By Nauman Farooq
This week, we are looking at two MINI models, both based on the Cooper Countryman. On one hand, we have the base spec model, and on the other, the most expensive version of the Countryman currently on sale. Both vehicles are built on the same platform, have similar exterior and interior styling and features, and both have the same combustion engine under the hood. However, only one of these has an electric motor that can propel the vehicle, and that is the Countryman S E ALL4 – which is a plug-in hybrid.
A hybrid of any sort, is suppose to be the most efficient model of any vehicle – so is it worth spending the extra money to buy a hybrid, or would you be better off to buy the base model? That is what we will look to answer – so keep reading!
Styling: Both the Countryman models look about the same, only difference is the different grill and bumper at the front, and some different badges between the two. Look a little harder, and you’ll spot that the Countryman S E has a front fender vent that opens, behind it is where you plug it in to charge the vehicle. In short, you won’t be buying one over the other, based on styling alone.
Interior: It’s the same story, when you climb inside. Both interiors look and feel the same, and it is only when you start playing with the infotainment system, that you’ll find that the S E model has some different menu items over the base ALL4 model. Otherwise, both vehicles offer the same amount of comfort – something the Countryman is very good at. Despite one being a plug-in hybrid, the main cargo area is the same in both models, which means, on practicality, they are the same, too.
That is possible, because the clever engineers at MINI, have placed the batteries and the electric drive motor under the floor, so it doesn’t rob you of interior space.
Powertarin: This is an area where there are some differences, even though they also share quite a bit. Both the base Countryman ALL4 and the S E models, are propelled by the same turbocharged 1.5L three-cylinder motor, which produces 134 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque.
But, the plug-in hybrid S E model, has an electric motor which powers the rear wheels, and it produces an extra 87 hp and 122 lb-ft of torque. That gives the S E model a combined systems output of 221 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque – that is a lot more than the standard car. Hence the S E can sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in just 6.8 seconds, the base ALL4 model takes 9.8 seconds to get to 100 km/h. However, for some reason, the S E is a little slower at the top end, with its top speed listed at 193 km/h, versus 197 km/h for the ALL4 – regardless, both are fast enough to have your car impounded and separate you from your driver’s license for a week – so don’t try the top speed run on Canadian roads.
Driving Dynamics: The base ALL4 and the S E do have a different drive feel, mainly because one is a lot heavier than the other. The base ALL4 with the eight-speed automatic weighs in at 1,524 kg (if you choose the six-speed manual version, you save 27 kg).
The S E model only comes with an automatic, and it is the old six-speed gearbox, and despite having a smaller fuel tank (36 litres for S E vs. 61 litres for the regular version), it still tips the scales at a hefty 1,791 kg. That weight does give the vehicle a more planted, secure feel, especially on the highway. But, as you’d expect, the extra weight of the S E makes it less nimble on twisty back roads, but thanks to a good steering system, and a well sorted chassis and suspension set up, all MINI’s handle better than their competitors. In short, both models were nice to drive, with the S E being slightly better, thanks to extra performance.
Fuel Economy: That is the big one for this test, because most people are attracted to any sort of hybrid vehicle to save on fuel. So, during my test week, the base Countryman ALL4 averaged 9.6 L/100km, whereas the S E plug-in hybrid averaged 8.8 L/100km. That is not a lot of difference, certainly not enough to justify the price difference – we’ll get to that in a minute. The reason there was so little difference between the two vehicles, was mainly down to two factors. First, the S E only realistically has a 20 km range on a full charge, which is not a lot (the best I achieved was 13 km during my time with it). Then, when the temperatures dip below 0 celsius, the S E could not be driven on electric drive alone, and since this test took place in winter, I got very little electric mobility.
So, unless you have a really small daily drive loop, or your live in an area where there are H.O.V. Lanes -which a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle can use, even when its just the driver in the car- the MINI Countryman S E doesn’t make a lot of sense!
Pricing: It certainly doesn’t make a lot of sense when you look at the pricing difference. The base Countryman ALL4 with the automatic transmission will set you back $30,790. The Countryman S E pricing starts from $43,490.
Yes, the S E, being a plug-in hybrid, does get a rebate from the government, which in Ontario is roughly $8,000 on this MINI, but that money is sent to you afterwards, so you have to pay taxes on the original amount, and you’ll eventually get a cheque in the mail.
Verdict: I like the MINI Countryman, all versions I’ve ever driven of this model, I have enjoyed. While it is good to see MINI offer a plug-in hybrid version of the Countryman, I wish it had a better electric drive range, and also wish it would work in our winter weather. Keeping all things in mind, if it was my money, I’d much rather own the Countryman ALL4 with the base drivetrain.