Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: January 3, 2018
The Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 is MINI’s maiden voyage into the foray of electric mobility. This plug-in hybrid houses a frisky 1.5-litre three-cylinder gasoline engine that powers the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, and works in tandem with an electric motor and a 7.6kWh lithium ion battery that powers the rear wheels. In marriage, these two work together to power each axle separately like the BMW i8, and essentially enable this Countryman to be all-wheel drive, which MINI brands as ALL4.
The combined output of this harmonious relationship is 221 hp (134 hp gasoline + 87 hp electric) and an impressive 284 lb-ft of torque (162 lb-ft gasoline + 122 lb-ft electric). 0-100 km/h comes in 6.8 seconds, actually four-tenths of a second quicker than the gasoline Countryman S, though it weighs a whopping 184 kg more than the base Countryman.
That weight is put to good use though, as this plug-in MINI has a range of 19 km on electricity alone, and 420 km using only the combustion motor. These aren’t exactly impressive numbers, especially when you consider the range of a Chevrolet Volt (85 km), Honda Clarity PHEV (76 km), or even the Honda Sonata PHEV (43 km), which begs the question if it is even worth investing money into buying this forward-thinking $43,490 Countryman.
The Countryman S E sacrifices quite a lot to gain this ability, like weight and price, and while it is a welcome convenience to have emission-free driving up to 19 kilometres, this range quickly diminishes depending on how and where you drive. Do a lot of highway driving? Forget about it, the electric range will deplete quicker than you can spell the whole model name. City driving is where it makes the most sense, as the Countryman makes use of regenerative braking to help recharge its electrons. But when the temperatures hit the negative, ie. during most of the Canadian winter, the cold batteries offer even less range. And don’t forget that a fair amount of said energy is spent heating up the cabin as well. On the bright side, a standard 120V socket in my garage only took about five hours to get a full charge.
That being said, even when the battery charge depletes, it still assists the combustion engine in everyday driving, acting as more of a sidekick than a leader, aiding when the three-cylinder engine needs some help in forward motion and seamlessly tags in for that extra shove. The switch back and forth between the two modes of propulsion is smooth and never results in any hiccups or shakes in the chassis, and is as refined as the BMW 330e we drove last year.
We noticed hints of lag in acceleration, especially during rolling stops. The Countryman hesitates to push forward, possibly due to the heavy chassis and spooling turbo, but once it gets going it boots off the line in a fluid but uneventful fashion. A manual transmission would help, but it has been dropped this year for the Countryman, and a 6-speed automatic is all you get (not the quicker 8-speed in the non-electric models) and there are no paddle shifters either. Furthermore, the Countryman S E uses a smaller engine that the gasoline-powered Countryman S, which makes the “S” badge on the plug-in a little misleading.
The Countryman understeers, almost habitually, and has lost most of its corner carving ability from the standard Countryman, and snaps back from said understeer rather harshly. The front nose just doesn’t have enough bite, as a lot of the weight has now shifted to the rear axle because of the battery. When running on electricity alone, the Countryman will actually oversteer and wag its tail out if you add too much throttle on snowy surfaces, though gone is much of the performance and “go-kart” feeling we have come to expect from a MINI.
On the bright side, the regenerative braking system is gentle and unintrusive to daily driving. The brake pedal is not too springy either and definitely one of the better PHEV examples on the market with a gradual yet linear build-up to pedal resistance. There are also three driving modes: Auto eDRIVE, which works out the optimal balance of electricity and combustion based on the current state of charge, acceleration, and speed, Max eDRIVE, which will only use electricity, and SAVE, which will put priority on the combustion engine and save the battery charge for a later time.
The aesthetics and interior comfort of the Countryman are solid. You can read more in-depth about the gasoline-powered Countryman S ALL4 here, but I will point out some unique features of the plug-in. This includes yellow-coloured badges, start button, and ambient lighting, and a dial replacing the tachometer showing how much boost the battery is providing. It will also show how much throttle you can use before the combustion engine tags in, courtesy of the yellow bars running along the left side of the dial.
The rest is standard MINI fare, like the luxurious feeling interior that makes you feel important with toggle switches and a bulky leather steering wheel. The seating height of the Countryman makes ingress and egress a breeze - you feel like you just walk off the car onto a level platform without the need to use your thighs to propel yourself upward. The concave dashboard offers excellent outward visibility as well, like you are sitting in the cockpit of a plane.
A few minor gripes include the lack of blind spot monitoring, the slightly taller back seats due to battery storage, and the slightly hampered cargo space in the trunk. Also whenever the temperatures outside dip below freezing, the systems will not let the Countryman go full electric into Max eDRIVE. This became quite a nuisance. Take for example my ten kilometer drive to the train station in -10 degrees Celsius weather. It was not until fifteen minutes later when I approached my destination did the Countryman decide it was "warm enough" to let me drive on battery alone. This almost defeats the purpose of the Countryman PHEV in the winter months.
Overall, the meager 19 km of range just does not meet my needs, nor will it suffice for most other Canadians unless they have charging infrastructure at every one of their destinations. And in areas such as the Greater Toronto Area, charging stations are rather scarce. Even with government rebates in Ontario, only $7,730 would be docked off the $43,490 MSRP, which still puts it a few grand more than the standard Countryman S. Yet despite its quirky charm and audacious first step into the electric foray, I would still recommend waiting it out until the Countryman gets the full EV treatment. That or a bigger battery.
型号 Model: 2018 MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $43,490 (before $7,730 Ontario government rebate)
試車售價 Price as Tested: $48,440
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,670
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,314 / 1,822 / 1,559
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,791
引擎 Powertrain: 1.5-litre turbo inline-three, 7.6 kWh lithium ion battery, electric motor
最大馬力 Net horsepower: 221 hp @ 4,400 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 284 lb-ft @ 1,250 - 4,300 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 6-speed automatic
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
輪胎尺碼 Tires: 225/50R18