cars

Countryman hybrid is not about the fuel savings

Scott Sturgis, Auto Columnist

Updated: Thursday, March 8, 2018, 10:06 AM

The 2018 Mini Countryman ALL4 Plug-In Hybrid has the unmistakably bug-eyed Mini look but in a somewhat larger package.

2018 Mini Cooper SE Countryman ALL4: When the weather outside is frightful …

Price: $41,000 as tested. ($36,800 for the trim level, plus $500 for silver paint, $1,000 for panoramic sunroof, $750 for heads-up display, and $300 for Sirius XM. More options outlined below.)

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “neatly packaged hybrid bits; vastly improved interior versus the previous Countryman’s; quick” but not “only 12 miles of electric range; wonky brake-pedal feel, not as dynamically rewarding as other Minis.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Introducing the biggest, most adventurous Mini yet.”

Reality: … let’s test something delightful.

Awakening: Occasionally, it comes to all of us — that feeling that we’re sleepwalking through life. Nothing excites us.

But when you’re bored by the new cars delivered to your door every week, well, you feel like an ungrateful jerk. (A Lexus? How boring. Another BMW? If I must.)

If you’re a sleep driver in dire need of a somnambulance, hie thee to a Miniery.

Maxi fun: I needed only to venture out of my neighborhood to start grinning. The Countryman zipped along the country road, winding around the turns, tossing me ever so gently in the seat, and reawakening the butterflies that have gone to sleep since the drag-racing episode in the Dodge Demon last fall.

Without even trying, I found the Countryman going half again as fast as the 40 mph posted speed limit. (“But, Officer, it’s not me; it’s this car!” “The car won’t fit in the cell, Kid.”)

Up to speed: This was no ordinary off-the-rack Countryman — the Countryman SE comes with an electric motor in addition to the gasoline engine. It’s an unusual setup, with a 134-horsepower, three-cylinder turbo mated to an 87-horsepower electric motor. Its 12 miles of range is less a fuel-savings than a way to keep performance up without Mr. Driver’s Seat writing about what a piggy it is.

Obviously, 60 mph came more quickly than I expected – 6.7 seconds, Mini says. That shaves only 0.3 seconds from the time of the standard Countryman S ALL4 but almost three seconds off the standard Countryman ALL4.

Driver’s Seat: The leather-covered seats ($300 for the Cooper S Sport Seats) feel sporty and well-bolstered. But $41K for a car without power seats? That seems a corner not to be cut.

Those seats also came heated — a must during our latest Polar Plunge — but cooling remains unavailable.

On the road: The Countryman knows country roads. Minis are designed for tossing unsuspecting passengers to and fro, and sure enough, members of the Sturgis family were bandied about like passengers on the SS Minnow. (We were careful to stop all our tours before they reached the three-hour mark.)

Snow time: I wouldn’t try those maneuvers in rough weather. The all-wheel-drive performance was adequate, but the Mini was not as surefooted as most other all-wheel drives I’ve put in the snow.

Shifty: Of course, a hybrid and a stick shift remain incompatible, so the SE comes with a six-speed automatic. It’s shiftable, though, and plenty of fun. (An 8-speed auto is an option, but being a Mr. Driver’s Seat of very little brain, I have trouble counting that high.)

The interior of the 2018 Mini Countryman also carries the usual Mini touches, with the center circle screen and toggle switches.

Play some tunes: The Countryman comes with the Mini’s large center dashboard circle with all the infotainment stuff within. It’s easy to read and navigate, using touchscreen or BMW’s dial. (I hope they never stop making this dial, and I wish other carmakers would follow suit.)

Too close: The center circle is surrounded by a nice LED light, and — bonus! — it changes colors as a parking warning (if you pony up the $500 for the parking assist).

Other cool stuff: The Countryman comes with the usual assortment of attractive toggle switches controlling most of the functions, even start/stop.

Friends and stuff: When one thinks “Mini,” one is braced for squeezed legs and ducked heads. The Countryman does better than the standard Mini, but it’s no Volkswagen Passat.

Owners will enjoy 17.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat and 47.6 with the seat folded down.

Tiny tank: Just 225 miles on a tank of gasoline? Thank heavens for those 12 miles of electric power.

Also, the gas gauge is orange and sort of chintzy-looking — a little fuelish, if you will.

Night shift: The headlights provide the right glow for the road, and the cockpit lights add beautiful ambience. Map lights don’t interfere, either.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 29 mpg in an all-out assault on Southeastern Pennsylvania roads. Feed the Mini premium, please.

Where it’s built: Born, Netherlands

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts a 2 out of 5 for reliability for the 2018 model. The Countryman has garnered 2s and 3s in past years.

In the end: It’s not the swiftest idea in the world, adding an electric motor that pretty much has the range of a long extension cord. And the prospects of everything functioning through the last payment are dim. But you’ll have maximum fun skidding into the Mini repair shop.

Scott Sturgis, Auto Columnist

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