New MINI Countryman PHEV 2020 review
The MINI Countryman PHEV gets a mild facelift and an interior tech boost
You tend to want a MINI because it’s a MINI, but the Countryman still allows those who want everything a MINI offers, but in a larger, more family-friendly package. The plug-in hybrid will make sense to many looking to reduce running costs or company car tax, while still looking to have some fun behind the wheel in a car that is as premium as this size car will get.
While most car makers are just about getting around to adding plug-in hybrids to their ranges, MINI has been something of a trailblazer. Its Countryman PHEV has been around for three years now and, like the rest of the Countryman range, has just received a facelift.
And that’s exactly what it is – customers had complained that the older model’s ‘handlebar moustache’ grille made the car look a bit sad, so this nip and tuck has made the new Countryman a bit happier.
In reality, we struggled to see any real change in the car’s mood in spite of the grille being flattened off along the bottom, the headlights being tweaked so that they feature LED (with optional matrix beams) and the bumper being reprofiled with repositioned lights and air intakes. If anything, it all looks a tiny bit more sophisticated than before.
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At the back, it’s a similar story, although the rear lights (LED again) now feature the MINI trademark Union Flag-style rear lights, while the rear bumper has also been reprofiled.
Of course, there are new colours and wheels to get excited about outside, too, but inside the biggest change is the adoption of a rather neat 5.5-inch digital display in place of a traditional driver display – the same screen was first seen in the MINI.
It’s a sexy-looking thing with a smartphone-style slim bezel and easy-to-read graphics that sits on top of the steering column so moves as you adjust the steering wheel.
The central infotainment screen is still 8.8-inches across and constrained by the circular binnacle it has to sit in – the screen itself looks rather small, as are the graphics displayed on it. MINI has tidied things up, though, by reducing the number of buttons and adding in fast keys that can be programmed for navigation destinations, audio channels or other most-used functions.
Quality inside the Countryman remains impressive – as you’d expect for a car that demands a premium price for its size. And space inside the Countryman is good – there’s plenty of headroom and it’s comfortable and easy enough for adults to sit in the back, or to fit a child in a child seat. The boot uses its depth for space, offering 450-litres, reduced to 405 in the plug-in hybrid.
As with other MINIs, you do feel like you sit low with the upright door panels and dashboard surrounding you. It can feel a bit dark in there, too, although the latest clever lighting tech adds a nice splash of colour at nice.
Then there’s the usual array of toggle switches, including the largest and greenest of the lot – to actually start the car.
The driving experience has been left well alone – we did say this was just a facelift – so the existing range of engines is carried over, while the plug-in hybrid system retains its blend of 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor for a combined power output of 217bhp.
The 10kWh battery gives an electric-only range of around 30 miles, which is replenished under braking – and there’s no awkward feel to the brake pedal.
As you’d expect, there’s a choice of Sport, Mid or Green modes to choose from, but leave the car to its own devices and it does a good job of mixing power sources depending on your driving – and being pretty efficient, while doing so.
The 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds looks better on paper, though – in reality there’s a slight hesitation as the car realises you want to get a move on; it feels a little like turbo lag. But on the move the switch between EV and petrol power is pretty seamless, helped by the excellent six-speed auto box.
The ride, as with most MINIs, is on the firmer side of comfortable, while there’s a fair bit of wind noise at a constant speed. But throw the Countryman at a few bends and it hides its weight and height well and is as true to MINI’s ‘go-kart handling’ ethos as the car’s bulk will allow.
With a starting price of close to £33,000, the Countryman PHEV looks all the more attractive when compared with its peers. However, that’s only the beginning for a Classic spec car. Another couple of thousand will get you into Sport or Exclusive models, but then comes the temptation (and cost) of the MINI’s personalisation, packages and options list.
|Model:||MINI Countryman Plug-in Hybrid Classic|
|Engine:||1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol plus 10kWh battery|
|Transmission:||Six-speed automatic, four-wheel drive|