As the clamour for electric and hybrid electric motoring grows, Jack Evans try out Mini's new petrol-electric hybrid, the first from the manufacturer.
With diesel cars very much in the headlines at the moment - for all the wrong reasons - it's understandable manufacturers are bringing more alternatively-fuelled options to market. Here's Mini's offering. Powered by a three-cylinder petrol engine coupled to an electric motor, it's capable of a claimed 134.5mpg and should be able to run on all-electric for up to 25 miles at speeds of up to 78mph. It's a car for those who want to keep running costs down, and all for a smidge under £30,000.
The exterior remains relatively unchanged from the standard Countryman. Its chunky styling and oversized light units remain, supplemented by large yellow E badges on the car's flanks and on its boot. In truth, it looks like any other Countryman - but that's no bad thing.
Mini's image is riding high at the moment, with all of the cars in its range exhibiting the build quality and look that buyers want in this premium price bracket. The Cooper S E is no different; inside and out, it feels solidly built and smartly designed.
Inside, the changes are even less visible. The starter button in the centre of the dashboard, while usually red has now been changed to yellow, mirroring the styling touches on the exterior.
You could be fooled into thinking that because it is fitted with an electric motor and batteries placed underneath the boot floor, the Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 would be lacking in luggage space. However, it's got a lot more to offer than you'd think. With a seats-up load area of 405 litres, there's more than enough room for a few weekend bags. This area can be increased in size by lowering the rear seats, pushing capacity to a respectable 1,275 litres.
There's plenty of space in the cabin, too. Those sitting up front are treated to a good amount of headroom and shoulder room, while there shouldn't be too many complaints from those sat in the back, either. The cabin can feel a little dark at times, though this can be helped by specifying the optional panoramic sunroof.
The most noticeable thing when you first set off in the Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 is its eerie silence. The car will set off using all-electric power and can continue doing so, Mini claims, for about 25 miles at speeds of up to 78mph.
This means that zero-emissions driving isn't just restricted to urban areas. Thanks to three separate driving modes, however, you can specify how and when you'd like that electric power to come in.
By selecting Auto eDrive, the car allows for all-electric driving up to speeds of 50mph. The petrol is used in this mode only when it's needed, such as under heavy acceleration or when the battery's charge drops too low. In Max eDrive mode, all-electric driving is available up to 78mph, and the combustion engine is used, again, when accelerating hard.
Finally, the save battery mode uses the petrol engine alone. Selecting this mode means that you're able to save battery charge for later. This is ideal for those drivers who have to go through urban areas after a longer journey on motorways or out-of-town roads. Switching between the three while moving does impart quite a change upon the car, though we found Auto eDrive the most useful mode overall.
Elsewhere, the driving experience is much like any other Mini. There's little way to tell of the extra weight imparted into the car's overall mass by the batteries on board, while its four-wheel-drive system means there's plenty of grip at all times.
The six-speed automatic gearbox has a tendency to shift mid-corner at times, but for the most part, goes through the gears well enough. The steering has a good amount of weight to it and, though lacking any real feel, is accurate enough to allow you to place the car where you want it on the road.
However, despite having similar performance figures as the petrol-powered Cooper S, the E simply doesn't feel as keen under heavy acceleration, especially when facing a gradient.
With charging times, Mini claims it'll take two and a half hours to replenish the car's battery via a higher-output wall socket. When charging through a conventional domestic socket, this time rises to three hours and fifteen minutes.
The Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 is priced at £31,585. However, it qualifies for the government's plug-in grant of £2,500, offering a sizeable incentive to those who are thinking of buying it. For the amount, you get satellite navigation as standard, as well as Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control.
Also, because the Mini emits just 52g/km CO2, taxation costs will be much lower than with a traditionally powered hatch.
As always, there's a sizeable optional extras list on the Countryman, with highlights such as wireless telephone charging and a larger satellite navigation screen improving the car's overall feel, but adding considerably to its price.
The Countryman S E Hybrid is ideal for those who want all the looks and charm of a normal Mini, but with better economy figures than even the diesel-powered cars can offer. It's good looking, well made inside and surprisingly good to drive, while all of this is backed up by impressive efficiency.
For those who are mainly driving in urban areas, it makes sense to choose the Countryman S E Hybrid.