Do you like oxymorons but are tired of jumbo shrimp and clever fools? Here’s a new one for you: big Mini. It sounds silly, but the BMW baby-brand confronts an environment of declining small car sales and needs a new angle in an era of street-clogging, gas-guzzling SUVs. So the idea is to get bigger and give U.S. consumers an option that competes with more robust models of the age. The new Mini Countryman does that, and it arrives with a plug-in hybrid option for those who need a hedge against the inevitable spike in gas prices.
Mini unveiled the electrified Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 — try remembering that, or see if you can say it three times — along with two all-wheel drive gasoline models at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show. Attendees could see immediately they were dealing with a larger Mini that they were used to, and the stats back it up. Countryman gained nearly 8 inches in total length and 3 inches in the wheelbase.
The stretched-out Countryman offers drivers another 30% in cargo space compared to the outgoing model, the automaker said. Meanwhile, the BMW twin-turbo engines represent an upgrade of 42% more torque (to 217 pound-feet). You can hit 60 miles per hour about 1.5 seconds faster than you could in old Countryman with the new four-cylinder model. A three-cylinder version delivers less excitement with 134 horses and 162 pound-feet of torque.
Of course, the big story here surrounds the plug-in model. Mini will go electric for the first time, in its biggest-ever vehicle.
Countryman plug-in hybrid
Automakers often debut their plug-in models in L.A.’s annual show, and Mini followed that protocol here. The Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 offers a total of 221 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque. Its 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery should cover at least 20 miles on electric power. On that point we’ll have to see, as Audi A3 e-tron travels just 15 miles with an 8.8 kWh battery. Other factors may give this Countryman the range boost Mini claimed in its press releases.
Whereas the gasoline models arrive in March 2017, the plug-in hybrid will follow in June, so there is still time for tweaking in range estimates, MPGe, and other factors. The biggest factor of all, naturally, is pricing. Toyota Prius Prime is the standard for aggressively priced plug-in models, so we’ll see how the BMW subsidiary plays this card. In BMW-branded plug-ins, the price has been high. Toyota made its Prime as affordable as its standard hybrids.
What Mini is betting on
Through October 2016, Mini sales dipped nearly 13% in America compared to the previous year. On the whole, small cars have struggled with gas prices so low and trucks more popular than ever. Fiat-Chrysler responded by axing the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 in favor of more trucks and SUVs. Mini, a brand defined by its name, appears to be responding by inching toward the rest of the pack. Maybe the extra space and added zip will hook more customers.
Urban professionals who gravitate toward the brand should be enthused about the plug-in model. BMW’s success in the electric vehicle segment paved the way for this model, so there is reason to expect top-notch performance from its hybrid drivetrain. Maybe it can entice enough consumers to make the new Countryman a success. Either way, going bigger is worth a shot for automakers these days — even if it means going against your brand name.