Our Cars: MINI Countryman PHEV

22 December 2017: Big road test of BIG MINI [Pt.1]

The Details

Current mileage 2154
Claimed economy 134.5mpg
Actual economy 56mpg

A few updates ago we mentioned that a MINI person intimated that the Countryman Cooper S E is as much a ‘sporty’ crossover as it is an ‘eco’ one. (Quotations denote general cynicism about both concepts as applied to cars – especially SUV type ones.)

That’s quite a big claim; I’ve only ever driven one hybrid that was genuinely enjoyable – the BMW i8.* And even that is only fully enjoyable for the brief time that the battery isn’t flat, and is always in the dynamic shadow of the Audi R8.

The rest of them suck. They usually have CVT gearboxes, usually sound terrible, usually feel heavy.

So I’m pleased to announce that this one doesn’t. BIG MINI is, by a mile, the most enjoyable PHEV to drive this side of an i8. Same caveat though – when the battery’s flat it’s pretty poor – heavy, noisy, slow. But assuming the battery is full there’s a nice synergy to the way this drivetrain works. It’s quick and clever, but serves up about the most conventional driving experience you could hope for from one of these.

It doesn’t have a CVT for a start, so there’s no whiney, droning din as the gear cones settle on the most efficient engine speed. It sounds ok too – that’ll be the three-cylinder growl – and although there’s no doubting this is a heavy car, it does feel quick when both engines are working together properly. 

Mini E Cooper S 015

And because it’s a MINI, it steers well. Lots of weight to the steering rack coupled with a nice sharpness to the turn in. The low rolling resistance tyres mean it breaks grip a little earlier than you’d probably like, but given how complicated the drivetrain is (one engine driving the front axle, another the rear), it’s a surprisingly well-balanced car.

Unsurprisingly, though, the ride quality is occasionally poor. MINIs are always set up on the firm side as it is, so add the extra weight of the electric motor and the additional damping firmness required to compensate, and BIG MINI can be a jarring. Could be a lot worse, though, and it’s set up in a manner befitting a car badged Cooper S.

In fact, I’d probably go as far as to say it’s one of the most enjoyable medium crossover things (Qashqai, Ateca etc) to drive – certainly it’s the one that plugs you in most convincingly.

And on that god-awful pun I’ll leave it. Part two shortly. It’s not great news.

*Note: since writing this I've made a video about the Honda NSX, doubling the amount of geniunely enjoyable hybrids I've ever driven. Click here to watch that.

*Other note: I briefly forgot about the Peugeot 3008 when writing the penultimate paragraph, but to mention it would ruin the ending. So I'll say it now - the Peugeot 3008 is the best family crossover to drive. 

« Earlier: Drive modes in different area codes     Later: Big road test of BIG MINI [Pt.2] »

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22 December 2017: Big road test of BIG MINI [Pt.1]
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