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Mini plugs in with new hybrid electric vehicle

Power ranges: In Max eDrive setting, the hybrid powertrain in Mini’s new model is capable of accelerating up to 125km/h in electric-only mode.

Hybrid electric powertrain with all-wheel drive coming to Mini’s next model

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Mini logo17 Oct 2016

MINI’s first-ever production plug-in hybrid – expected to be the next-generation Countryman SUV – has been previewed and, despite the electrified powertrain, promises to retain its signature go-kart handling.

Similar in concept to BMW’s 330e plug-in hybrid, the new zero-emissions capable Mini will utilise an electric motor and battery tucked beneath the rear seats in conjunction with a traditional combustion engine.

Although no details have been revealed about the petrol engine, or the size of the battery, according to Mini, the new model “is not solely focused on efficiency, but uncompromising in pursuit of driving fun”.

Announced in Munich, Germany, photos of the electrified Mini reveal a heavily camouflaged model with an increased ride height, prominent grille-mounted foglights, second-row doors and thick plastic wheel-arch moulding, leading to speculation that the new hybrid powertrain could debut in the next-generation Countryman.

Mini’s SUV is the longest-serving model in its line-up, having been introduced in 2010 and receiving a minor facelift in 2015. The second-generation Countryman is expected debut at November’s Los Angeles motor show before an international launch next year and an Australian berth in late-2017 or early-2018.

To differentiate the hybrid Mini from its petrol- and diesel-powered counterparts, the British marque has changed the lighting of the start/stop button from red to yellow and tachometer in the instrument cluster to a battery power readout.

The socket used for charging the high-voltage battery is positioned on the front left fender.

Like many plug-in hybrids, Mini’s new eco-friendly model will start in electric mode and only switch to the combustion drivetrain when battery levels run low, or when the throttle is depressed heavily.

However, unlike many other PHEVs, the hybrid Mini’s electric power is not limited to slow city speeds and can reach electric-only speeds of up to 125km/h in Max eDrive mode and up to 80km/h in Auto eDrive. A third driving mode, Save Battery, will switch propulsion to the combustion engine to preserve battery charge.

Mini says that “with the combined output of both drives, the first Mini hybrid vehicle demonstrates unparalleled acceleration performance when compared with its combustion-only siblings”.

Mini brand manager Sebastian Mackensen said the electrified vehicle would still maintain the essence of the British brand but would also introduce new technologies.

“With this model we want to convince Mini customers of the benefits of hybrid drive and impress everyone who already has hybrid driving experience with Mini’ s unique go-kart driving feel,” he said.

“In a hybrid Mini model, driving electrically must also be an exhilarating experience. This means that entirely electric driving is not limited to speeds of 30 or 40km/h, but to speeds well beyond city traffic pace.” To ensure handling does not suffer, Mini has mounted the extra hybrid components low in the rear of the vehicle, enabling a lower centre of gravity and balanced weight distribution.

The electric motor will also power the rear wheels, while the combustion engine will power the front, giving the hybrid Mini all-wheel-drive grip with an intelligent traction control system that can optimise the drivetrain on the fly.

Mini series manager Peter Wolf said the system is designed to mimic the traditional drivetrain systems of existing combustion engine Minis.

“As far as the chassis and suspension are concerned, nothing changes from the conventionally driven model variants and the setup benefits a lot from the hybrid concept,” he said.

“As soon as there is any risk of drive slip, the second drive unit is activated to provide additional traction when starting off or ensuring a high level of steering precision when cornering.” Mini’s electrified powertrain is also expected to spread throughout its model range, with hybrid Hatches, 5-doors and Clubmans likely to follow.

Speaking to GoAuto at last month’s Mini JCW Convertible launch, Mini Australia general manager Tony Sesto indicated he would be keen to get a Mini-badged electric vehicle on sale locally.

“If Mini does take that (electric vehicle) path in the future, it’s not something that we would pass on. BMW is having success in the Australian market, so if we would follow that, it’s not something we would pass on,” he said.

BMW introduced electrified versions of its two most popular models, the 3 Series luxury sedan and X5 large SUV, earlier this year and has also recently upgraded its i3 electric vehicle with a denser battery to increase electric-only driving range.

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