Mini has come a long way from its simple beginnings, morphing into a lifestyle brand with a range of faux-wheel drives and four-door hatchbacks. The new Countryman is the biggest car to wear the Mini badge but that isn't the only new ground it's breaking, with the launch of the first plug-in hybrid from the BMW sub-brand.
The powertrain in the Countryman combines a three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and a synchronous electric motor for a total system output of 165 kW (224 hp). Power from the petrol engine is put to the road through a six-speed automatic gearbox, and the electric motors power the rear wheels through a two-stage transmission. The car is able to use the engine/motor combination to act as a four-wheel drive system on slippery terrain. It also helps the car spring off the line: 0-100 km/h (62 mph) takes just 6.8 seconds, quicker than the average hybrid.
The hybrid system in the ALL4 works largely in the background, automatically switching between power sources. The electric motor is active from a standstill, making the most of instant torque on offer, while the petrol engine cuts in when the speedo ticks past 80 km/h (50 mph). If the driver wants to stay on battery power, they can switch into Max eDrive mode and run up to 125 km/h (78 mph) without the petrol engine intervening.
All-electric range is pegged at 40 km (25 mi) and charging the battery takes two and four hours, depending on where it's plugged in. Tested in ideal conditions, the car returned 2.1 l/100km (112 MPGe) on the combined cycle, although the chances of achieving those numbers in the real world are absolutely miniscule.
Although there is a battery under the floor, there's still plenty of space in the boot for "lifestyle" items like bikes and snowboards. There's a handy 405 liters (14.3 cubic feet) of space with the rear seats in place, and folding them down frees up 1,275 liters (45 cubic feet).
Pricing for the Countryman ALL4 S E Hybrid starts at £31,585 (about US$38,700). The car will be on sale from the 24th of June in the UK.