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Mini goes electric

POSTED BY Nigel Andretti ON 18 October 2016

MINI’s first-ever production plug-in hybrid – expected to be the next-generation Countryman SUV – has been previewed and, despite the electrified powertrain, promises to retain its signature go-kart handling.

Similar in concept to BMW’s 330e plug-in hybrid, the new zero-emissions capable Mini will use an electric motor and battery tucked beneath the rear seats in conjunction with a traditional combustion engine.

Although no details have been revealed about the petrol engine, or the size of the battery, the new model “is not solely focused on efficiency, but uncompromising in pursuit of driving fun”, Mini officials said at a preview in Munich, Germany, recently.

Photos of the electrified Mini reveal a heavily camouflaged model with an increased ride height, prominent grille-mounted foglights, second-row doors and thick plastic wheel-arch moulding, leading to speculation that the new hybrid powertrain could debut in the next-generation Countryman.

To differentiate the hybrid Mini from its petrol- and diesel-powered counterparts, the British marque has changed the lighting of the start/stop button from red to yellow and tachometer in the instrument cluster to a battery power readout.

The socket used for charging the high-voltage battery is positioned on the front left fender.

Like many plug-in hybrids, Mini’s new eco-friendly model will start in electric mode and only switch to the combustion drivetrain when battery levels run low, or when the throttle is depressed heavily.

However, unlike many other PHEVs, the hybrid Mini’s electric power is not limited to slow city speeds and can reach electric-only speeds of up to 125km/h in Max eDrive mode and up to 80km/h in Auto eDrive. A third driving mode, Save Battery, will switch propulsion to the combustion engine to preserve battery charge.

Mini says that “with the combined output of both drives, the first Mini hybrid vehicle demonstrates unparalleled acceleration performance when compared with its combustion-only siblings”.

Mini brand manager Sebastian Mackensen said the electrified vehicle would still maintain the essence of the British brand but would also introduce new technologies.

“With this model we want to convince Mini customers of the benefits of hybrid drive and impress everyone who already has hybrid driving experience with Mini’s unique go-kart driving feel,” he said.

“In a hybrid Mini model, driving electrically must also be an exhilarating experience. This means that entirely electric driving is not limited to speeds of 30 or 40km/h, but to speeds well beyond city traffic pace.”

To ensure handling does not suffer, Mini has mounted the extra hybrid components low in the rear of the vehicle, enabling a lower centre of gravity and balanced weight distribution.

The electric motor will also power the rear wheels, while the combustion engine will power the front, giving the hybrid Mini all-wheel-drive grip with an intelligent traction control system that can optimise the drivetrain on the fly.

Mini’s electrified powertrain is also expected to spread throughout its model range, with hybrid Hatches, 5-doors and Clubmans likely to follow.