Such a bright spark

Nuneaton Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE - By Peter Keenan

www.coven­try­tele­graph.net

WITH the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine al­legedly head­ing for the scrapheap it seems that vir­tu­ally every week a big mo­tor man­u­fac­turer an­nounces plans to build elec­tric or hy­brid cars.

As in­creas­ingly tough emis­sions stan­dards and bad pub­lic­ity for fos­sil fu­els play out with buy­ers, the new buzz­word with mo­tor man­u­fac­tur­ers is ‘‘elec­tri­fi­ca­tion’.’

Volk­swa­gen has just an­nounced it will build elec­tric ver­sions of every model in its range by 2030 while Mercedes’ par­ent Daim­ler has vowed a sim­i­lar move with its own cars by 2022.

Mit­subishi has achieved amaz­ing sales with its Out­lander PHEV plug-in so it’s no sur­prise that BMW-owned MINI is leap­ing on the band­wagon with its first plug-in hy­brid SUV – the im­pres­sive Coun­try­man S E ALL4.

And the new MINI en­sures po­ten­tial buy­ers sit up and take no­tice by mak­ing the elec­tric range use­able in the real world with­out com­pro­mis­ing prac­ti­cal­ity.

For those who want zero-emis­sions mo­tor­ing in the ur­ban jun­gle – and MINI says nine out of 10 of its cus­tomers drive a max­i­mum of 40 miles a day – the Coun­try­man is un­de­ni­ably ap­peal­ing as the ef­fi­cient lithium-ion bat­tery pow­ers the rear wheels.

But don’t think this is sim­ply a city slicker as the ad­di­tion of a re­fined 1.5litre three-cylin­der 87bhp petrol turbo en­gine pro­pel­ling the front wheels gives it a de­cent range and plenty of power for the open road.

It is fun to drive and, while the S badg­ing is slightly mis­lead­ing, there is still hot hatch per­for­mance.

The com­bined power units boast 224bhp which, with the help of a slick six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, sends the Coun­try­man to 62mph from a stand­ing start in a scin­til­lat­ing 6.8 sec­onds.

The han­dling is ex­cel­lent and there are de­cent lev­els of grip al­low­ing corners to be taken with con­fi­dence thanks to the in­tel­li­gent all-wheel drive.

There is a choice of three drive modes – Auto eDrive, Max eDrive and Save Bat­tery.

Auto al­lows purely elec­tric driv­ing up to a speed of 50mph. The petrol en­gine then au­to­mat­i­cally kicks in, as it does if you are ac­cel­er­at­ing quickly or when the bat­tery charge falls be­low seven per cent.

The Max set­ting pro­vides for purely elec­tric driv­ing up to 78mph with a range of 26 miles, while Save Bat­tery does what it says on the tin, mak­ing the car re­liant on the petrol en­gine.

For the vast ma­jor­ity of the time Auto mode is the choice un­less you want to save the elec­tric power for a city con­ges­tion zone where zero emis­sions come in handy.

The bat­tery lives un­der the rear seats and can be charged via a house­hold mains elec­tric­ity socket in a shade over three hours or by a be­spoke wall charger unit in two and half hours.

The UK is still in the slow lane when it comes to de­vel­op­ing charg­ing in­fra­struc­ture, but the num­ber of sites of­fer­ing power points for elec­tric ve­hi­cles are in­creas­ing with most mo­tor­way ser­vice sta­tions I’ve vis­ited re­cently of­fer­ing this fa­cil­ity.

Over­all emis­sions of just 49g/km leave the Coun­try­man in the low­est com­pany car tax bracket while its £31,585 price-tag re­moves it from the clutches of the £310 road tax sur­charge for mo­tors cost­ing more than £40,000.

Run­ning costs are fur­ther con­tained with a claimed fuel econ­omy fig­ure of 134mpg when driven un­der strin­gent con­di­tions which equates to a still ex­cel­lent 60mpg-plus in the real world.

There is no cost cut­ting in the cabin though as soft-touch ma­te­ri­als, top qual­ity fit and fin­ish, MINI’s usual tog­gle switches and the din­ner plate cen­tral screen are all in­cluded.

Plenty of kit is thrown in as well with the Coun­try­man get­ting sat nav, du­al­zone air con­di­tion­ing, DAB ra­dio and Blue­tooth, plus cruise con­trol and al­loy wheels.

The Coun­try­man is the largest MINI in the range but the bat­tery takes up a bit of space so the 405-litre boot is 45 litres smaller than in the stan­dard car. It opens up to 1,275 litres when the rear seats are folded while space in the back for two adults re­mains ex­cel­lent.

The iconic MINI spell is cast through a unique ex­te­rior which has been en­tic­ing buy­ers since be­fore Michael Caine planned the Ital­ian Job. The ad­di­tion of elec­tric power looks set to make it even more de­sir­able in the mod­ern era.

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