The MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 is the MINI brand’s first plug-in hybrid and they have chosen the Countryman crossover to debut this new hybrid technology.

The MINI Countryman is a great option for buyers who need more space and practicality than what the classic MINI hatch can offer, while it also carries all the attributes of a fashionable crossover with rugged styling and an elevated driving position.

The Countryman is already available with a range of petrol and diesel engines but new for 2017 is the Countryman plug-in hybrid.

Though the new car market has shrinked in 2017, hybrid sales are up about 70%. It’s clear that buyers are starting to seek alternatives.

The MINI Countryman range starts at €32,980 while the plug-in hybrid has a list price of a heftier €42,500, though the SEAI and VRT reduction of a combined €7500 for plug-in hybrids brings that down to €35,000.

This is a very high spec model and the big boon is that real savings can be made on running costs. ‘ALL4’, MINI’s four wheel drive system, comes as standard, as does a six speed automatic transmission. Under the skin, a 1.5-litre three cylinder engine combines with a lithium ion battery and electric motor to produce a healthy 224hp, while CO2 emissions of 49g/km mean that motor tax is just €170 per year.

The beauty of the Countryman plug-in hybrid is that you can charge your Countryman like an electric vehicle from a domestic mains supply or a public charge point for a full charge in 2 to 3 hours. You can drive the car on electric power only for a range of up to 42km. If the battery can be topped up after each journey and you do a short commute or a lot of low speed urban driving then this car has the potential to be very cheap to run. On longer runs and when the battery power runs out, the car becomes less efficient.

On the road, the Countryman plug-in hybrid loses none of the fun-to-drive quality of its siblings. It just does it all in near silence. The transmission is super smooth and any switches between engine and electric power are done seamlessly without any disruption to the driving. The lightening quick responses of the steering and resistance to body roll in the corners make the Countryman a fantastic crossover to drive, and there is no shortage of power or in-gear punch with the ‘eboost’ from the electric motor giving the Countryman a 0 to 100kmh time of 6.8 seconds! The car is comfortable for the most part, though the optional 18” wheels on my test car did contribute to more road noise in the cabin at high speed.

Visually, the plug-in hybrid is distinguished from the rest of the Countryman range by some ‘E’ badging, and the Cooper S badge, typically red, is now yellow to denote the electric power. The interior carries a classic MINI design with the centrally mounted 6.5” touchscreen being the main focal point of the cabin. There is also an optional, larger 8.8” screen as part of the Media Pack. For convenience this can be operated by touch or via a rotary controller on the centre console.

Other standard equipment includes 17” alloy wheels, silver roof rails, front fog lights, cloth/leather upholstery, front sport seats, sport leather steering wheel with multifunction controls, cruise control, interior lights package, navigation and rear parking sensors.

MINI has managed to package the hybrid tech in the Countryman with minimum disruption to cabin space. The battery is under the rear seat, which has just been slightly raised to accommodate it, but headroom has not been compromised too much. The rear bench however would be more comfortable for two rather than three. The boot is a reasonable good size at 405 litres, with a practical shape and low loading sill.

The MINI Countryman is a highly desirable crossover that doesn’t come cheap, but offers considerable value in the compact premium segment. It’s a high quality product with a distinct personality and a refined and exciting drive. The plug-in hybrid comes at the right time to exploit any swing from diesel in the market, with the potential to be a very economical choice indeed.

Model tested: MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4
Price: €42,500 (€35,00 incl. VRT and SEAI reduction)
Engine: 1.5-litre turbo petrol + electric motor
Power: 224hp
Torque: 385Nm
0-100km/h: 6.8 seconds
Top speed: 198km/h
Claimed Economy: 2.1/100km
CO2 emissions: 49g/km
Motor tax: €170 per year

Caroline Kidd