Introduction to MINI
Almost everyone has a story about a MINI. Our resident petrolhead once owned an R53 MINI Cooper S that looked all 'cute', featuring Electric Blue paint with a contrasting white roof and textbook bonnet stripes. It even offered a seemingly low power output of 163bhp, but that car put more smiles on faces than when students find out their loan has been paid into their bank account.
And that has been the case of every MINI model for the last 60 years. They just have a knack of putting a smile on people's faces for a number of reasons. Once you experience the iconic go-kart like handing, interior detailing and all the other fun characteristics that go with it, you never really forget; whether it be a modern or classic example.
Although the Countryman does not usually register on a petrolhead's radar, when Stratstone MINI Derby offered us a week long test of the new MINI Countryman Plug-In Hybrid, we were somewhat intrigued, and gladly accepted the loan car to review. Who knows, maybe this particular plug-in hybrid could surprise us, and if a petrolhead is ever in need of more space, or a 'Dad Wagon', then we'd better make sure it is good.
Can this funky 'family car' really impress someone who is used to performance cars? Would it suit other consumers? If like us you are intrigued, keep reading.
There is no mistaking the Countryman as a product of the MINI range. The MINI DNA is there for all to see, despite it being the largest MINI ever to go on sale. This particular test car featured a considerably high specification too, including the range-topping 'Exclusive' trim. Finished in 'Thunder Grey Metallic', and sitting on 18-inch alloy wheels it looks sharper and smarter than a regular Countryman, but then that is the point. It is also a Cooper S - the hot one!
With an RRP of £36,125, it is strong SUV money, but on the face of it, and in conclusion to our first impressions, you certainly get what you pay for. There is also a subtle, yet funky approach to letting people know it is the plug-in hybrid version too, with gloss black electric charging cap complete with yellow detailing, and the logo on the rear of the car too.
This quality and price made even more sense when getting comfortable in the driving seat, which was ridiculously easy thanks to the premium feel the 'Lounge Leather' gives. And then there is the chrome toggle switches and overall solid build quality. It does ensure the interior feels ultra-refined and of high quality. The Union Jack details are a nice touch too, with the detailing appearing on the head restraints and seat labels for added patriotism.
Is it fast and fun to drive?
Speed may not be one of the most important factors on a car like this, but we can all appreciate a car that is not a chore to get up to speed. From a standstill, the MINI Cooper S Countryman Plug-in Hybrid can hit 62mph in just 6.8 seconds. This makes this family SUV as quick as some hot hatchbacks.
It also handles like a MINI should too, mirroring its hatchback siblings. It genuinely made us laugh on a daily basis - in a good way. For a high riding SUV its 'chuck-ability' was impressive, and it stuck to the road very well. Of course, it was never going to rival a hot hatch or sports car for drama and fun, but it really did impress us on just how good it was to drive. Letting go of the stigma that family cars tend to be boring.
What about comfort?
The Countryman sits on 18-inch alloy wheels, wrapped in Bridgestone tyres. No idea how MINI and Bridgestone have accomplished almost no road noise, but they have. We even ended up changing the radio station whilst commuting, tuning in to the sweet sounds of Smooth... relaxing being the generic setting for the MINI.
It was genuinely impressive, and with electric power being used, obviously the lack of engine noise at times is strange at first, but also soothingly silent.
Is the stereo any good?
The standard stereo is excellent. Plenty of base and volume on offer. Usually, the upgraded stereo options are much better, but hats off to MINI, we never thought we needed more volume or better sound quality with the standard system. The upgraded option must be epic!
Is it practical?
Front and rear space is really good, and adults can get comfortable in the front and back with ease. Boot space is good too, and can cope with the weekly food shop with ease. The rear seats also fold so you can create a makeshift van if needed.
Is fuel consumption good and how simple is the charging process?
We put £45 worth of petrol in the car over the week we had it, and charging took just 3 hours from a normal plug socket - so no need for a fancy charge point having to be installed at your home.
Looking at the trip computer when when we gave it back with 20 miles or so of range, we had done just under 400 miles - after picking the car up on 41 miles. We used the car for commuting duties, where it was possible to complete a journey on full electric range, one way.
The beauty of the hybrid is that if you let the car decide if it wants to use electric or petrol, it seems to sip the fuel and electricity. For example, a typical commute consisted of a 45 mile round trip, yet when the car used fuel and electricity, the range only seemed to go down between 10 and 15 miles each way. Full electric range was approximately 19 miles, which seems low, but when teamed with fuel it works very well reducing overall consumption usage. The hybrid system works perfectly using both sources to get the best outcome. Impressive.
Any good quirks?
Of course, being a MINI it has some cool quirks. As well as the amusing hybrid power which makes the Countryman feel like a rapid golf cart, nice touches like MINI logo puddle lights ensure the quirk factor comes as standard.
Then there is the mood lighting. You can custom the interior's ambiance to suit your mood. Blue was our preference, but if you want to change it to red, giving it a boudoir sense, you can...
In all seriousness, the car is full of character and is a great answer to being a perfect, relaxing daily driver.
Should you buy one?
If you are looking for a comfortable, quirky, efficient, relaxing, fun to drive family SUV, then we would recommend looking at the MINI Countryman Plug-in Hybrid. It certainly impressed us and we never lusted after more power like we thought we would. Of course, a serious petrolhead may miss the sound of a characteristic engine note, but as we get older, the inevitable quest for a quieter and more peaceful drive will come at me at some point, and will appeal to many already, depending on driving style and preference.
The only real drawback for some could be the price. At over £35,000, is may be out of reach, but on a more positive note, there are some tempting finance packages available, which make the prospect more accessible.
One thing is for sure, we are no longer worried about the future of motoring and others in a similar state of mind should not either. Of course, a car enthusiast will always prefer internal combustion, but if this is where MINI are now, the future will be even more impressive.
Exciting times ahead. If we had to give the MINI a score out of 10, we think the Countryman deserves a solid 8. If our resident petrolhead was in the the market for this car, he would certainly look at some JCW styling enhancements. It would be rude not too for a petrolhead!
Contact your local Stratstone MINI retailer today, to try the MINI Countryman Plug-in Hybrid for yourself!