The original MINI was a small economy car produced by the British in response to the fuel rationing in the UK caused by the 1956 Suez Crisis. It was intended to be gas and space efficient, which lead to the ingenious decision to mount a four cylinder engine transversely and employ front-drive. The Mark I MINI was launched in 1959 and though sales were slow at launch, it gathered momentum and by the 1960s, hit over one million cars made. Fast forward to fifty nine years later, the landmark 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 (henceforth to be known as the ‘MINI’) attempts to expand on the original’s purpose, yet offer a spacious ride but with a modern twist.
Equipped with a three-cylinder 1.5L turbocharged engine rated for 134 horsepower at 4,400 RPM but punching out 162 lb-ft. of torque at a very bassy 1,250 RPM, this engine partners with an electric engine powering the rear wheels to further enhance its output. The BMW supplied eDrive electric engine is rated for 87 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 122 lb-ft. of torque, but right off idle like all electric motors. Combined petrol and electric power output is rated at 221 horsepower with 284 lb-ft. of torque. This appears to be very impressive until you note that this vehicle weighs in at just under 3,950 pounds. For reference, the MINI John Cooper Works (reviewed here) rolls in at a mere 2,885 lbs. With the rear mounted electric motor and batteries, weight distribution is 53/47 (front/rear).
Everything about this Countryman is essentially aiming to be bigger than its standard counterpart. It is over ten percent longer and taller than the three-door MINI and just over five percent taller. This may not seem like much on paper, but park next to its cousin and you’ll realize the “MINI” name might not be so fitting after all. However, with this growth enhanced version comes all the perks that the Countryman lineage aims to deliver: large cargo space and considerably more rear passenger room. Popping open the rear hatch reveals 450L of trunk space which can almost triple to 1,275L by simply folding down the rear seats. I managed to seat a 6’4 passenger in the rear somewhat comfortably and the only real gripe was that his hair was scraping the sunroof.
Interior wise, this MINI is posh and nice, thanks to the strategic use of high-end appearance materials with a retro-style approach. This is what the core of the MINI brand has now evolved into, and it plays well with the color adjustable mood lighting that softly lights up the door cards. The lineage of the large center-mounted dial continues with this car, albeit instead of a classic speedo or tachometer, a third of it houses a LCD infotainment touchscreen. I was slightly disappointed that the entire dial was not a large touchscreen but given how large of a screen it would have been, it would have likely been cost prohibitive. Beneath this setup is a large, luminescent yellow toggle switch that turns the vehicle on or off. This is as simple of a center console as it gets and it is very appreciated.
The leather seats are firm and supportive but on long trips, I found myself having to reposition once in a while to stay comfortable. Window controls are within easy reach and have both auto up and down functions. Side view mirrors are noticeably large, which lend for excellent visibility. Further analysis reveals that this is likely in response to the rather large blind spot over your shoulder thanks to the B-pillar which is thin at the top but gets considerably wider at the bottom. A host of proximity sensors surrounding the vehicle coupled with a rear view camera means that parking the vehicle in a tight spot will be a symphony of beeps but otherwise helpful.
In a move not employed by many other manufacturers, MINI has attached the speedometer and “power” gauge (replacing the tachometer in non-electric vehicles) to the steering column itself. This means that when you tilt and telescope the wheel, these gauges follow along, minimizing the odds of the wheel blocking your view. The steering wheel feels adequate and falls comfortably in hand. The aforementioned power gauge is a well designed dial that shows you three key pieces of information in a quick glance: available battery power, gas engine power output and ‘E-Boost’.
This MINI sends power to all four wheels through the ALL4 all-wheel-drive system. In this hybrid’s case, the front wheels are powered by the gasoline engine and the rear wheels are powered by the electric motor; all four are computer coordinated. Depending on the situation and the driver’s inputs, the computer for most part seamlessly transitions from rear-drive electric to front-drive gasoline engine power. The ALL4 system puts power down without issue, but when I was caught in the aftermath of a rainstorm, the car’s driving dynamics displayed a Jekyll/Hyde complex.
On a moderate throttle input from a standstill, the rear wheels would push the vehicle but if you change direction, oversteer will jump out, given the instant torque electric motors have. As you continue to apply more throttle, the gasoline engine kicks in and now the fronts will pull forward nullifying the oversteer and straighten out the vehicle. This taste of both over and understeer in a single turn might scare a few novice drivers into overreacting and requires further experience to truly understand the sensation.
Going back to the original question of the raison d’être for the original MINI: what does this new electrified version do? In my week with it with almost 700 kilometers of combined city and highway driving on it (most of it highway), I managed 6.7 L/100km. MINI officially rates the vehicle at 7.1 Le/100km. As with most hybrids, this math to get the real energy consumption is a little tricky. In MINI’s case, the formula is to convert to electricity consumption into equivalent liters per hundred kilometers hence the ‘Le’ in the units. With a combined maximum range of roughly 460 kilometers, I found the Countryman lacking in terms of overall range, but sufficient for most drivers.
Investigating the specifications sheet yields the reason – the fuel tank is only a paltry 36 liters large and with the electric only range of 19 kilometers, this MINI continues the trend where the tank size is small, but fuel efficiency is quite good. If you live and commute strictly in the city and have access to a 120/240V outlet to charge the vehicle each day, expect overall fuel economy to surpass what our test resulted in.
As tested, the 2018 MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 rang in at a hefty $48,190 before any rebates. As of this article’s writing, in 2017 the Ontario government will offer a $7,730 purchase incentive or the same amount for a three year lease. At $40,460 post rebate, this MINI is right in line with other entry-level premium crossovers. If the combination of space, ride quality and brand mean a lot to you with the hybrid function being a bonus, this MINI will still bring smiles to your face. Just temper the expectations of the extreme handling that the original MINI had and you’ll still find this car as worthy of having in the stable as any other plug-in hybrid.