One thing is perfectly clear with the MINI Countryman: this is not an ordinary SUV.
It has bug-eye headlights and way too many embellishments for a traditional ride in New Jersey’s suburbs. But you don’t buy the Countryman for a normal SUV experience, you purchase it to have some fun.
As my colleague Matt DeBord notes, the Countryman arrived in 2011 to offer some extra space in a legacy brand known to be so tiny, it borders on uncomfortable. To be clear, this is still small by big-league SUV standards; a Toyota RAV4 would eat this grey vehicle. But it has a surprising amount of space for a MINI, and it will get the job done for families with no more than two small kids, especially city dwellers.
Size isn’t really the biggest factor when reviewing this Countryman, though. We took this puppy out to get a feel for its hybrid drivetrain. Scroll down to see what we thought:
For comparison, here's the Kia Niro hybrid. I thought this hatchback was pretty small, but it looks like a giant compared to the MINI! The Niro is 171.5, compared to the MINI at 169.8 inches.
Truth be told, the MINI plug-in hybrid is a bit fussy. It has big wheels -- SUVs have no choice -- and a lot of flourishes, like this yellow 'E' symbol on the cover of the charging port.
There's that symbol again, with the two separate company logos! It's a lot in conjunction with the giant red tail lights...
Needless to say, this car is a lot. But one has to respect MINI for committing to the funky aesthetic full-on. This is a love it or leave it look, and I commend that, even if it's not my personal cup of tea.
So here's what you need to know. This is a plug-in hybrid that MINI says gets a combined 65 MPGe. The 7.6-kWh battery gets 87 hp and 122 lb.-ft. of torque, which isn't half bad.
Take the electric motor out of the equation and you're looking at a combined 27 MPG. That's not great considering how easily the battery drains, but a bit more on this later. Altogether, the 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder engine TwinTurbo engine cranks out 134 hp and 162 lb.-ft. of torque.
It has all-wheel drive, which is a great perk for a hybrid, and a six-speed automatic transmission. It starts at $36,800, but extra touches like Parking Assist and Sirius XM radio bumped the final price to $39,700, so this is not a cheap purchase.
The first thing I noticed driving this car was how comfortable and high up I was. I felt like I could survey the entire highway. I've driven a lot of SUVs and this was the most elevated I have felt. Which is funny, considering how small this car is.
The car comes with carbon black leatherette. I would actually recommend this car if you were trying to recover from some kind of back problem. The lumbar support is a dream and I didn't want to stop driving.
For a small car, it has a ton of space. I wouldn't recommend this for families that have more than two small kids, but it's definitely roomy enough for the majority of buyers.
There's also a decent amount of trunk space in the back. You can definitely stack a couple of suitcases and still have room for the charger package, pictured left.
Onto the actual driving experience. The SUV has three driving modes: MAX eDrive, AUTO eDrive, and SAVE battery mode.
You can flip through the three different driving modes using the 'eDrive' switch to the left of the yellow start button, which fires up the whole car.
The thing about hybrids is, like pure electric vehicles, they feel inherently more zippy than classic combustion engines. This is a quick SUV and it's easy to punch it to 60 mph in a tight bind. It's fast and will automatically roll the second you take your foot off the brake.
As you flick from MAX eDrive all the way to SAVE battery, you will feel the inevitable tug of the motor that indicates you are limiting the car's sheer power. MAX eDrive adds a bit more punch on an open highway, but I can't say I felt a major difference between that and AUTO eDrive, which will determine when it's best to rely on gas.
I would also add that it's not worth keeping MAX eDrive on for too long. I tried it out on the Hudson Parkway and my charge, which was hovering above 50%, quickly drop to 10%. That slight power boost is not worth killing the entire battery.
Keeping the MINI cruising on SAVE battery mode isn't a terrible choice, to be honest. I definitely have experienced the frustrating slog of using these modes on vehicles like the Toyota RAV4, but my driving experience with the MINI was smooth and pleasant. It still gets to 60 mph with a solid amount of time to spare without feeling laggy.
Motor Trend puts the Countryman Hybrid's 0-60 mph time at 7.2 seconds, which is fairly quick for an SUV.
All of this is to say that the MINI Countryman hybrid is a fast and easy drive. It's got a lot of power to boot and it simply flies when your foot is on the accelerator.
Driving this car around was a blast and I would love to take it on a longer road trip. Its compact size makes it perfect for a drive through some windy hillsides.
There's a lot going on inside the MINI, but it stays true to form. It still has the classic switches, though they don't look right with such a large infotainment console.
The design doesn't age well with addition of more current features like a heads-up display or bigger touchscreen. Suddenly the car starts to look a bit crowded.
Remember how I said this was the funkiest SUV you can buy? Hopefully, this circular infotainment console helps bolster my claim. It even changes colours...
You can control the infotainment's settings using the touchscreen or this dial behind the gear shift. The undergirding is BMW's iDrive system, which has gotten progressively better since it was introduced. Still, it adds even more buttons to a button-heavy interior.
Nonetheless, the infotainment console involves a learning curve. There's a lot of submenus and it takes a while to make simple changes. Automakers such as Chevy has opted for a simpler scheme. It doesn't yet support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which is a shame.
The navigation is good. It gave solid directions in a timely matter, though the visual representation of the route can be confusing. I actually had it going at the same time as Apple Maps on my phone and found it gave slightly better notice ahead of exits.
I will also say that I liked how the light around the infotainment console changed colours. It serves no function beyond looking cool, but I dug the groovy vibe.
So there you have it, the MINI Cooper S E Countryman All4 plug-in hybrid. (Yes, quite the mouthful.) It's so much fun to drive, but it sure is a very design-oriented car.
For $US39,700, the MINI is definitely a splurge for a small SUV. I'm not sure I could compromise how I feel about the way it looks for that price, but if you're into the MINI aesthetic, it's an awesome drive.
You don't need to rely on MAX eDrive to have a good time in this SUV. You can conserve the battery and still enjoy the zip of a hybrid. I really mean it when I say I had a lot of fun driving the MINI! Its speed combined with its compact size makes this a dream car for a day trip.
Anyone who buys this car is bound to have a lot of fun. The big question for the brand is whether it makes sense to stick with the busy, design-heavy interior or dial things back with future models.
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