MINI releases details on 2017 Countryman Plug-In Hybrid

Article by Christian A., on October 20, 2016

Mini has just provided the world with a preview of its first hybrid model that employs petrol-electric power to propel its wheels. Derived from the second generation of the Mini Countryman that is bound to be released for the 2017 model year, the Mini plug-in hybrid would mark the brand’s first entry into a system of propulsion that employs not only a conventional engine, but also an electric motor.

The preview of Mini’s first hybrid vehicle – albeit in camouflaged form – was conducted by Sebastian Mackensen, head of Mini brand management, and Peter Wolf, head of Mini series management preview. This preview comes as the new Mini hybrid is now in the final phases of series development. This means that soon enough, there will be a new hybrid version of the Mini among the brand’s elegant offerings.

At a glimpse, it would be difficult to recognize the prototype as a hybrid model since Mini has discreetly integrated the charging socket for the high-voltage battery in the left Side Scuttle. To start the Mini hybrid, the driver just has to press the yellow start/stop button in the center of the dashboard. Making use of the electric motor’s silent operation, the Mini hybrid is set to start in electric mode, provided that the battery has enough electric charge.

A number of interior changes have been made to indicate the hybrid nature of this vehicle. For instance, Mini has replaced the rpm counter in the instrument cluster with a power display, which keeps a tab on the electric motor’s power reserves before the combustion engine kicks in. As to when the combustion engine kicks in depends on the hybrid model’s speed and on how firm the driver stepped on the accelerator pedal. Mackensen demonstrated this on a test drive – the combustion engine started to kick in as soon as he firmly stepped on the accelerator pedal.

Mini customers might be concerned that a hybrid would take away one of the beloved attributes of Mini vehicles – that distinct go-kart driving feel. No need to worry. Mackensen assured that just like any Mini vehicle, the upcoming series production hybrid would retain the brand’s unique go-kart driving feel while providing the known benefits of a hybrid drive. According to Mackensen – who himself has already driven the unveiled prototype –this was achieved by controlling the collaboration between the combustion engine and the electric motor. This means that the new hybrid is not just as efficient as any hybrid vehicle, but is also as fun to drive as any Mini car.

Wolf disclosed that the new Mini hybrid is able to optimize the entire torque of the electric motor. Since torque is readily available even when the vehicle is at standstill, the Mini boasts of catapult-like acceleration as well as zero-emission electric driving. Interestingly, the new Mini hybrid is able to travel as fast as 125 km/h – compared to other electrified offering which speeds are limited to around 30 km/h or 40 km/h.

With both the electric motor and the combustion engine at work, the new Mini hybrid offers a more intense level of accelerations compared to its conventional siblings. Good news is that the Mini hybrid remains as agile and as maneuverable as its conventional siblings – thanks to the fact that its chassis and suspension are the same as the combustion-powered models.

Moreover, since the eDrive components are positioned low down at the rear, the hybrid boasts of lower center of gravity and better weight balance the front and rear axles.

The vehicle’s hybrid system allows for three driving modes: Auto eDrive, Max eDrive and Save Battery. As standard, the Mini hybrid operates on Auto eDrive that permits speeds of up to 80 km/h. Max eDrive mode – making use of both propulsion systems – allows for speeds of up to 125 km/h.

Interestingly, the hybrid model is configured in such a way that the electric motor sends power to the rear wheels, and the combustion engine to the front wheels. Mini has connected an intelligent energy management to the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) to ensure optimized traction and drive stability. In fact, when the system detects any risk of a slip, the second drive unit will be activated to ensure extra traction during start-offs or to ensure a high level of steering precision during cornering.

Drivers, through the eDrive toggle switch, could activate the Save Battery mode in which the combustion engine does not only power the Mini hybrid to keep the battery’s charge level at constant, but also a generator to recharge the power storage unit while on the move. Once the battery charge level becomes low, the status display in the cockpit would constantly remind the need to recharge the unit through a power socket or a wall box.

Press Release

Charging ahead – The MINI goes electric.

Hallmark MINI driving fun combined with zero tailpipe emissions. With the introduction of the first plug-in hybrid model by the British premium brand, this will soon be a reality. The series development process for this car has almost been completed. It features a combustion engine and an electric motor enabling purely electric propulsion for the first time in a MINI. This marks the beginning of a new phase for MINI, and offers a glimpse into a future that is charged with excitement for MINI customers and those drivers yet to experience the thrill of a hybrid.

