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Oz case for plug-in hybrid Mini Countryman firms

Incoming: The Mini Countryman S E All4 is likely to land on Australian shores in late 2018, once a local evaluation has taken place.

Mini scores federal approval to sell Countryman Cooper S E All4 plug-in hybrid in Oz

Mini logo18 Jul 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

MINI has obtained federal government approval to import and sell the petrol-electric Countryman Cooper S E All4 plug-in hybrid in Australia, suggesting progress has been made toward launching the model here.

But BMW Group Australia general manager corporate communications Lenore Fletcher poured cold water on the idea that a local debut of the petrol-electric Mini was imminent.

“It’s still part of the feasibility study, I can’t confirm anything to you,” she said.

“We’re certainly committed to this technology and when the Mini was first mooted we did say we would be looking at it very closely and yes we are, we are looking at it very closely.”

In Britain, the Countryman Cooper S E All4, to use its full name, costs around seven per cent more than the equivalent Cooper SD, a premium that would equate to a price of around $55,900 before on-road costs here – $3600 higher than the Cooper SD and $2000 lower than the performance-oriented John Cooper Works (JCW) flagship variant.

This is consistent with remarks made by Mini Australia general sales manager Tony Sesto, who told GoAuto in March that the plug-in “wouldn’t be the most expensive Mini in the range” if it was given the green light for this market.

GoAuto also has reason to believe the plug-in Countryman could even replace the Cooper SD in the line-up if and when it launches in Australia.

A price of around $55,000-$56,000 would put the Countryman Cooper S E in the ballpark of Australia’s most affordable plug-in hybrid SUV, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV that is priced from $50,490 plus on-roads in LS trim to $55,490 in flagship Exceed spec.

It would put serious pressure on the smaller but also-premium Audi A3 e-tron and its $62,490 plus on-roads sticker.

Like the $40,500 Cooper Countryman base variant, the plug-in has a 100kW/220Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, but with a 65kW/165Nm electric motor mounted on the rear axle to provide all-wheel-drive and a total output of 165kW and 385Nm.

The hybrid’s zero to 100km/h acceleration time of 6.8 seconds is just 0.3s behind the JCW, which weighs 105kg less, has a 170kW/350Nm turbo-petrol drivetrain and eight-speed automatic transmission.

Despite its sprightly performance stats, the plug-in Countryman has a European combined-cycle fuel consumption figure of between 2.3 and 2.1 litres per 100 kilometres, a third of the JCW’s figure and equivalent to CO2 emissions as low as 49 grams per kilometre.

In rear-drive, electric-only operation the plug-in Countryman can travel up to 42km on a charge and reach speeds of up to 125km/h, which rises to 198km/h with the combustion engine engaged.

Its 7.6kWh lithium-ion battery pack takes two hours and 30 minutes to fully charge using a 3.6kW charger, or three hours and 15 minutes using a standard domestic power outlet.

Compromises to electrification consist of a portly 1660kg unladen weight, the inability to tow a trailer (other Countryman variants able to tow between 1500 and 1800kg braked) and a slight reduction in rear headroom due to a raised seat height to accommodate the battery packs, which also eat into boot space.

Luggage capacity of the plug-in is 405 litres with the reclining 40:20:40 split-fold rear seats up and 1275L when folded, compared with 450L and 1390L in a combustion-only Countryman.

The plug-in Countryman’s interior has hybrid-specific dashboard and infotainment displays showing energy flow, battery status and which of the drivetrain’s three selectable operating modes are in use.

Auto mode uses electric power alone until the road speed exceeds 80km/h, the battery charge level drops below 7.0 per cent or when rapid acceleration is required.

Max enables pure electric propulsion at up to 125km/h, with the petrol engine kicking in at higher speeds or when the automatic transmission’s kickdown would usually take place for overtaking or quick bursts of acceleration.

Save mode keeps the battery charge level above 90 per cent by using the petrol engine to drive the wheels and send energy to the battery packs. It is primarily designed for inter-city journeys where zero-emission driving is useful in the urban areas at each end.

Mini predict the second-generation Countryman that launched in March this year to become the brand’s best seller, which to the end of June remained the three- and five-door hatch.

That said, hatch sales are down 3.9 per cent with 1209 delivered, while the Countryman is up 20.2 per cent with 303 sold.

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