Having tackled hybrids many years ago (do you still recall the ActiveHybrid label?), BMW now devotes much of its attention to plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. But a lot of water had to pass under the bridge before the Mini received its very first car equipped with a "cable."

TEXT BY DUŠAN LUKIČ PHOTOGRAPHY BY DUŠAN LUKIČ, MINI

They had their eyes set on the new Countryman. Why? Because it shares its platform with the 2 Series Active Tourer, which is already available as a plug-in hybrid. Mini combined its propulsion technology with a new battery and Countryman's bodywork, to give birth to one of the most attractive plug-in hybrids currently available.

More powerfull than standard Mini

The hybrid system is comprised of a 1.5 l turbocharged three-cylinder engine with a 136 hp output and an 88 hp electric motor, which provide sufficient power for a daily (even more dynamic) commute. With a healthy total output of 224 hp, this Countryman deserves to be labeled with the letter S that is used to indicate a more powerful engine, compared to their standard Mini renditions.

Like the BMW 225xe, the Countryman S E employs a four-wheel drive when in hybrid mode, while relying solely on a rear-wheel drive when going fully electric. Considering the Countryman's mild SUV design, we couldn't but immediately test its off-road capabilities: Starting off on electricity alone causes the rear wheels to spin briefly (by one quarter of a turn) until the gas engine beautifully engages the front wheels, for better traction. Such a four-wheel drive, however, can't hold a candle to the more powerful classic or fully-electric four-wheel propulsions.

With a capacity of 7.5 kWh, the battery is more powerful than in the BMW, at the expense of a 45 l reduction in trunk space.

Consuming 45 l worth of trunk space (leaving the car with a 405 l cargo capacity), the 7.5 kWh battery offers better performance than BMW's, which is enough for just under 40 km of range (the official estimate is 42), providing you don't speed along at the maximum electric velocity of 125 km/h.

Apart from the silence in the cabin and the sprightly electric performance, the Countryman S E is difficult to set apart from others, once you get behind the steering wheel. The gauges are, unfortunately, classic. Other than the eDrive button that helps you switch between modes (Auto, MAX eDrive for driving on electricity alone, and Save mode, that sustains the battery charge or starts charging when the battery is down to 90%), the hybrid system and the extra hybrid propulsion-regulating controls, the central infotainment screen is practically unaltered.

Mere 3.7 kW charging capacity

The Countryman S E can be charged (in over three hours) via domestic power socket or a wallbox (in over two hours). Owing to the onboard charger, with a mere 3.7 kW charging capacity, public charging stations will replenish your car's battery no faster than at home. That's a shame, especially if we bring to mind the BMW 225 xe's built-in charger, boasting a 7.4 kW charging rate.

In a nutshell, this Countryman is an excellent alternative to the much louder and less powerful diesel variant, especially since it's only a thousand Euros pricier than its diesel version. Subtract the subsidy and it will devour three grand less, at its final price of 34,000 Euros.

Oct. 25, 2017 Driving

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