emissions and everything going on under the metal, the Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 is a desirable car. Brisk and just as fun to drive as other models in the range, the Countryman will run rings around most rivals for driver satisfaction, as well as style and badge appeal.
It’s practical for families, too, even if there have been some small sacrifices to get the battery pack to fit. The rear seats are set slightly higher and no longer slide, while the boot shrinks to 405 litres. But the bench splits 40:20:40 and there are chunky roof rails for carrying roof boxes and cycle carriers.
The latest MINI Countryman was too new to appear in our latest 2019 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but the MINI hatchback came 44th out of the 75 cars covered, the previous year. Safety is less of a guessing game, thanks to a five-star Euro NCAP rating following crash-testing.
MPG, running costs & CO2
The BMW Group eventually wants to offer every one of its models with the choice of petrol or diesel engines, plug-in hybrid or all-electric propulsion. The Countryman PHEV is a pioneer, checking three of these boxes and becoming the first MINI equipped with the fuel-saving technology. Its battery pack allows an all-electric driving range of up to 38 miles from a full charge – not bad considering 90% of MINI owners drive less than 40 miles a day according to the company’s own research.
In official testing, this helps increase its fuel-economy figure to 166.2mpg. It’s an impressive figure on paper, but real-world results will depend on how far you drive and how often you can top up the batteries. Drive less than 30 miles a day and charge the batteries every night and you’ll hardly use any fuel at all. Head further afield and once the battery charge is depleted, fuel economy will gradually drop to that of a conventional car.
Of great importance is the 39g/km CO2 emissions figure, making the Countryman PHEV very attractive to business users thanks to its low Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) company-car tax band. It should mark a big saving over the Cooper and Cooper D, which are the next best Countryman models in the range. The Outlander PHEV, Kia Niro and Toyota C-HR hybrids all sit in higher tax brackets, where you will pay a higher BiK rate.
After the first year's CO2-based road tax (generally included in the on-the-road price), the MINI Countryman PHEV costs £140 a year to tax. Thanks to its low CO2 figure and electric range, it’s also free to drive into the London Congestion Charge zone.
The lithium-ion battery pack has a 9.6kWh capacity and recharging should take just over three hours from a household socket, reducing by an hour if a 3.6kW wallbox is used. The battery comes included in the cost of the car, with no additional leasing required. The battery pack is expected to last the life of the vehicle, but has its own six-year or 60,000-mile warranty for added peace of mind.
Engines, drive & performance
By giving its first plug-in hybrid model a Cooper S badge, MINI is clearly confident it’s no slouch. Getting from 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds vindicates this and makes the Countryman PHEV a much sportier prospect than rivals like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Toyota C-HR, both of which take over 10 seconds to do the same sprint.
Power comes from a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine with 134bhp and an electric motor with 87bhp, for a total combined output of 217bhp. Interestingly, MINI has chosen to place the electric motor under the boot floor and send its power directly to the rear wheels, giving the Countryman PHEV its four-wheel drive.
All power from the petrol engine is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox. Pub trivia fans should note this effectively makes the Countryman PHEV the first rear-wheel-drive MINI when in ‘Max eDrive’ mode, which allows all-electric driving at speeds up to 78mph. Auto eDrive prioritises battery power below 50mph, but acts more like a hybrid, with the petrol engine chiming in for bursts of acceleration. There’s also a setting to favour the petrol engine and save battery power, coming in handy if you plan to visit an urban area later in your trip.
The boost from the electric motor gives the Countryman a surprising turn of speed, especially around town. However, there can be a slight hesitation as you accelerate and the car decides how to proceed, which feels a bit like turbo lag. MINI's engineers have tried to make the plug-in hybrid’s handling similarly agile and precise to the standard model, and the result is one of the most fun PHEVs you can get your hands on.
Interior & comfort
We’ve praised the well built interior of the standard Countryman and nothing has been sacrificed here, with the same excellent quality and characterful round central infotainment display. Look closely and there are a few reminders of the hybrid technology under the metal, with a bright yellow start/stop toggle switch to press when you want to get going. The instrument gauges have been swapped for a 5.5-inch digital pod perched above the steering column, with a thin bezel and crisp graphics.
The Countryman PHEV rides smoothly, something that’s not always guaranteed in a plug-in hybrid. Often, engineers are forced to fit stiffer suspension to deal with the extra weight of the battery pack, but the MINI rides on par with other models in the range. Its upright shape means there’s some wind noise at motorway speeds, but it shouldn’t upset occupants much.
As with the other Countryman models, the PHEV is sold with three basic trim levels: Classic, Sport and Exclusive. Standard Classic kit includes 17-inch alloy wheels and Piano Black interior trim, along with selectable driving modes and the ability to heat or cool the interior before a journey. Every Countryman also comes with an 8.8-inch infotainment screen, navigation and Apple CarPlay. Sport adds 18-inch wheels and a body styling kit, along with sports seats and a different steering wheel and headlining. Exclusive promotes luxury, adding leather seats, chrome trim and a Satellite Grey headliner.
As of March 2018, MINI also includes 4G connectivity as standard on all Countryman models. Dubbed ‘MINI Connected’, the system offers a concierge phone line service, real-time traffic information and improved integration with smartphones, including the ability to send sat-nav information to the car and even operate functions such as the door locks. The Countryman PHEV extends this connectivity to hybrid-specific features, including a charging timer and charging-station search function.
Practicality & boot space
It’s clear the Countryman (which shares its basic underpinnings with the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer plug-in hybrid MPV) was designed with plug-in hybrid technology in mind, because its interior space isn’t too badly affected. The main change is slightly raised rear seats, but the Countryman’s high roofline means there’s still plenty of rear headroom. This change does mean the back seats can no longer side forwards and back, though.
By positioning the battery pack under the back seats and the electric motor under the luggage compartment, boot space has only shrunk by 45 litres, now measuring 405 litres and still easily beating the Toyota C-HR (377 litres). This is slightly smaller than the Kia Niro (427 litres) and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has a bigger boot still (463 litres), but perhaps not by as much as you might expect given its boxy shape.
The rear seats split and fold in a 40:20:40 configuration, so it’s possible to travel with four adults and place long items like skis or snowboards between your rear passengers. One point to note is that the petrol tank has shrunk from 51 to 36 litres, but MINI claims the extra economy of the Countryman should boost driving range to help make up for it.
Reliability & safety
The MINI Countryman didn't appear in our 2020 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but the manufacturer could only manage 26th out of 30 brands, despite only 8% of owners reporting a fault in the first year.
While it might seem risky to buy MINI’s first foray into plug-in hybrid technology, the brand’s parent BMW has spent huge sums of money on research and development and already implemented the technology in models like the BMW i8, BMW i3and BMW 2 Series iPerformance Active Tourer with great success.
Safety is less of an unknown, thanks to a five-star score for the Countryman in Euro NCAP crash tests. It achieved individual results of 90% for adult occupant protection and 80% for child occupants. Standard safety kit includes autonomous emergency braking and a bonnet that pops up slightly in a pedestrian collision to help cushion the impact.