I'm always surprised by how many Mini automobiles I see around Chattanooga, considering that the nearest dealerships are more than 100 miles away in Knoxville, Birmingham and suburban Atlanta.
There is something about these little bug-eyed, subcompact crossovers that appeals deeply to a segment of consumers who value Mini's idiosyncratic design and solid driving dynamics.
Today's tester is a 2018 Mini Cooper SE Countryman ALL4, which has the odd distinction of being the "biggest Mini." Indeed, the Countryman plug-in is almost 14 feet long and can haul a substantial amount of cargo with the rear seat folded flat.
Bold badges on three sides make the Countryman hybrid one of the most conspicuous plug-ins on the road, even though its all-electric range is only about 12 miles. The EPA reports fuel economy of 65 mpg-equivalent in electric/gas mode and a more modest 27 mpg in gas-only mode.
-Model: 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4
-Exterior color: Melting Silver Metallic
-Interior color: Carbon Black leatherette
-Hybrid Engine: 3-cylinder turbo with plug-in electric motor
-Horsepower: 221 combined
-Transmission: Six-speed automatic
-Fuel economy: 65 mpge gas/electric, 27 mpg gas only
-Price (as tested): $40,000
-Dealerships: Mini of Birmingham, Global Imports Mini (Chamblee, Ga.), Mini of Knoxville
The drive-train includes a turbocharged, 3-cylinder engine up front with 134 horsepower and a 65-kilowatt electric motor making 87 horsepower driving the back wheels. Computers dish out power as needed depending on the length of charge and road conditions.
Our tester has an MSRP of exactly $40,000 and competes alongside the Audi Q3, the Mercedes-Benz GLA-class and the Infiniti QX30.
STYLING AND FEATURES
The Mini Countryman's retro styling manages to look both old and new. There are echoes of exterior design cues going back decades, but once inside the car, a circle motif engulfs the driver. A circular instrument cluster is the size of a Personal Pan pizza from Pizza Hut.
All the gauges are outlined in chrome trim, accentuating the geometric pattern. The primary dash material is a soft plastic with fine grain that looks like suede. Mini calls the color Hazy Gray. Piano-black accents trim the dash and doors.
The leatherette sports seats, a $300 option, are firm and supportive, but have no power functions. Maybe it's just us, but manual seat adjustments seem a little out of place in a $40,000 vehicle.
Shoulder- and head-room are generous for a subcompact crossover. Rear-seat leg room is adequate. Visibility is great in the front half of the vehicle, but a little pinched in the back. The plunging roof line takes a toll on the size of window in the rear hatch. Circular side mirrors are cute but not the best shape for displaying a wild field of vision.
Toggle switches abound in the cabin of the Mini Countryman. Even the start switch is a toggle. They look cool on the dash but a little overdone on the ceiling. With that round, porthole of a gauge cluster and all the toggles, the inside of the Mini begins to feel like the control room of a submarine.
We love other touches like an extra sun visor for the driver's side window and rear seats that seem slightly elevated for a better forward-facing view of the road.
Outside, the Mini Countryman has the contours of a mid-20th century runabout. The black roof and Melting Silver Metallic exterior paint (a $500 option) add to the old-school feel. Eighteen-inch, 10-spoke black wheels, however, have a new-age vibe. The stock tires are Goodyear's all-season Eagles. The yellow charging port on the front left quarter-panel is clearly highlighted to draw attention.
Working together the electric motor and gas engine tag-team to produce 221 combined horsepower. That's enough to create brisk acceleration. Climbing an on-ramp in downtown Chattanooga, the Mini Countryman charged into rush-hour traffic ready to talk smack with the other cars.
Steering is on the heavy side though. If you are fond of driving on twisting roads, get ready for a workout. It may be possible to get a jacked upper-body just by driving the Mini Countryman hard, day after day.
Because of the limited range of the Mini's electric motor, it's hard to make the case for this as a green machine. However, if you live and work downtown, or have an ultra-short commute, you might be able to keep your gasoline purchases to a minimum.
The overall driving experience brings to mind two words: quiet and solid. Those two descriptors are not often associated with the sub-compact class of vehicles.
The 2018 Mini Cooper SE Countryman ALL4 checks a lot of boxes for young urban-dwellers. As long as you don't mind shopping for cars outside of metro Chattanooga, it's an interesting small crossover alternative with all-wheel-drive functionality.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.