What is it?
"It's a real evolution of the Mini concept — fuel efficient, small, dynamic, sporty and now with a more forward-looking drive train design," said Karl Brauer, analyst at Kelley Blue Book.
Why it matters
For those who don't know, a plug-in hybrid works this way: For commutes and other short hauls, you drive on the car's battery alone. For longer trips, a gasoline engine kicks in.
Such cars aren't selling in huge numbers, but sales are growing. Mini's target market is youngish professional up-and-comers who don't want a larger car or truck, or already have one, but do want a zippy car with a sporty drive. And maybe help "save the planet," too.
It's a bit of a gamble. The plug-in's reception will offer clues for all automakers about where the market for small sporty plug-in hybrids might be headed.
The hybrid powertrain turns out 221 horsepower and moves from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds.
The Countryman grows a bit, too. It gets another 7.8 inches in length, an inch in width. Cargo space increases 30%. There's a slew of new dashboard technologies. There's an optional picnic bench for two that folds out the back of the car.
Most of the plug-ins being sold today are stalwart pokers, competent but lacking excitement.
The Countryman's closest competitor is the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid, with a tad less horsepower but a 0-to-60 time that bests the Mini by three-tenths of a second. Its battery will run about 20 miles before recharge, about what Mini is promising.
The Chevy Volt is no sloth at 7.5 seconds — and its battery goes 50 miles or more.