Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: May 5, 2022
The Countryman has always been a popular choice not only for its spacious interior, premium amenities, and endless customization options, but for its charming looks and athletic handling. But many forget that it’s also available as a plug-in hybrid (PHEV). Not that you can blame them - a measly 29 km of electric-only range is nothing to write home about.
The Countryman PHEV is underpinned by a 1.5-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder combustion engine that powers the front axle, while an electric synchronous motor powers the rear, resulting in an all-wheel drive setup. Total output is a combined 220 hp and 284 lb-ft, and it runs that through a 6-speed automatic transmission instead of the standard 8-speed unit. A 9.6 kWh lithium-ion battery runs the show, and allows an electric-only range for around 29 kms, and a combined range of 479 km.
Whether or not 29 km is enough varies between individuals but fact of the matter is, this electrified MINI is sorely lacking against PHEV rivals like the Kia Niro PHEV and Toyota RAV4 Prime. Granted, we were only able to squeeze 26 kms out of a full battery charge, and that was all stop-and-go city driving that heavily utilized brake regeneration. Putting on the heated seats and wheel will subtract that number even further, as will heating the cabin on a frigid morning. Hardly competitive if you ask us, but judging by the trend of its parent company, BMW, and their new batteries underpinning the i4 and iX that allow for over 400 kms of range, I’d say the future is bright. We just might have to wait a bit longer for the MINI platforms to suit those new battery packs.
MINI offers a fully electrified Cooper SE variant with 183 km of range, but for those who require the interior space of the Countryman, this PHEV is all you get for now. But it’s still a hoot to drive, and should offer those patient individuals a taste of what it’s like to live with emission-free driving and the conveniences and hassles of charging. At least they won’t have range anxiety.
When the engine is sound asleep and the Countryman is powered only by electrons, acceleration is slow and apathetic - it was really meant to be driven in tandem with the engine, tagging in and out to provide optimal performance and efficiency. But when it does fire up, the three-cylinder is raspy, rough, and less polished than its four-cylinder counterpart. Sounds like an angry bee’s nest when you have the throttle pinned to the floor, though it’s not nearly as harsh as the Lexus UX hybrid with its CVT, and we praise MINI for keeping with an automatic torque converter. Speaking of which, the 6-speed is smooth and quiet, shifting behind the scenes without any fuss. There are no paddle shifters available but you can still take charge by slotting the gear shifter into the S gate to the left - we did not find much use for it, though.
When both powertrains are in the ring, the Countryman SE feels spritely off the line but it lacks top end thrust. The middle of the powerband is flat and uninspiring as well. The SE will hit 0-100 km/h in 6.8 seconds, a significant four-tenths faster than the S, but it still feels somewhat sluggish. We’re not sure why, as the transitions between combustion and electricity are seamless. Maybe it’s the gear ratios, but we just don’t feel as connected to the machine. The steering isn’t as direct and we miss the darty, athletic appetite of the regular MINI Cooper 3-Door. Such is the sacrifice of the blue pill formula.
And while it drives with enthusiasm around corners, the heavy batteries offset the performance gains, though we don’t think most owners will mind or care. Those itching for speed will be looking for the JCW anyways rather than a slim sampling of MINI’s electrified future. That or more spirited rivals like the BMW X2 or GLA 35 AMG.
The Countryman’s diminutive footprint gives it an advantage, and makes it easy navigating around tight parking spaces and urban city centers. It’s also very fuel efficient - over a 400 km round trip from Toronto to Buffalo, we averaged an impressive 7.3 L/100km, and we were sure to make use of the cheaper American gas prices as well. Unlike some premium hybrids like the Lexus NX 350h, the MINI requires 91-octane premium fuel, which might even nullify the electric advantage entirely.
The interior of the Countryman SE is the same as non-hybrid models except for the slightly smaller trunk (40L less). That’s due to the storage of the battery and motor near the rear axle. It’s still decently sized, enough to fit two carry-on suitcases with ease. And there’s really no other compact vehicle that does a cabin quite like MINI. It’s all about the centerpieces, from the comically thick steering wheel to the digital instrument cluster that moves with the steering column. We miss some of that nostalgic character that the analog example brought with it, and we also yearn for that old, massive, and round speedometer mounted in the middle from classic MINIs as well, but with the BMW and Rolls-Royce overlords ditching everything for digital real estate, it was only a matter of time.
The Countryman sits at the perfect height for most people to find ingress and egress effortless. You won’t have to bend down to crawl into the cabin like you would a MINI Cooper, but you won’t have to climb up like you would a BMW X5. Interior space is its strong suit, with a vast array of storage cubbies and pockets for small items. Though my knees do slightly grace the front seatback (which has a dedicated alcove that creates some extra room for the knees), headroom and space to wiggle around are quite impressive for the Countryman’s small stature. The rear seats have the ability to slide fore and aft, and are foldable too, allowing you to pull the seats flat for extra cargo space.
The plug-in hybrid variant of the MINI Countryman does little to convince buyers that the brand has a strong electrified future, but it’s a solid first effort for MINI’s largest offering, as it retains the fun-to-drive theatrics that the brand is known for, and the charm and customization that follows. It’s nothing groundbreaking, and somewhat disappointing as most of the segment is advancing at a much quicker pace, but we’re confident this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Model: 2022 MINI Cooper SE Countryman
Paint Type: British Racing Green
Base Price: $44,990
Price as Tested: $55,180
Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder with hybrid system
Horsepower: 220 hp
Torque: 284 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 7.4
Observed Electric-only Range: 29 km