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Hot on the heels of the standard car that officially went on sale in February this year is the new Mini Countryman PHEV, a plug-in hybrid version of the popular SUV, which goes on sale this month.
It's Mini's first ever plug-in hybrid and the firm has high expectations for the new car, especially for company car drivers, thanks to CO2 emissions of just 49g/km.
Bigger than before
We tested the new standard Countryman earlier in the year and were impressed with its roomy interior and practical features. This latest model has had quite a significant growth spurt compared with the previous generation (20cm longer and 5cm wider) as well as offering greater interior space. Boot volume has also increased by as much as 100 litres - although a little is sacrificed for the battery.
Despite the stretching of the Countryman, one of the best things about the new car is that it retains a lot of that Mini essence that fans love. Nippy handling, eye-catching looks and a characterful cabin are just some of the features that the Countryman PHEV has in abundance.
All-wheel drive is standard, making it one of the few plug-in hybrids available with off-road capabilities. The front wheels are powered by the combustion engine and the rear wheels are driven by the electric motor. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to test the Countryman off-road on this occasion; however, we think it'll be more than up to the task of dealing with rocky surfaces and tricky weather conditions, should the need arise.
On tarmac, the Countryman, although not as agile or fun to drive as its hatchback sibling, is still full of character, the steering is nicely weighted and thanks to the all-wheel drive there's loads of grip on offer too. Because of the immediate torque from the electric motor, performance feels brisk and the transition from petrol engine to battery is a quiet and fairly seamless affair. The addition of the electric battery adds around 130kg to the weight of the car, so the Countryman PHEV does feel heavier in the corners than the standard version; however, the effect is only slight.
The ride is a little on the firm side too, but the car cruises along nicely on the motorway and overall comfort levels are very good.
The Lithium-ion battery is paired with the firm's 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and together they produce up to 224hp and 385Nm of torque. Completing the 0?62mph sprint takes just 6.8 seconds while CO2 emissions of just 49g/km is particularly impressive when you consider the car's four-wheel drive capabilities.
Running costs should also stay impressively low thanks to a 134.5mpg official combined figure. However, this should be taken with a pinch of salt; in-house tests by Mini found that on a 100-mile journey when all the EV battery range was used, the average figure was 69mpg.
There are three different driving modes available via a switch toggle, allowing the driver to best utilise the electric power on offer. The car defaults onto Auto eDrive, which drives electrically until 50mph or under harsh accelerating, at which point the petrol engine kicks in.
Max eDrive, as the name suggests, drives the car electrically at speeds up to 78mph, when the combustion engine is additionally enabled for higher speeds or on kickdown. Save Battery mode will power the car solely by the combustion engine, retaining battery life until the driver needs it.
Officially, you can drive for 26 miles on electric power alone; however, it is completely dependent on how effectively you use the above modes. Put the Countryman in Max eDrive mode on the motorway and you'll watch the range deplete very quickly.
Charging takes 2.5 hours from a wallbox or 3 hours and 15 minutes from a domestic socket.
Slip behind the wheel of the Countryman and you'll be greeted by a spacious and quirky interior. Overall fit and finish is very good, and although the infotainment system is not the easiest to use or the most modern compared with its rivals, the inclusion of touchscreen capabilities make it more user friendly this time around.
There's a selection of storage options around the cabin too and although it's not the roomiest interior in its sector, most people will be satisfied with the amount of space on offer.
Yellow is the colour Mini has chosen to distinguish its plug-in cars from the rest of the range and it is included on various badging and controls around the exterior and inside the car.
Because of its lower CO2 emissions, the Countyman plug-in makes a great deal of sense for user choosers, despite the premium it carries over combustion alternatives in the range. The savings are clear to see, and not just in BIK; if the electric battery is utilised properly then plenty of money can be saved in fuel too.
However, the whole-life cost outlook is less rosy because of the plug-in's lower residual values compared with the diesel alternative, making it no cheaper in terms of pence per mile over three years and 60,000 miles.
But that shouldn't put you off. Plug-in technology is still in its infancy in the used car market and residual values should improve as more vehicles enter the marketplace. The Mini Countryman's fun handling, stylish design and roomier interior mean the SUV has never been more appealing for user choosers ? both on paper and out on the road.
P11D Price: £31,520
On sale: June 2017
Residual value: 36.8%
Service, maintenance & repair: £2,777
Cost per mile: 58.4p
Fuel consumption: 134.5mpg
CO2 (BIK Band): 49g/km (9%)
BIK 20/40% per month: £47/£95
Boot space: 405 litres
Engine size/power: 1499cc/136hp + 65kW 88hp electric motor