MORE MEAN THAN GREEN

The plug-in hy­brid Coun­try­man is more about per­for­mance than planet sav­ing

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - MOTORING - JOHN CAREY

Mini’s first plug-in hy­brid wraps hot hatch get-up-and-go in a green man­tle. The Cooper S E Coun­try­man All4, due to reach Aus­tralia in March or April, is a speedy lit­tle SUV that’s also a part-time elec­tric ve­hi­cle.

When the three-cylin­der en­gine driv­ing its front wheels and the elec­tric mo­tor con­nected to the rear wheels are work­ing to­gether, the Mini de­liv­ers se­ri­ous shove in the back. The plug-in has stand­ing start ac­cel­er­a­tion to ri­val the hottest model in the ex­ist­ing Coun­try­man range, the John Cooper Works.

The pace of the elec­tri­fied Coun­try­man isn’t re­ally a com­plete sur­prise; it’s pro­pelled by ba­si­cally the same set-up as the $300,000 BMW i8 su­per­car. The Mini brand is owned by BMW.

The Aus­tralian price of the Coun­try­man plug-in hasn’t been an­nounced, but Mini’s Euro­pean pric­ing pol­icy points to about $60,000.

In BMW’s sleek, scis­sor-doored 2+2 coupe the turbo en­gine and its trans­mis­sion are be­hind the cabin and the elec­tric drive is to the front wheels. These po­si­tions are re­versed in the plug-in Coun­try­man but its tur­bocharged triple en­gine and elec­tric in­duc­tion mo­tor are each closely re­lated to the i8’s — they’re just toned down a lit­tle for the Mini.

Set up for the Coun­try­man, BMW’s perky 1.5-litre de­liv­ers up to 100kW through a sixspeed auto. Max­i­mum out­put of the punchy elec­tric mo­tor is 65kW, driv­ing through a sim­ple sin­gle-speed trans­mis­sion.

There’s a 36L fuel tank for the en­gine and the 7.6kWh lithium-ion bat­tery be­neath the rear seat stores elec­tric­ity for the mo­tor.

Choos­ing to drive elec­tric is sim­ple. On the dash, be­low the big cir­cu­lar cen­tre dial, is a switch to tog­gle through the car’s three modes. Select Max eDrive and the E Coun­try­man will run at up to 125km/h solely on bat­tery un­til charge drops to near empty.

In Auto eDrive, the car op­er­ates as a hy­brid. It can reach 80km/h on elec­tric power in this mode but re­lies mostly on the petrol en­gine, which shuts down when the ac­cel­er­a­tor is re­leased and when sta­tion­ary to save fuel.

The Save Bat­tery mode uses the en­gine to pro­pel the car and to recharge the bat­tery to 90 per cent. This in­creases fuel con­sump­tion but pre­serves or im­proves bat­tery charge for use when needed.

It’s a mode de­signed for Europe, where plugin ve­hi­cles are per­mit­ted in some city zones and con­ven­tional cars are for­bid­den or obliged to pay a fee.

Re­gard­less of the se­lected mode, fully floor­ing the ac­cel­er­a­tor will al­ways prompt the E Coun­try­man to de­liver max­i­mum en­gine and mo­tor power for that im­pres­sively ea­ger wideopen throt­tle per­for­mance.

The elec­tric mo­tor helps get it off the line smartly and the throaty turbo triple con­trib­utes more and more as speed in­creases. It’s faster than the typ­i­cal small SUV and its sharply re­spon­sive steer­ing and good road grip also make it more fun to drive.

The sporty sus­pen­sion, how­ever, also means it doesn’t ride the bumps with great com­fort.

The E Coun­try­man’s elec­tric mo­tor, mounted un­der the rear floor, slightly re­duces cargo vol­ume. Some will find the in­te­rior style over­done, though the five-seat pas­sen­ger com­part­ment is rea­son­ably roomy and ver­sa­tile.

Judged on plug-in prow­ess, how­ever, the elec­tri­fied Coun­try­man isn’t bril­liant. Its rel­a­tively small bat­tery means elec­tric-only range isn’t great, es­pe­cially in colder weather.

The Cooper S E Coun­try­man All4 has been on sale in the UK since the mid­dle of 2017. So we bor­rowed one there for the chilly Christ­mas and New Year pe­riod and racked up more than 800km over a fort­night.

Recharged each night, the Mini typ­i­cally cov­ered 20km-30km on bat­tery power alone be­fore switch­ing au­to­mat­i­cally to Auto eDrive mode and fir­ing up its en­gine.

Via the car’s cen­tral screen it was easy to bring it up to charge us­ing off-peak power or to pre­pare the in­te­rior tem­per­a­ture for a se­lected de­par­ture time.

If the Coun­try­man is plugged in, pre­heat­ing the in­te­rior draws grid power and no­tice­ably ex­tends the elec­tric driv­ing range — but even us­ing this handy fea­ture, the Mini could get nowhere near its claimed 40km elec­tric range. Per­haps in milder weather it might.

The short range meant only 35 per cent of the to­tal dis­tance cov­ered could be driven us­ing only bat­tery power, de­spite dili­gent recharg­ing. Still, it was worth do­ing.

The 95 oc­tane fuel re­quired by the Mini costs the equiv­a­lent of $2.25 a litre in the UK, while elec­tric­ity is a lit­tle less ex­pen­sive there than in much of Aus­tralia.

This means the en­ergy cost per kilo­me­tre driven on elec­tric­ity was half the price of burn­ing petrol in hy­brid mode.

Con­sump­tion in Auto eHy­brid mode was about 8.0L/100km.

In Aus­tralia, where petrol is much less ex­pen­sive, the eco­nomic ad­van­tages will be much less. And the rel­a­tively short elec­tric driv­ing range also lim­its the en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits.

So the first elec­tri­fied Mini, para­dox­i­cally, works bet­ter as sporty-driver than a plan­et­saver.

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