BMW Teases MINI Plug-in Hybrid, Promises Highway-Capable Electric Only Mode, But Doesn’t Talk Range Yet

Hot on the heels of its quiet launch of the BMW 330e iPerformance plug-in hybrid sedan, German automaker BMW has released teaser pictures of a brand-new plug-in hybrid MINI model being developed for launch some time in the next year or so.

Not to be confused with the all-electric MINI recently given a green-light by BMW’s board — or the all-electric MINI E produced in limited quantities and leased to customers in Europe, the U.S. and more recently Asia — the plug-in hybrid MINI has been designed to offer customers a vehicle that can operate in all-electric mode around town but then relies on its gasoline engine for longer-distance driving.

The BMW MINI Plug-in Hybrid is nearing production

The BMW MINI Plug-in Hybrid is nearing production

At the moment, BMW is reluctant to talk much about details, but its most recent press release showing head of MINI brand management Sebastian Mackensen and head of MINI series management Peter Wolf putting a MINI Countryman-derived plug-in hybrid engineering prototype through its paces, BMW promises that when driven in “MAX eDRIVE” mode it’s possible to push the plug-in hybrid MINI to 125 kph (77 mph) before the engine kicks in.

In “AUTO e DRIVE” mode, the car’s default operating mode, BMW says the car will automatically choose the best operating mode for the circumstances, using electric power at speeds below 80 kph (50 mph) provided there’s enough power in the car’s battery pack and the electric motor can meet the demands of the accelerator. Push the car too hard in this mode, and the gasoline engine will kick in.

While BMW doesn't' say specifically, we're expecting limited sub 20-mile range

While BMW doesn’t’ say specifically, we’re expecting limited sub 20-mile range

In addition to the two modes listed above, BMW says the BMW MINI plug-in hybrid — name yet to be announced — will also have the same BATTERY SAVE mode found in other BMW plug-in hybrids, allowing customers to save their vehicle’s all-electric range for city driving while using the on-board internal combustion engine for longer-distance trips.

How far can the new MINI plug-in hybrid go per charge? While BMW isn’t detailing specifics at this time, it’s possible to read between the lines of BMW’s press release to see that like the BMW 330e iPerformance, the new BMW MINI plug-in hybrid has been engineered for limited EV range.

“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,” BMW’s press release says. This, we think, hints at an all-electric range of between 10 and 20 miles per charge.

There are other clues too that this is a drivetrain that shares more with the 330e iPerformance than BMW’s i8 plug-in hybrid or i3 range-extended EV: the drivetrain layout.  Instead of attaching the motor to the main drive shaft output through either a planetary gearbox or integration into the gearbox housing, BMW has opted to make the BMW MINI plug-in hybrid a through-the-road hybrid in which the front wheels are driven by the car’s internal combustion engine and the rear wheels are driven by an electric motor mounted on the rear axle. Meanwhile, the conventional starter motor and alternator have been replaced with a more powerful electric motor that can operate as a starter motor and a generator for the hybrid battery pack.

Based on the MINI Countryman, this model should be available next year.

Based on the MINI Countryman, this model should be available next year.

This setup does have its advantage for BMW despite its limited range: using a rear-mounted electric motor allows BMW’s on-board control system to automatically power the rear wheels during moment of low traction, giving the MINI Plug-in Hybrid as-needed all-wheel drive capabilities.

As for basing this new plug-in hybrid model on the MINI Countryman? While we’d love to see a plug-in hybrid variant of the standard MINI (or perhaps the MINI Paceman coupe) we’re guessing the larger form factor and higher ride height of the MINI Countryman means that it’s easier for BMW to squeeze in the underfloor battery pack and additional drivetrain components than it would be for other MINI models.

Sadly, BMW has not given any details of when we can expect the model to launch, or what its MSRP will be. It does hint however that the series development process has “almost been completed,” suggesting a launch date of next year is most likely.

Do you like the look of this new MINI model? Would you be interested in buying one if its all-electric range was under 20 miles per charge? And how much would you pay for one?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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