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L.A. Auto Show 2016: Mini Cooper SE Countryman All4 plug-in hybrid

L.A. Auto Show 2016: Mini Cooper SE Countryman All4 plug-in hybrid
Mini Cooper SE Countryman All4 plug-in hybrid, due in June 2017. (Mini)

What is it?

The Countryman, a four-door version of the Mini Cooper micro car, is known as “the big Mini.” A thorough revamp makes it a little larger. The bigger news: Besides two traditional gas engine versions, Mini next year will start selling an all-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid called the Mini Cooper SE Countryman All4. 

"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.

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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.

What’s new

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.

The Countryman's information and entertainment panel, made round.
The Countryman's information and entertainment panel, made round. (Mini)

The competition

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.

The details

U.S. buyers will have to wait until June 2017. Prices? Mini's not talking yet.

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