Mountain Wheels: Electrified Mini Cooper Countryman shows expansive character
In the golden age of the automobile, the Mini Cooper was a ruthlessly rudimentary British import of appreciable but very austere character – tiny, rally-worthy and strangely wonderful in every way.
The most postmodern Mini of all may have finally arrived, with a mixture of BMW-sourced electronics, a vastly enhanced profile and an unusual mixture of attributes. Not to mention a title that’s longer than the car itself.
I got to cruise around in a 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 — the monicker for the higher-output version company’s two-year-old, newest generation Countryman platform, with all-wheel-drive and an added plug-in hybrid system, with a sticker price of $36,800 ($39,700 with a small group of options added).
Countryman, to start with, is not a lot like those original British Minis or even the first generation of German-made models that appeared in the early 2000s. It is tall and boxy, almost big on the outside — a reversal of the regular magic that made it seem spacious inside but minuscule externally — and the giddy flair that epitomized the brand is somewhat contained.
It’s still not your regular automobile, and with an abundance of chrome flash outside and an interior still centered around ovoid-shaped pedals, banks of Austin Powers toggle switches, the LED readout gas gauge and a multicolored, glowing oracle and information screen in the center dash, the peculiarity is still there.
Countryman’s headroom is probably the biggest change — you can easily get in and out — but Mini still insists on undersized and very rugged sport seats and an especially sporty wheel to remind you of the vehicle’s heritage.
The extra overall size makes it feel a little less playful than in older variations, but this particular model’s mechanical and electrical upgrades do a lot to make it one of the most powerful Minis ever made.
A twin-turbocharged, three-cylinder gasoline engine is in place, good for 134 horsepower on its own, but it’s been combined with an 87-horsepower electric engine, producing a top output of 221 horsepower. Power can also be sent to the rear axle for all-wheel-drive boost and additional wintertime grip.
You can charge up that battery via a gaudy yellow port on the side panel, the size of a hubcap. With an absolutely full boost, the idea is very short, city-focused all-electric travel, as I got only about 12 miles of range before the engine kicked in to supplement the power. All the electronics also make a load of odd noises when the car is parked and recovering from a drive. Operation in full0electric mode is whisper-quiet.
The battery does recharge very quickly, however, and that full boost of combined power is quite astounding — sort of like the BMW i3’s warp-drive mode, set into a larger and more functional, all-weather vehicle.
The taller and wider profile makes it a little less involved on the cornering, one of the car’s best traditional attributes, and suspension tuning makes the Countryman a little terse when cruising over broken pavement or speed bumps. It’s still fun, however, and all that added power will have you flying past folks who’d otherwise ignore your presence.
Officially, the mixture gives you 65 MPGe or about 27 standard MPG, so a hypermiler it is not. But it’s also not your traditional Mini, with added road clearance and even a silly feature on the magic screen which measures the amount of time you spent traveling off-road on your AWD adventures. Modest capability is there, for sure, but watch out for that sport tuning.
On the outside, the visual and stylistic connections to classic Mini products are starting to become less and less distinct, with nearly cubic-shaped headlamps and fist-sized foglamps, extremely pronounced aerodynamic lower bumper treatments and unbelievably huge, London cab-styled brakelamps in the back.
The Countryman earned an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating in 2017, when equipped with the car’s optional front crash prevention system.
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