Head of MINI brand management Sebastian Mackensen and Head of MINI series management Peter Wolf offer insight into this new near-series test vehicle, and explain how it retains go-kart feeling in the true spirit of a MINI during a test drive of this model.

“With this model we want to convince MINI customers of the benefits of hybrid drive”, says Mackensen, “and impress everyone who already has hybrid driving experience with MINI’s unique go-kart driving feel.” The key to achieving this lies in intelligent energy management which is used to control how the combustion engine and electric motor operate together. For this reason, the first MINI plug-in hybrid model is not solely focused on efficiency, but uncompromising in pursuit of driving fun.

At first glance, you wouldn’t recognise the test car as a hybrid model. And that’s not because of the camouflage foil used. The charging socket for the high-voltage battery is discreetly integrated in the left Side Scuttle. Everything also looks familiar in the cockpit. The start/stop button in the centre of the dashboard glows yellow instead of red. As usual, you simply press the button to start the car – this vehicle, however, remains silent as the hybrid model always starts in electric mode. The rpm counter in the instrument cluster on the steering column has been replaced with a power display. Keeping a close eye on this display is particularly worthwhile for the first few kilometres as it informs the driver about the electric motor’s power reserves before the combustion engine fires up. When exactly the combustion engine starts varies depending upon on the vehicle’s speed and the intensity with which the driver operate the accelerator pedal.

“After a short time, the driver gets a feel for this”, promises Wolf. And this new driving experience promises a lot of driving fun. The hybrid MINI makes full use of the electric motor’s entire torque, which is available right from standstill, allowing for catapult-like acceleration. Even after leaving the slower pace of the city, this vehicle maintains its zero-tailpipe emissions at motorway speeds. The high-voltage battery under the rear seats provides power for long-lasting electric driving. AUTO eDRIVE standard mode permits speeds of up to 80 km/h, whilst in MAX eDRIVE mode speeds of up to 125 km/h are possible. For Mackensen this is a question of character: “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 40 km/h, but to speeds well beyond city traffic pace."

Testing the vehicle himself, Mackensen puts the car through its paces and demonstrates that you need to step on the accelerator peddle very firmly indeed to activate the second power source. Then things really start happening. With the combined output of both drives, the first MINI hybrid vehicle demonstrates unparalleled acceleration performance when compared with its combustion-only siblings.

However, MINI’s go-kart driving characteristics consists of more than just fast acceleration. Above all, this hybrid MINI has to prove how precisely it handles when taking bends on the most exciting, twisting roads. This is where MINI’s plug-in hybrid concept plays its next trump card. “As far as the chassis and suspension are concerned, nothing changes from the conventionally driven model variants”, says Wolf, “and the set-up benefits a lot from the hybrid concept”. Thanks to the eDrive components, which are positioned very low down at the rear, the car’s centre of gravity is lowered and the weight is evenly balanced between the front and rear axle – ideal for achieving an even higher level of legendary MINI agility.

The Hybrid concept provides yet another benefit: the electric motor transmits its power to the rear wheels, the combustion engine to the front wheels. Since the intelligent energy management is linked to the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), traction and drive stability are optimised via the drive system. “As soon as there is any risk of drive slip, the second drive unit is activated to provide additional traction when starting off or ensuring a high level of steering precision when cornering”, explains Wolf.

Intelligent energy management offers a further opportunity for both power sources to work together effectively. Driving on the motorway, Mackensen activates a third mode with the eDrive toggle switch: SAVE BATTERY. In this mode, the combustion engine powers the car whilst at the same time, the high voltage battery can retain charge at a constant level or indeed increase charge via a generator. Extended driving in SAVE BATTERY mode enables enough power generation for purely electric driving later.

After driving in SAVE BATTERY mode, the MINI drives back into town in silence at the end of the test drive. The status display in the cockpit reminds the driver to recharge the battery via wallbox or power socket. Refuelling is not necessary yet because the MINI plug-in hybrid model merely took a small sip from the fuel tank. Yet another new dimension of MINIMALISM.

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