Test Drive: 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4
Sometimes I think car companies are under so much government pressure to build electrified vehicles, we're being offered the results of their experiements, whether they make much sense or not.
A case in point is the awkwardly named 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4, which is the first-ever hybrid produced by the BMW-owned company, and a plug-in at that.
On the plus side, because it is based on the largest Mini on the market, it has a lot of interior space and cargo capacity for a compact SUV, and it comes with all-wheel-drive. But the same is true of the based non-hybrid version, which cost a lot less because it doesn't include an expensive battery pack.
To make matters even more baffling, the plug-in version only goes about 15 miles on electricity alone before switching over to a conventional hybrid mode, which is EPA-rated at 27 miles per gallon. Neither are impressive figures these days. Every other plug-in hybrid on the market will go father than 12 miles on electricity alone (some much father) and 27 MPG is worse than a lot of gasoline powered compacts, including the most economical version of the Countryman.
And because the plug-in hybrid version is the heaviest of the Countryman models, it is the least fun to drive — although it will still get up and go in Sport mode, at the expense of slightly worse mileage.
But at least its a genuine Mini, with all the syling quirks its fans expect, like the large circular dash that houses the display screen. And our well-equipped version with the Advanced Wired Package had all the luxury touches and advanced bells and whistles one has come to expected from Mini's top-of-the-line products.
So what's going on here? Chances are, BMW/Mini are doing everything they can to meet the increasing demands by governments around the world to produce electrified vehicles — including in Germany, where the diesel scandal has accelerated the push for cleaner vehicles. The company has to recoup at least part of its research costs, so it is releasing some forms of whatever it is figuring out how to build, and hoping at least some buyers will go for a slightly greener version of their vehicles.
As for the higher cost (the plug-in Mini starts at $36,800 vs. $28,600 for the base AWD model), the federal government offers a tax credit of up to $7,500 on all-electric vehicles, less on plug-in hybrids. Oregon will soon offer a $2,500 tax credit on both all-electric and plug-in hybrids. So it's possible to cut the price significantly of you full qualify for the maximum incentives.
A March 2917 online article by Green Car Report suggests the strategy is working. It found there are quite a few luxury plug-in hybrids on the market that can only travel less than 20 miles on electrity alone. They include the Audi (A3 e-tron); BMW (330e, 740e, X5 xDrive 40e; Mercedes-Benz (C 350e, GLE 550e, S 550e); Porsche (Cayenne and Panamera S E-Hybrids); and Volvo (XC90 T8 'Twin Engine SUV).
And they are selling well enough to justify the production costs, the article says. For example, Volvo has sold 2,300 XC90 plug-ins in 17 months, and it now makes up more than 10 percent of total sales for that popular model. And BMW sold 6,000 X5 plug-in hybrid crossovers last year alone.
So expect more models like the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 for at least the foreseeable future. You might even be one of those who says they meet your needs and budget.
Base price: $36,800
Price as tested: $39,700
Style: Compact hatchback
Engine: Turbocharged 1.5-line inline 3 plus an electric motor (221 hp, 284 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 6-Speed automatic with Sport and manual shift modes
EPA fuel economy: 65 MPGe/27 MPG
Length: 169.8 inches
Weight: 3,948 pounds
Final assembly: Born, The Netherlands