New MINI Countryman Cooper S plug-in hybrid 2022 review
In sporty Cooper S guise, can the latest plug-in hybrid MINI Countryman offer frugality and fun?
While the MINI Countryman may be showing its age in some areas, it will continue to appeal to buyers looking for a stylish, practical and fun-to-drive small SUV. This plug-in hybrid variant undercuts rivals – not least the BMW X1 xDrive25e with which it shares much of its tech – boasting a usable electric range, low company car tax rates and a typically MINI list of customisation options. Just be sure you can live with the typically MINI levels of ride comfort, too.
The second generation of MINI’s popular Countryman compact SUV first launched in 2017 and was promptly facelifted three years later. We drove the updated and all-important PHEV model on European roads a little while back, but aside from the fire-breathing JCW, UK-spec Cooper S E models hadn’t been available – until now.
Using the same 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine and electric motor as before, it’s this tax-busting plug-in hybrid that forms the focus of our first drive on British roads. The changes are largely aesthetic, but the Countryman remains an interesting proposition; low running costs, decent practicality and a sense of style sometimes missing in this part of the market.
As is now the case across the MINI range, every version of the Countryman – including the plug-in – gets the brand’s Union Flag tail-lights, alongside a set of redesigned bumpers and some trim changes. LED headlights are now standard, and there are new paint and wheel choices, too.
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Inside, the old analogue dials have been replaced by a simple-but-effective digital panel first seen in the MINI Electric; not the most configurable, it shows all the key information exactly where you want it. Most frustratingly, the instrument cluster moves with the steering wheel – while that might work for some, others will need to adjust their seat to get a good view.
The infotainment system is still housed within a large round binnacle in the middle of the dash – operated either via touch, or using the familiar wheel on the centre console. The graphics are starting to show their age a little and it doesn’t offer the breadth of functionality you might find in one of the MINI’s more modern rivals, but it’s so simple to operate. That counts for a lot when you need to change the radio station or input something into the sat-nav on the move.
Inside, MINI now offers a greater choice of colours and upholstery, with the Cooper S E featuring swathes of piano black trim as standard. The only noticeable sign that this is the plug-in hybrid model comes courtesy of the big acid-green starter button. Push it and while you’re greeted by various illuminations, the car remains silent. Even selecting D doesn’t disrupt the serenity.
MINI claims around 30 miles of electric running on this version – achievable in two and a half hours by plugging the car into a 3.7kW home wallbox. MINI provides two charge cables with all Cooper S E Hybrids; even topping up the Countryman’s relatively small 8.8kWh battery via a three-pin plug takes less than four hours.
Our car’s trip computer was showing 28 miles at 92 per cent state-of-charge, suggesting MINI’s numbers are achievable. Our drive confirmed this – with a light right foot and a mainly urban commute, you could feasibly go about your daily duties and not use a drop of fuel.
Lean on the throttle pedal or venture further afield and the Countryman feels much like any other MINI to drive; responsive to your every input and quick off the mark. After that initial hit – helped by the eBoost electric motor – it perhaps doesn’t feel quite as quick as its performance figures suggest.
But while the Cooper S E is outgunned by the latest EVs in a straight line, it more than makes up for it in the corners. The steering is light, but body roll is almost undetectable – especially when you consider the tall, upright body and the weight of the battery. The ride is typically MINI in that it’s firm but controlled. Heightened road noise can upset refinement at motorway speeds.
The three-cylinder turbo engine has a pleasing thrum to it, and the constant switch between petrol and electric is smooth. The six-speed automatic gearbox isn’t as slick as the latest double-clutch units, admittedly, but it rarely feels slow or ponderous even during more spirited driving. That said, it’s a shame MINI doesn’t offer steering wheel paddles for that extra layer of driver interaction.
Space inside the Countryman is unchanged since MINI updated the car recently; the hybrid’s boot is 45 litres smaller than the petrol model’s, at 405 litres, but there’s storage under the floor to keep the charge cables. Passenger space inside is unchanged over the standard car though, so like the regular Countryman, it’s large enough and far from cramped, but there are larger options in this class.
Prices for the non-hybrid MINI Countryman start from £25,305, or £37,300 for our Cooper S E ALL4 model in Sport trim, which features LED lights, an 8.8-inch screen with sat-nav and DAB radio, as well as bigger wheels and black exterior trim.
But of course, list price is only part of the equation and a big part of the Cooper S E’s appeal will be for company car drivers looking to lower their annual tax bill. While not on par with the latest EVs, plug-in hybrids like the MINI can offer substantial savings to those looking to switch from conventional petrol or diesel models. A 13 per cent BiK rating is competitive, if nothing else.
|Model:||MINI Countryman Cooper S E ALL4 Sport|
|Engine:||1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol, 1x e-motor|
|Transmission:||Six-speed automatic, four-wheel drive|