Mini plug-in hybrid offers performance, versatility

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The Mini brand’s first Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), the Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4, enters its second year of production with many wonderful attributes.

First and foremost, the Countryman is Mini’s largest offering. It hardly seems fair calling it a Mini. And like other Mini models, the Countryman PHEV offers unique styling and high-quality materials.

The Countryman PHEV provides versatility, advanced technologies, enhanced fuel efficiency, impressive performance, and it is surprisingly fun-to-drive.

With regards to its powertrain setup, the Countryman PHEV is not your typical plug-in. Instead of having its electric motor propelling the same axle as its gasoline engine, the Countryman PHEV utilizes a front-mounted gasoline engine to drive its front wheels, and a rear-mounted electric motor to propel its rear wheels.

When all-wheel-drive traction is required, power from the front-mounted gasoline engine and rear-mounted electric motor can be applied as needed. This distinctive hybrid technology is borrowed from the BMW i8. One major difference, though, is the i8 features a rear-mounted gasoline engine and a front-mounted electric motor.

The Countryman PHEV offers three power modes: Electric Mode, Hybrid Mode and Save Battery Mode.

In Electric Mode, the Countryman PHEV’s 87-horsepower rear-mounted electric motor and high-voltage battery pack (mounted under the second-row seats) can deliver up to 12 miles of electric-only operation.

In Hybrid Mode, the 134-horsepower 1.5-liter three-cylinder front-mounted gasoline engine and rear-mounted electric motor work together (for a combined 221 horsepower) to provide 65 MPGe and a driving range of up to 270 miles.

Save Battery Mode is recommended for longer excursions. It allows for electric-only operation when you reach your destination. In this mode, the gasoline engine propels the vehicle and provides power to charge the 7.6 kWh Lithium Ion high-voltage battery pack to keep it at 90% charge.

Thanks to its gasoline engine, the Countryman PHEV can be driven long distances without having to charge the battery. But depending on your driving habits, you may need to make frequent fuel stops as its fuel tank capacity is just 9.5 gallons.

If you are interested in electric-only operation, fully recharging the Countryman PHEV’s high-voltage battery takes about 3.25 hours at 240-volts, or about 6.5 hours at 120-volts.

For urban driving, or commutes within 12 miles, electric-only operation lets you enjoy the Countryman PHEV without burning any fuel.

I did experience all three driving modes and realized the benefit for each. In Hybrid Mode, I found most of the engine on/off transitions to be smooth. There were a few times when they became a bit more noticeable, but not objectionable.

It is worth mentioning that the Countryman PHEV packs a surprising punch when accelerating hard. It can go from 0-60 mph in just 6.8 seconds. That is faster than all of its non-hybrid Countryman counterparts, except for the John Cooper Works model, which is rated at 6.2 seconds.

Weighing in at 3,948 lbs., 400 lbs. heavier than its non-hybrid counterpart, the Countryman PHEV takes a little longer to stop. Its suspension is tuned on the firm side. Under most conditions the ride is nice, but it can be bumpy when dealing with poorly paved rounds.

All Mini models feature unique exterior and interior styling that is sure to arouse your emotions. The Countryman provides seating for five, but nicely accommodates four adults.

However, due to its high-voltage battery pack and rear-mounted electric motor, the Countryman PHEV offers 1.2-inches less rear headroom and its cargo area is 0.4 cu. ft. smaller.

Other things worth noting include front seats that may be a bit snug for some and rear seats that are somewhat firm. Still, neither concern feels bad enough to be a deal breaker.

Overall, I am impressed with the Countryman PHEV for its versatility, fuel-efficiency, advanced technologies, pleasing performance and unique personality.

This auto review was researched and written by SteinPro Content Services and provided to the Sun-Times for publication

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