Plug-in cars are the future, and the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 seeks to prove they can be both practical and fun to drive.

And we’re not talking fun to drive in the “let’s see how far I can go on a tank of fuel” sense. We’re talking in the traditional, pedal-to-the-metal sense.

In a lot of ways, the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 succeeds in its mission. In one important way, however, I felt like it needed a little work.

Design Notes

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Plenty of people give the Countryman grief for being the biggest MINI ever built

MINIs are endearing to look at, and the Countryman is no exception. Plenty of people give the Countryman grief for being the biggest MINI ever built. That may be the case, but its size comes into perspective when parked next to my daily driver, a Nissan cube. The Countryman and cube are about the same size. That’s not a huge vehicle.

MINI’s measurements put the Countryman’s overall length at 169.8 inches. It’s 71.7 inches wide and 61.4 inches tall. It rides on a 105.1-inch wheelbase. For comparison, a two-door MINI Cooper Hardtop is 151.1 inches long, 68 inches wide, 55.7 inches tall, and rides on a 98.2-inch wheelbase. So yeah, the Countryman measurably bigger than the smallest MINI on the US market, but it’s still small compared to a lot of USDM vehicles.

The Countryman has a sort of bulldog charm to its facial features. Big headlights dominate, with a slightly downturned grille opening and protruding front bumper looking sort of like a bulldog underbite. The side profile is classic MINI, but taller and chunkier-looking: flat roof, wheels pushed way out to the ends of the design, lots of squared-off glass area. From the rear, the Countryman has a lot of the MINI design hallmarks, too, especially the big, vertical rectangle tail lights.

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You’ll have to look closely to see if a Countryman is like the plug-in hybrid E model I tested. The tailgate will have a neon-green E logo that looks kind of like a plug. That logo is duplicated in badges on the front fenders — the driver’s side badge serving as a cover for the actual EV charge port that you plug into shore power to boost the on-board traction batteries. The “S” in the grille is painted that same neon green shade, too.

The interior of my tester was much like any Countryman, with a few nods to the plug-in hybrid powertrain. There were sporty perforated black leather bucket seats for front occupants and a wide, comfortable bench for rear occupants. At 6’3”, I couldn’t really sit behind myself in comfort — I had to splay my legs around the front seatback. The tall roof height makes for plenty of headroom, however.

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The infotainment screen in the center of the dash is set within a ring of color-changing LED lights

The infotainment screen in the center of the dash is set within a ring of color-changing LED lights, and there’s a row of toggle switches below it all that handle several functions — including a neon-green one for starting the car.

Drive Notes

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The MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 is an interesting hybrid

The MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 is an interesting hybrid. Not only is it a plug-in hybrid with about 10 to 15 miles of all-electric range, depending on terrain and how you drive, it’s also all-wheel drive. The electric powertrain turns the rear wheels, while the 1.5-liter, three-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine turns the front wheels.

If either part is propelling the vehicle solo and slippage happens, the other part will come online to provide all-wheel drive traction — something I experienced when I took the plug-in Countryman off-road in a pasture.

The powertrain makes a combined 221 horsepower, which is eclipsed only by the John Cooper Works (JCW) version of the Countryman that makes 228 gasoline-only horsepower. But no Countryman can touch the E’s torque. The electric powertrain helps it achieve 284 lb-ft, much of it available from takeoff thanks to the immediacy of electric motor torque. The JCW’s 258 lb-ft at 1,450-4,500 RPM is strong, but not as strong as the plug-in Countryman.

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The powertrain makes a combined 221 horsepower, which is eclipsed only by the John Cooper Works (JCW) version of the Countryman

At the time of this test, I lacked a Level 2 EV charging station at my home, so I used the 120V trickle-charger included in the Countryman’s cargo area in a neat case. This was enough to top out the battery in a few hours.

