AOL Cars got its hands on the new Mini Countryman S E Hybrid, to see if it could be the perfect mix of style, space, and low running costs.
What is it?
Minis aren't exactly mini anymore, are they? Over the years they've grown and become increasingly bloated. The new Countryman is perhaps the best (or worst) example of this – a five-seat crossover that's the largest vehicle Mini's ever produced.
However, we're less interested in the Countryman's size, and more interested in what lies under the skin, as this is the brand's first ever plug-in hybrid model. Theoretically, then, it combines a practical layout and rock-bottom running costs with the iconic Mini badge. If it all gels together, the not-so-Mini should become a school run stalwart.
The second-generation Countryman was launched last year, and refined the old car's bloated styling, added extra equipment and gave more room inside.
The change we're most interested in lies under the skin, as the Countryman is now available with Mini's first ever hybrid powertrain.
What's under the bonnet?
In S E Hybrid Guise, the Countryman features a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, which mates with a separate electric motor to give a total of 224bhp and 220Nm of torque.
That means, despite the car's size and not-inconsiderable weight, it can hit 60mph from rest in a commendable 6.6 seconds, before maxing out at 125mph.
Mini claims an official fuel consumption figure of 134mpg on the combined cycle – though this should be taken with a pinch of salt. Make the most of the Countryman's 26-mile electric range, and you may barely need to visit a petrol station for weeks at a time – but once the battery's depleted, it reverts to the rather inefficient petrol engine.
During our time with the vehicle, the Countryman manged around 40mpg, with the tiny 36-litre fuel tank necessitating more trips to the pump than we would have liked.
What's it like to drive?
Mini in name and not in nature, those expecting the firm's trademark go-kart handling will be disappointed by the Countryman. However, by the standards of the class, it's not half bad in the bends, and does a good job of disguising the extra weight that the battery bestows upon it.
The steering is light and rather lacking in feel, but it's accurate and pointy. Body roll is well-controlled, but the skinny eco-focused tyres are not the last word in grip. Corner enthusiastically in cold, damp conditions and you'll run wide.
How does it look?
The Countryman's interior is in line with all modern Minis. That means it has a propensity for form over function, and controls aren't all where you'd immediately look for them.
The large central infotainment system is easy to navigate, though, and the chromed toggle switches are a very nice touch.
The real boon for those trading up will be the cabin space, which is competitive for the class – meaning it's huge for a Mini. Two average-sized adults will have no trouble with the rear seats, even over long journeys, and the 405-litre boot is a useful size and good square shape.
What's the spec like?
There are no notable omissions on the Countryman Hybrid's equipment list – but you'd hope not, given the car's £31,585 asking price. Standard kit includes sat-nav, DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity.
Our test car was rather pricier, at £39,340, including desirable options such as an automatic tailgate, LED headlights and a driving assistance pack.
We couldn't help but be disappointed with the Mini Countryman S E Hybrid. It's more fun down a country road than hybrid SUV rivals such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV or Kia Niro, but it doesn't combine that with rock-bottom running costs.
We're also not the biggest fans of the Countryman's look, while the high purchase price is a real sting.
However, if you're lucky enough to be able to charge at home – something we sorely missed during our time with the car – the Countryman could make a lot of sense for those after a practical family runabout.