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It's an electrifying MINI adventure. Image by MINI.

It's an electrifying MINI adventure...
The first plug-in hybrid version of the MINI is confirmed for production.
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What's all this about?

MINI is readying its first plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model, and two senior executives from the company - Sebastian Mackensen, head of MINI brand management, and Peter Wolf, head of MINI series management - have taken it for a test-drive and given the world at large their thoughts. Which are biased, obviously, but there's some interesting reading here.

Such as?

Well, for a start, peer through the camouflage of the PHEV prototype in the pictures and it can hardly have escaped your attention that the bodywork is that of a Countryman; presumably, this is the all-new crossover MINI model, then. Other than that, it's said to be fairly standard MINI fare outside and within, the key changes being a charging port on the front-left wing, a start/stop button that glows yellow instead of red and a power gauge for the battery's reserves in place of the rev counter.

What have we got under the bonnet... and, er, the rear seats?

Now, BMW is being cagey here, but as the MINI shares underpinnings with the 2 Series Active Tourer range, expect the 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine up front and an electric motor with a lithium-ion battery pack in the rear - as seen in the BMW 225xe. It probably won't be as potent as the 224hp/385Nm application in the 2 Series AT, but it should still give the MINI PHEV plenty of poke.

Any word on range or eco-stats?

No, although MINI is keen to say the car has a 78mph top speed in Max eDrive and a 50mph limiter in Auto eDrive. A third energy management strategy, Save Battery, can be employed and - like the 225xe - the petrol engine powers the front wheels while the e-motor handles the rear axle. Meaning it's a rear-wheel drive MINI when it's in zero-emissions silent running.

Has the chassis set-up changed to account for the electrification process?

According to Wolf, no it hasn't: "As far as the chassis and suspension are concerned, nothing changes from the conventionally driven model variants, and the set-up benefits a lot from the hybrid concept."

Why is that?

Because the electrical componentry is all situated low down at the rear, improving the car's centre-of-gravity and splitting the weight evenly over both axles. Mackensen said: "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."

When is it on sale, then?

In 2017 and we're sure that more than just the forthcoming Countryman body will get the part-electric running gear. Failing that, if you want an electric MINI hatch, you'll need to track down one of the 40 MINI E cars that were built in 2009/10 as a trial for BMW i - those cars were later used as support vehicles at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Matt Robinson - 16 Oct 2016

2017 MINI Countryman PHEV preview. Image by MINI.2017 MINI Countryman PHEV preview. Image by MINI.2017 MINI Countryman PHEV preview. Image by MINI.2017 MINI Countryman PHEV preview. Image by MINI.    - MINI road tests
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