The unfortunate thing is that the battery didn’t go all that far here in Tennessee hill country. I was lucky if I managed to eke out 10 miles of all-electric driving before the gasoline engine had to turn on. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, which was the last PHEV I reviewed before this MINI, would go at least three times farther before depleting its EV range, making it a much more practical vehicle for those trying to minimize fuel costs while hauling the family. Admittedly, no minivan is as fun to drive as the PHEV Countryman.

Once the gasoline engine turned on in the MINI, the car acted a lot like any other hybrid. When coasting downhill or braking, it would capture kinetic energy to recharge the battery. When stopped at a traffic light, the gasoline engine would stop running. Takeoffs from a standstill were usually battery-powered at first, with the gas engine only coming to life after the car was nearly up to prevailing traffic speeds.

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The plug-in Countryman has 0.4 cubic feet less cargo space than other Countrymen, and there’s an awkwardly sized well underneath the cargo floor.

Since I live about 10 miles from work and my employer allows me to trickle-charge, the electric range of the plug-in Countryman was just shy of what I needed to commute without burning gasoline. The plug-in Countryman has 0.4 cubic feet less cargo space than other Countrymen, and there’s an awkwardly sized well underneath the cargo floor. I would rather that well didn’t exist if it meant I got five more miles of battery range. I don’t know if that’s possible, but it would be nice.

But enough about the short electric range. How’s it drive? In a word, excellent.

Steering is nicely weighted, and the suspension does a phenomenal job providing a smooth ride. The plug-in Countryman also happens to be the heaviest Countryman, at just shy of 4,000 lbs of curb weight, so that might also help the car ride smoothly.

Acceleration is brisk, with the zero-to-60 run clocking in at a MINI-reported 6.7 seconds. That’s faster than any other Countryman except the JCW, which does it in 6.2. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. The brakes are responsive, but linear — a challenge for a lot of hybrids. I thought it was the smoothest small crossover I have driven.

It also was the best-driving small crossover I have driven. Unlike every hybrid vehicle I have driven (except maybe the $133,000 Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid), it was a pleasure on curvy pavement. Steering builds weight like I’d expect. The transmission kicks down like I want it to when I accelerate out of a turn or up a hill.

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There are three drive modes, selectable by a toggle around the shift lever. “Normal” is the default mode and has a healthy amount of regenerative braking dialed-in anytime you let off the throttle. “Sport” engages the gasoline engine sooner and adds a little more throttle response. “Green” enables freewheeling coast, which seems strange because it doesn’t regenerate any lost battery capacity on long downhill sections.

In addition, you can tell the E Countryman how you want it to expend its battery. Default “Auto” mode will use most of the battery at the start of your drive, then switch the car to hybrid mode when the battery range is near zero. “Max” mode will attempt to squeeze as many miles as possible from the battery, at the possible expense of overall efficiency once the gasoline engine does turn on. “Save” mode will operate mostly on gasoline to save battery capacity for city traffic later in your commute.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the hybrid drive system in the MINI Cooper S E Countryman is how its electric powertrain is used like a big secondary turbo when you mat the throttle. It’s plenty quick, despite its weight.

Competitors

The Countryman competes in an interesting space: premium small crossovers. It’s not cheap, with my tester stickering at a perfect $40,000 and base-model plug-in Countrymen starting at $36,800. There aren’t a lot of plug-in crossovers in America, period, let alone in the premium small crossover segment. So there are only two competitors listed here, and they don’t fit neatly into the exact same category. There are new models on the horizon that would be a great comparison, such as the Volvo XC40 that is rumored to have a PHEV version coming for 2019. But since those models are not on the market at the time of this writing — and since any comparison of specs would be purely, well, speculative — I have not included them.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

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I would have never thought I’d be comparing anything Mitsubishi makes to anything MINI makes, but here we are: The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a plug-in crossover from the smallest Japanese automaker to still compete on American shores.

