MINI Countryman Cooper S E All4 engines, drive & performance

Although it’s a plug-in hybrid, this Countryman hasn’t lost those fun-to-drive MINI genes

On the road, the Countryman is a subtly different beast to most other plug-in hybrids, in that the sporty side of the MINI DNA really shows through. Other such hybrid family cars-cum-SUVs tend to be a little softer, but the Countryman is a MINI first and a family car second. Well, in terms of the way it drives, anyway.

If you don’t mind a firm feel to the ride in town and have plenty of back roads to enjoy, the Countryman could well be your cup of tea. But if you want something a bit smoother and more refined, you could find this a bit wearing.

MINI Countryman Cooper S E ALL4 hybrid engine, 0-62mph and acceleration

It’s no mistake that MINI has stuck Cooper S badges on its first plug-in hybrid model. Yes, it’s a low-emission car, but it’s also quick. It’ll get from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds, which makes the Countryman Cooper S E All4 a much sportier car than rivals like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Toyota C-HR, both of which take over 10 seconds to do the same sprint.

What'll also put a smile on your face is how the hybrid goes about its business. The instant boost from the electric motor gives the Countryman a surprising turn of speed, especially around town. That acceleration comes from MINI’s combination of a 134bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine with an 87bhp electric motor. Not only does that give a total of 221bhp, it also gives this hybrid four-wheel drive. That’s because the engine drives the front wheels, while the electric motor under the boot floor powers the rear wheels.

In addition, drivers can choose from a variety of driving modes to suit the conditions. For example ‘Max eDrive’ mode allows electric driving at speeds of up to 78mph, whereas 'Auto eDrive' prioritises battery power below 50mph, but acts more like a hybrid, with the petrol engine chiming in for bursts of acceleration. There’s also a setting that favours the petrol engine and preserves the charge in the battery – which is handy if you’re doing a long journey that'll finish in a city.

Handling

The Countryman Cooper S E is something of a mixed bag when it comes to its handling. On the one hand, there’s enough MINI DNA on show to make it pretty agile; this is easily the most fun-to-drive PHEV in the £30k price arena. On the other hand, all the extra gubbins you need for the electric side of the operation – the motor and its battery, especially – add to the car’s weight. And that means it isn’t quite as agile as the other Countryman models, which themselves aren’t quite as agile as the smaller MINI hatchback models.

On top of that, the ride suffers a touch because the heavier hybrid model has to have a stiffer suspension set-up than other versions. It’s something you’ll notice at low speed, but things do smooth out once you're going faster, and the ride is never jarring.

You can add adaptive dampers to the Countryman PHEV, but that only marginally softens what is basically a firm ride across the range.

In other words, if you want a sportier feel to your PHEV, the Countryman will suit you down to the ground. But there's a price to pay in the ride comfort, and some won’t be happy about that.