First Drive: The updated Mini Countryman makes perfect sense as a PHEV
What is it?
These days you have to ignore the fact that Mini is short for miniature because, with the Countryman in particular, there’s nothing mini about the firm’s cars. However, that’s no bad thing, because Mini has grown from its classic image in more ways than one.
It is now a genuinely cool ‘lifestyle brand’, and its target audience want a premium look and feel, usually in SUV form. For Mini, that’s where the Countryman comes in. It’s just been updated, and the new plug-in hybrid powertrain looks mighty appealing with its impressive battery range, particularly if you’re a business buyer, so we got behind the wheel to see what it’s like.
The more appealing plug-in version isn’t the only engine news, with all other engines having been given a lot of work to make sure all of them meet the latest Euro6d emissions guidelines.
Other changes include a redesigned front end, which Mini told us was meant to make it look more purposeful, as well as LED headlights as standard, redesigned LED rear lights, new digital dash display, new leather interior trims and more options in the accessories range.
What’s under the bonnet?
There are various petrol and diesel options, but we’ve been driving the plug-in hybrid. It uses a 1.5-litre petrol engine with an electric motor, which results in all-wheel drive. It has a total output of 217bhp and a top speed of 123mph, while the 6.6-second 0-60mph time shows how it’s decently quick for a big car.
The electric only range is impressive at up to 38 miles, which means that if you keep the battery topped up you can spend most of your time scooting about silently, emitting nothing. However, once the engine does come in, it’s almost imperceptible, only becoming noticeable when you put your foot down and let the revs rise.
What’s it like to drive?
If you’ve driven a Mini before, its typical traits are all present and correct here. The Countryman does feel a little odd, because it’s an SUV but doesn’t feel too big when you’re behind the wheel. This helps to make it less intimidating around town, so coupled with running on electric power you get a pleasant driving experience and practicality.
On a country road it holds up surprisingly well, too. Mini has long made a point of having fun to drive cars, so it’s impressive this continues to apply to the larger Countryman.
How does it look?
Cool styling is one of the most important aspects for Mini buyers, so it’s no surprise to learn that some customers reported that they weren’t keen on the old Countryman’s rather bulbous aesthetic.
This time around, it has been tweaked to have a more focused and purposeful face, with redesigned headlights, grille and bumpers achieving this effect well. It’s still slightly awkward-looking, but the details have been improved, with the tweaked Union Flag taillight design one such subtle update that elevates the overall appearance.
What’s it like inside?
Again, it’s typical Mini fare, which is a big compliment. It looks fantastic with it’s high-quality materials and funky toggle switches. The large central circular section looks great when it really shouldn’t work, which is testament to how well Mini has integrated style and character into the car.
For practicality the hybrid version holds up well, too. Yes, the boot is slightly smaller than the regular models because of the battery pack, but it’s still usefully large at 450 litres (or 1,390 litres with the rear seats down).
What’s the spec like?
The plug-in hybrid variant is available in three trims, called Classic, Sport and Exclusive, with prices starting at £32,980, £35,875 and £36,075 respectively.
Standard equipment on the Classic includes 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, rear lights and foglights, cloth upholstery, sport leather steering wheel, and an 8.8-inch infotainment system with built-in navigation.
Step up to Sport, and you get 18-inch alloy wheels, dinamica and cloth upholstery, anthracite headlining, John Cooper Works sport seats, sport suspension and adaptive cruise control.
Finally, the top-spec Exclusive gets different 18-inch alloys and goes without that sports suspension. It also gets leather upholstery and illuminated piano black interior trim.
If you’re in the market for an economical premium SUV, the Mini Countryman makes a great case for itself. Others in this segment might be a bit more practical, but few have the brand image, style and build quality of the Mini.
The fact it can travel so far on electricity is mighty appealing, too. For the average person, this could essentially be an electric car for the daily commute with a petrol engine as a backup, and for a car in this segment, that’s a big USP.
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