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Company Car & Van April 2018

ON TEST: MINI COUNTRYMAN

ON TEST: MINI COUNTRYMAN PHEV More road reports at www.companycarandvan.co.uk MINI fun with max hybrid power Andrew Walker As our family car for three years from 2013 to 2016 was a diesel MINI Countryman, I was excited to get my hands on the latest addition to the range, the MINI Countryman SE ALL4 PHEV, as it’s the first plug-in-hybrid version of the best-seller. MINI is targeting customers who have flocked to the likes of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and is a much smaller, more user-friendly alternative. MINI says 90 per cent of its buyers drive only 30-40 miles per day, and if that’s true it makes a compelling argument for owning this latest model. The Countryman PHEV looks, well, just like the other models in the range, which makes it both wider and longer than its predecessor. It sits on the UKL2 platform architecture found underneath the latest MINI Clubman and the BMW X1. Stepping back to look at the new version, at first it’s quite hard to see what’s different but on closer inspection both the front and rear are significantly changed, with a larger, more pronounced front-grille and bloated headlights as well as a noticeably squared-off rear end. It all makes the new version slightly less attractive than the old one. Inside, things get better with a completely redesigned dashboard. MINI has kept the retro circular display and chrome toggle switches, which sit in the centre of the dash, while the speedo, rev counter and fuel gauge now sit in front of the driver. The speedboatstyle handbrake has also been replaced by an automatic one. The materials inside the cab feel more premium than the outgoing model, with a mixture of soft touch plastics on the dash and fabric trim on the doors that matched my seats, finished in a fetching mid-grey. Interior black trim piano black on the dashboard, an extra £155, adds to the upmarket feeling. The Cooper-spec Countryman gets SatNav, DAB radio, cruise control, parking sensors, Bluetooth and autonomous city braking. There’s a massive options list, with my test model fitted with the Media Pack, which adds MINI Nav, MINI connected, and enhanced Bluetooth with wireless charging. The standard infotainment system is a 6.5” colour display with SatNav including European mapping For £950, you can upgrade to MINI’s new 8.8” XL infotainment system that now features touchscreen capability for the first time. My test car had this fitted and I found it great to use and simple to understand. Interior space is definitely improved with the Countryman now 4.3m long, 1.82m wide and 1.56m tall, which is 20cm longer and 3cm wider than the previous car, although the height hasn’t increased. MINI has extended the wheelbase of the Countryman by 75mm, which benefits rear legroom. Two will fit nicely in the rear, but passenger three will struggle for legroom thanks to the large transmission tunnel running through the middle of the car. Bootspace is less than in the standard Countryman, at 405 litres, which is still 55 litres up on the old car. It also extends to 1,345 litres with the seats folded, while the three rear seats can be split 40/20/40 for increased versatility. This is further enhanced by a useful split-folding boot base, two elastic fabric holding ties, one on each side, a small storage bin on the left and a 12v input on the right. Inside the cabin there’s two cup holders behind the gear lever and in the front and rear doors, CC&V VERDICT Not cheap but that’s not the point. All of the MINI fun in the larger Countryman format, with the bonus of it as a plug-inhybrid with super low emissions and brilliant fuel economy. What’s not to like? CC&V Rating: four more deep pockets. In fleet, where diesel was once king, the growth of PHEV sales has steadily increased and MINI is hoping to cash in on this. With the new Countryman diesel handling brilliantly I wanted to find out how different the PHEV version might be, so that if you choose one it’s not just for tax and fuel purposes but as a car that drives well, too. I’m pleased to say that the PHEV Countryman handles just as well as the diesel model, as I discovered driving on the motorway and on a selection of main and country roads. That’s the good news; I’ll get the bad news out of the way now. The PHEV only offers a 25-mile EV range, so when you put your foot down – and you’ll want to, trust me – the range goes down quite quickly. The PHEV’s 87bhp electric motor actually gives the Countryman a bit of oomph, 0-62mph in just 6.8 seconds, which at the same time is pleasingly quiet. The six-speed auto box is also great and makes for relaxing driving. Couple this with MINI’s standard taut steering and four-wheels-onthe-corner design and this version of the Countryman really is good fun to be in. The enjoyment is further enhanced by the exemplary MINI build quality, especially inside the cabin where everything would not look out of place in an upmarket Scandinoir. If you opt for the PHEV, will you save any money? Emissions of just 49g/km means it falls into the lowest BIK company car tax bracket off just 9% and coming in at under £40,000, it escapes the £310 road tax surcharge for cars costing over £40,000. Having said that, our basic model will set you back £32,195 OTR compared to the basic Cooper D Countryman, the most popular fleet choice at present, which retails at £23,850. The entry level Countryman diesel is currently available to lease non maintained from £239 per month ( 6+35 ), while the PHEV is only £16 more at £255 per month (6+35 ). With a claimed fuel economy of 134.5 mpg and emissions of just 49g/km, there won’t be a shortage of interest. 34 | April 2018 | Company Car & Van www.companycarandvan.co.uk

