This is a MINI with maxi appeal.
“It’s the perfect car for the U.S.,” project director Uwe Seitz told me at the MINI hybrid’s world premiere at the recent Los Angeles Auto Show, loaded with EV-style instant torque and with AWD capability that he says is even more sure-footed than gas models.
The new MINI Cooper SE Countryman ALL4 – that’s it’s full name – is built on the same platform as the much more expensive i8 EV sportscar marketed by MINI’s parent, BMW. A powerful three-cylinder gas engine powers the front wheels and an electric motor drives the rear, for a total output of 224hp, more than enough for merging into the HOV lane.
As an all-new model, the MINI PHEV will qualify for approximately $4,000 federal tax credits, plus additional state tax credits that vary by state, and its fuel economy and low-to-zero emissions qualifies it for the HOV lane perk.
Price hasn’t been determined yet; that will come closer to launch in late spring 2017. But you can expect what another MINI exec described to me as “incentives” to bring down the price, since, normally, hybrids and PHEVs carry a 20% premium over their conventional gas-powered siblings.
The MINI PHEV can travel on full electric mode for about 15 miles, similar to that of the larger, heavier and more expensive BMW 330e plug- in. Then, you have another couple of hundred miles of range on gas mode, at that 72MPGe fuel economy rating.
Seitz says the relatively low EV capability allowed designers to maximize internal space, including cargo space, without signing it over to large and heavy battery packs and slowing down the 78mph (125k) top speed. He’s hopeful EV range will increase as battery technology gets more powerful.
The MINI Hybrid recharges on regular 110v in seven hours, and in just over three hours on 220v. The connection for recharging is above the front fender on the left-hand side side of the vehicle, convenient to front-in parking in your garage or at a public charging station.
There are three drive modes. Auto eDrive is the electric mode, Save Battery is gas only, including helping recharge the battery, and Max eDrive lets the car decide which system – or both – to use. Seitz says that even when the battery is close to depletion special systems keep the AWD functioning. “The entire hybrid technology is installed in such a way that you don’t notice it inside the car at all,” he tells me.
So who is the target customer for this MINI with maxi appeal?
Product planning manager Pat McKenna told me that 75% of all MINI customers are new to the brand, what are called “conquests” from other brands, including BMW. He expects that to remain intact for the PHEV, which he says has more standard features included than ever.
Those include a sunroof, keyless access, a rearview camera, and rear obstacle control. The MINI PHEV also has the popular “bench seat” on the rear bumper, for tailgating picnics in warm weather or for putting on your ski boots in cold weather.
For five-foot-nothing-me, though, the most appealing new feature is the easy-open power lift rear gate – just kick to open or close, without dropping the squirming toddler or grocery bags filled with breakable eggs and glass. It’s a feature seen more often on larger SUVs, but rarely in vehicles this size.
Along with price, still to be determined are the colors for the the MINI plug-in hybrid. I’m hoping it will be available in my favorite turquoise, like the convertible I test drove last summer. And, I hope the new MINI PHEV will be available one day as a convertible. That would be another first. Can you name another PHEV convertible? There aren’t any.