2018 Mini Countryman S E Hybrid: Monthly Update for May 2018
by Brent Romans, Senior Editor
Where Did We Drive It?
This was an "All Brent, All the Time" month for our 2018 Mini Cooper Countryman S E Hybrid. I had it for the entire month and drove it about 1,500 miles. That came about from two road trips to Northern California, including one to San Francisco with my family for Memorial Day, and a fair amount of city driving. Spending a month with the Countryman was a great way to learn its upsides and downsides.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Did It Get?
We've standardized the way we drive our Cooper Countryman S E Hybrid. We drive in all-electric mode and use up the hybrid battery pack first (assuming it has power) and then keep driving using regular hybrid operation. This way we can tell how many miles we drive on electricity and how many on gas.
For reasons detailed in the next section, though, I decided to spread out our Countryman's electric charge and didn't use it all up in the beginning of my drives. Alas, this messed with the way we keep track of the car's efficiency, so the economy results in May are a little different.
Miles driven: 1,534
Average fuel economy in May: 30.4 mpg*
EPA mpg rating: 27 mpg combined
Electricity used in May: 55.36 kWh
Current odometer: 6,037 miles
*Note that the 30.4 mpg figure isn't directly comparable to a typical car's mpg. It doesn't take into account my electricity use of 55.4 kWh. I measured the kWh usage at the source, which was a 110-volt power outlet at my house using the Mini's portable charging cable. It turns out that the electricity didn't cost much, though. In May, I was under my utility's lowest tier of usage, which is 21 cents per kWh. So I "spent" about $11.62 on electricity.
Overall, this was not an optimal month to showcase the Countryman S E's potential. I drove a bunch on the freeway and didn't charge it at every opportunity. A plug-in hybrid's fuel economy varies greatly based on how you drive and how often you're able to recharge. On one hand, I'm pleased about getting 30 mpg (with the help of some electricity) for what can potentially be a sporty little crossover wagon or SUV. But I also figure I would have gotten very similar fuel economy from a regular Countryman S All4, which is thousands of dollars cheaper, lighter and less complex.
Maintenance and Upkeep
"Our Countryman's performance capability depends on what mode is being utilized. When using its all-electric power, the experience is disappointing.
"The Mini displays green-colored bars in a gauge display similar to a tachometer. As you depress the accelerator, a needle moves up through the bars. If the needle passes the top bar, the gas engine switches on. So if you're trying to be green-minded, you need to keep the needle below the top bar. Alas, acceleration under electric motor power is lethargic.
"That's why I couldn't bring myself to drive our Countryman in pure electric mode a lot of the time. Switching to the Sport driving mode engages both power sources, even if you're not driving the Countryman aggressively. I'd use all-electric for heavy traffic situations, or if I was cruising around neighborhoods. Otherwise, I'd use Sport.
"With the gas engine fired up, this car becomes more like the Mini I'd expect. It's pretty quick when you fully mat the accelerator thanks to the combined power of the engine and electric motor. That turbocharged three-cylinder sounds kind of cool, too.
"I soon learned that there was a downside to this driving style, though. I realized that the Countryman S E will recharge its hybrid battery pack if the car is in Sport mode and the battery pack's charge is below 50 percent or so. Now, you might think: 'Oh neat, it recharges the battery for me!' But doing so greatly reduces fuel economy and is not an efficient way to charge the hybrid battery pack. Near as I can tell, there's no way to disable this auto-charging function.
"Plus, the 12-15 miles of all-electric range is just not enough. You're constantly having to plug in to make a difference. A little more power and three times more range would do wonders for making the Countryman S E more appealing. Other than the grabby brake pedal feel (it's hard to make consistently smooth stops), this is a fairly appealing hybrid to drive. Switching between gas and electric is barely noticeable, and the six-speed transmission's traditional shifting is more gratifying than the elasticlike, up-and-down rpm nature of most hybrid cars and their continuously variable automatic transmissions.
"One other note here: I'm not sold on the effectiveness of the S E's all-wheel-drive system. There was one occasion when I exited a car wash, made a turn and pushed on the accelerator. The rear tires were wet, as was the pavement. Because the Countryman was using electric power (the electric motor drives the rear wheels), the rear of the car temporarily lost traction and fishtailed. It wasn't cause for alarm, but it makes me wonder how effective the Countryman S E's AWD is compared to a more conventional system that can automatically and quickly apply power to the other wheels if the system detects a loss of traction. If it's running on electric, and the gas engine isn't fired up, I don't know of a way for the Countryman S E to get power to its front wheels." — Brent Romans, senior editor
"Our Countryman S E's manually adjustable front seats are decently comfortable, and I didn't have any complaints after making various drives of about three to five hours long. The ride quality is also smooth enough to not cause problems. Less enjoyable is the noticeable road noise. On the drive to San Francisco with my family, I often found that I had a hard time hearing my kids seated in back, and vice versa." — Brent Romans
"Mini packaged the S E's hybrid components underneath the car by making the gas tank smaller. As such, there's almost as much cargo space as there is in any other Countryman: 17.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats, compared to 17.6 in the others. For a three-day weekend trip to San Francisco with my wife and two children, it proved to be just enough. The two medium-size suitcases we brought fit in back (barely). It's a big Mini, but it's still mini as far as SUVs go." — Brent Romans