Mitsubishi says it has a 22-mile EV range and is rated at 74 MPGe by the EPA. That’s a bit better than the 12-mile EV range and 65 MPGe of the plug-in Countryman. And the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is quite a bit larger than the MINI Countryman, which makes that achievement even more notable because the powertrain is lugging around a bigger, heavier car. That extra size may or may not be more practical for your needs.

The Outlander PHEV is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes just 117 horsepower and 137 lb-ft at 4,500 RPM. The electric portion of its powerplant makes another 80 horsepower and 101 lb-ft of torque for the front axle, and 80 horsepower and 143 lb-ft for the rear axle.

Mitsubishi has extensive warranty coverage. There’s a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty on the powertrain, including the hybrid components. MINI only offers an 8-year, 80,000-mile warranty on the hybrid battery in addition to its 4-year, 50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

Finally, price: Mitsubishi undercuts MINI considerably in base price, where $34,595 gets you into the Mitsu. You’ll need a couple grand more to get a base PHEV Countryman. A fully-loaded Outlander PHEV will cost about the same as my MINI Cooper S E Countryman, just a tick above $40,000. But for that money, you’re getting a much larger crossover with better battery range and combined fuel economy.

If those considerations outweigh the need to have a fun-to-drive car, the Outlander PHEV certainly makes a good argument for itself. However, if you’re all about the fun-to-drive factor, the Outlander probably isn’t going to light your fire. Its CVT transmission and comfort-biased suspension and steering will bore you.

Read our full review on the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Kia Niro PHEV

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Kia has been impressive in its adoption of hybrid, EV, and PHEV powertrains. Shortly after the Kia Niro made its debut, there was word of a PHEV coming. Now that it’s here, it’s pretty impressive.

Kia says it has an EPA-certified EV range of up to 26 miles and a combined MPGe score of 105. Again, that’s better than the MINI Cooper S E Countryman.

The Kia is slightly larger, too, with a bit more cargo space, yet it’s quite a lot lighter than the MINI at just 3,391 lbs.

Kia’s powertrain won’t be as nice to drive as the MINI’s, with its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine making just 104 horsepower at 5,700 RPM and 109 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 RPM. The electric portion adds another 60 horsepower and 125 lb-ft to the mix. It’s plenty to motivate the Niro PHEV, and its six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission adds a dose of sportiness, but it’s not going to be as fun to drive as the MINI. For starters, the Niro PHEV is only available as a front-wheel drive vehicle, lacking anything that would resemble the MINI’s fun ALL4 all-wheel drive system.

Like Mitsubishi, pricing and warranty both come out in Kia’s favor. With a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a base price in the neighborhood of $27,900, the Niro PHEV is a solid deal for those looking to reduce their fuel use. A fully-loaded Niro PHEV will cost less than a base model MINI Cooper S E Countryman at $34,500 MSRP.

Read our full review on the 2017 Kia Niro PHEV

Conclusion

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MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 is a fun, distinctively designed little crossover that just so happens to have a PHEV drive system that improves fuel economy. In my test week, I put on 315 miles and saw a trip computer-reported average of 47 MPG. That’s no small feat, and it required a lot of trickle-charging while I was at work. But getting that close to 50 MPG in something this fun to drive is a phenomenal achievement, for which MINI deserves applause.

That said, I’m hopeful there’s a next-generation PHEV Countryman on the horizon that will further improve EV range. I loved the character of the Countryman’s design, and I enjoyed the performance offered by the hybrid powertrain, but its short EV range was a glaring shortcoming.

The aforementioned Volvo XC40 PHEV is rumored to be shooting for more than 30 miles of EV range on a full charge. That would be more than twice the EV range offered by the MINI Cooper S E Countryman in ideal conditions. Let’s hope that rumor has the BMW/MINI EV skunkworks burning some midnight oil — or electrons? — to make the next generation of MINI Countryman PHEVs even more appealing.

Disclosure: MINI provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of fuel for this review.

References

2017 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2017 MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4

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