The eActros is on the charge The last barrier in the way of the electrification of all fleets fell in 2016 when Mercedes-Benz Trucks became the first manufacturer in the world to produce a heavy-duty electric truck. The technology pioneer is now taking the logical next step: putting its electric truck, the eActros, out on the road with customers. Two variants, with a gross vehicle weight of 18 or 25 tonnes, are now being trialled to test their everyday feasibility and economic efficiency under real-life conditions. The long-term aim: locally emissionfree and quiet driving in urban environments with series-production trucks. Using expertise from across the Daimler Group, an interdisciplinary team has designed a vehicle capable of coping with everyday distribution operations. “Daimler Trucks is synonymous with innovation leadership, allied to a realistic and pragmatic attitude,” explains Martin Daum, the Daimler AG Board Member responsible for Daimler Trucks and Buses. “This is particularly true when it comes to electric mobility. We want our Mercedes-Benz eActros to be a viable proposition in tough everyday operations – both technically and commercially.” The drive system comprises two electric motors located close to the rear-axle wheel hubs. These three-phase asynchronous motors are liquid-cooled and operate with a nominal voltage of 400 volts. They generate an output of 125 kW each, with maximum torque of 485 Nm each. The gearing ratios convert this into 11,000 Nm each, resulting in driving performance on a par with that of a diesel truck. The maximum permissible axle load stays at the usual 11.5 tonnes. The energy for a range of up to 125 miles/200 km is provided by two lithium-ion batteries with an output of 240 kWh. These are the same battery packs that have been used by EvoBus GmbH. In term of power capacity, it’s a significant powertrain which while short for long distance operations is more than enough for short-run urban use. As for charging capacity, Daimler believes 20 to 80 kW charge rates will be possible between 3-11 hours. Testing took place in Germany and Switzerland with a number of current Mercedes-Benz truck customers trialling a version of the eActros and feeding back their analysis. These customers all distribute goods via the road network – but in very different sectors and categories, with palettes ranging from groceries to building supplies and raw materials. The vehicles are being used by customers for tasks that would otherwise be completed by vehicles with conventional diesel engines. The range of requirements means that the vehicles are fitted with a variety of bodies. According to need, refrigerated box bodies, tankers or tarpaulin sides are used. The pilot customers tested the vehicles in real-life operations for twelve months with the aim to achieve “series-production and market maturity for a range of economically competitive electric trucks for use in heavy-duty transport operations with effect from 2021,” said Mercedes-Benz. Sparshatts of Kent Ltd, Unit 10, Eurolink Industrial Estate, Sittingbourne, Kent ME10 3RN. Tel: 01795 479571, Fax 01795 436364. Email: info@sparshatts.co.uk. W: www.sparshatts.co.uk

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