Mini, BMW’s funky British cousin, must be trying to earn some environmental bona fides by offering a plug-in hybrid version of its nifty Cooper S Countryman.
The Countryman is the largest Mini model yet. Sharing its platform with BMW’s excellent entry-level X1, it’s surprising just how different these two vehicles are. Where the BMW offers a typical high-riding approach like most crossovers, the Countryman, even in ALL4 (all-wheel drive) guise, crouches down on the pavement, seemingly ready to leap into action.
And a fair amount of action can be had from its gas-electric propulsion system. With a 1.5-liter, turbocharged three-cylinder gas engine driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, and an electric motor powering the rears, the spunky hatch accelerates smartly with a combined 221 horsepower on tap.
As one of most powerful Minis offered, though, the fly in the Countryman’s ointment is weight. At just 85 pounds shy of 4,000, there’s a lot of hybrid equipment – battery pack, electric motor,various additional mechanicals – to lug about. So while the car really is quite quick, it doesn’t feel particularly happy about it.
The heft from hybridization also takes the edge off some of the Mini brand’s vaunted handling prowess. Again, it corners rather well, but its relatives’ eager “fling-ability” is toned down a tad.
The latest Countryman does treat occupants with a much-upgraded cabin. Materials are mostly first-class, and its expanded size guarantees comfortable seating space for four, five in a pinch. A Mini must-have is the large, round infotainment display front and center in the dash. Fortunately, the speedometer has moved to where it belongs, behind the steering wheel.
Given the engineering money spent on electrifying the Countryman, it’s a bit surprising that the fuel economy isn’t much better than a gas-only model. Fully recharged under battery power alone, the car can manage only about 12 miles before it reverts to gas-electric motivation.
Overall, the electro-Countryman has plenty to offer. It’s comfortable, relatively roomy, and nicely fitted out for a $40,000 vehicle. It drives with a confident, well-planted demeanor. But it seems too … serious, I guess, for a Mini. It needs a jolt of that joie de vivre that made Minis renowned for filling a desire to head out for fun and frolic on a twisty two-lane back road.