The MINI Cooper e Countryman is an electrified version of MINI's biggest vehicle -- the Countryman. Based on the BMW X1 platform, the Countryman is a subcompact crossover wagon that seats five and, through electrification, sports all-wheel drive. Competitors include the Audi Q3, Buick Encore, Infiniti QX30 and aforementioned BMW X1.
The heart of the e Countryman is comprised of a turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine that mates to a 6-speed automatic transmission and drives the front wheels and twin electric motors that power the rear wheels. Combined output is 221 horsepower. E Countryman's battery is rated at 7.6 kWh. When fully charged, MINI claims it can provide up to 12 miles of electric-only driving.
Base price is $38,150. That includes heated front seats, heated mirrors, LED headlights, rear park distance warning, 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless starting and entry, rear-view camera, leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic climate control and sport seats. Available options include an 8-inch navigation system, wireless device charging, head-up display, panoramic moonroof, Harman/Kardon audio system and a power tailgate. The MINI Cooper e Countryman currently qualifies for the $7500 federal electric-vehicle tax credit.
Because of the battery, the MINI e Countryman weighs in at a portly 3915 pounds. That's 600 pounds more than some competitors. Still, the hybrid powertrain will push the e Countryman from 0 to 60 mph in about 6 seconds -- assuming the driver has selected performance mode. Other modes include automatic, which balances performance and economy, hold, which maintains battery charge for electric driving later, and electric, which, as the name suggests, is electric operation. It should be noted that when in electric mode, performance is dulled and top speed is limited to about 65 mph.
All of the gee-whiz gadgetry under the bonnet nets a combined EPA rating of 27 MPG. The 65 MPGe rating includes the 12 miles of electric range. Thanks to a smallish 9.5 fuel gallon tank, the e Countryman has a total range of just 270 miles. Routine suburban commuting is likely to net about 26 mpg overall. Those adept at hypermiling might average more than 30 mpg, but that includes plugging in at every opportunity and consistently driving in the slow lane.
Despite the hefty curb weight, e Countryman feels nimble and athletic in most situations. The steering is delightfully direct and has a firm feel that seems to encourage spirited driving. The tires and taught suspension provide great stability and dry-road grip. The only dynamic downfall is a mushy brake pedal that results in uneven braking and longer than average stopping distances.
On the flip side, ride quality isn't the greatest. Occupants feel every bump and pavement imperfection and the ride sometimes grows harsh on badly broken roads. In addition, the tires kick up quite a ruckus on grooved concrete surfaces. Thankfully, engine and wind noise are well muted, leading to fairly civilized highway noise levels.
Inside the e Countryman sports an interior design typical of all MINI models -- meaning retro modern. Materials are more than appropriate for the price point. Switchgear and layout are designed with a hat tip to the past but controls are thoroughly modern in operation. Unfortunately, most will find the dizzying array of switchgear and lack of touch screen off-putting in daily operation. Even simple things like changing the radio station or setting a destination take more concentration than necessary. The head-up display is another example of poor execution. It's not projected onto the windshield like all other cars, it displays on a tiny, pop-up window that placed just slightly above the speedometer. In addition, there's no support for Android Auto or Apple Car Play.
Front seat head and leg room are quite good, but the seats themselves are narrow and firmly bolstered. This might only be a problem for large adults. Despite the upright greenhouse, visibility isn't as good as expected due to thick pillars, a small rear window and the forward positioning of the windshield. Rear seats will accommodate two adults if the front seats are pushed forward, but three will squeeze everyone. Cargo space can be a plus if you fold the rear seats and the tall roof means it is easy to accommodate bulky items. Interior storage is tight with just a few open and covered bins throughout.
Bottom Line -- As a rule, MINIs are not "everyman" cars. Their diminutive size, firm suspension and unorthodox switchgear force compromises that will put off many buyers. Still, the rewards of driving a MINI are benefit enough to some and the e Countryman is no exception. It's fun to drive and returns better-than-average fuel economy. It's got a useful design as well. Though the $40,000 price point might seem high, remember it is eligible for the $7500 federal tax credit, bringing the all-in price down considerably -- especially if you lease. If you are looking for a small crossover that dances to its own tune and can be rewarding to drive, look no further than the Countryman.