We compare two $70,000 vehicles that push the boundaries for what constitutes an SUV and for petrol-electric hybrid motoring.
If you want to save the environment one kilometre at a time, or you are just keen to reduce your fuel bill while motoring in standout style, these two SUVs are for you.
The Mini Countryman and Lexus UX may push the boundaries of what constitutes an SUV, but who are we to argue with what car companies call their automotive children? If a four-door can be called a coupe, why can’t a high-riding hatchback be an SUV?
Both of these tech-laden luxury conveyances will get you from A to B on a minimum of fuel in the maximum comfort their compact bodies can deliver. And while they may look out of place out back-of-Bourke, they’re right at home in Brighton or Balmoral or wherever you buy your Guccis.
So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, start your hybrids. Let’s see which of these two characterful $70K urban dynamos has the bling and the zing to be crowned king of the urban jungle.
Lexus calls the UX compact premium SUV a gateway model, which is a fancy way of saying it’s the cheapest and smallest car in the range, and will therefore be the first step up the Lexus ladder for some.
Prices for the UX range start from $44,450 for the UX200 FWD Luxury spec, stretching to $64,100 for the UX250h AWD Sports Luxury, both before on-road costs.
There are three mechanical configurations across the eight-variant UX range. The most affordable variant is the UX200 that is powered by a 126kW 2.0-litre petrol engine driving the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Above that sits the UX250h, which has a detuned 107kW version of that same engine coupled to an 80kW electric motor, which makes it a faster performer overall and also more economical.
In November 2021, Lexus added the fully electric UX300e to the range, priced from $74,000 up to $81,000 plus on-road costs. This variant has a 150kW electric motor driving the front wheels, drawing power from a 54.3kWh lithium-ion battery. Lexus claims it will do 360km on a single charge, although Europe’s more stringent WLTP test cycle reports 315km.
The UX’s body dimensions of 4495mm length, 1840mm width and 1520mm height make it roughly the same size as the Mercedes-Benz GLA and slightly bigger than the BMW X2, two of its rivals in the small premium SUV market segment.
Today we’re testing the UX250h Sports Luxury FWD that is priced from $59,100 plus on-road costs. It comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps and LED cornering foglamps, headlight washers, roof rails, privacy glass and a power-operated tailgate.
Our test car also has the $3500 Sports Luxury Enhancement Pack that adds a moonroof, head-up display and smart key card.
According to the Lexus website, the drive-away price in Melbourne for our test car is $70,657.
The Mini Countryman was given a midlife refresh for the 2021 model year, and we are testing the mid-level Cooper SE Mini Yours model priced from $69,000 before on-road costs.
The weirdly named ‘Mini Yours’ specification level sits at the top of the Mini range. It gets a panoramic sunroof, carbon black trim elements, 19-inch alloys with runflat tyres, bonnet stripes and integrated roof rails.
The facelift has given a slight refresh to the LED headlamp and running lamp signature, plus you now score the Union Jack motif LED tail-lamps. This is combined with a more aggressive front bumper and airdam that lets everyone know you’ve bought the environmentally-conscious Countryman.
Power comes from a 110kW/220Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and a 55kW/165Nm electric motor. Under the floor is a 9.6kWh battery pack that offers a claimed 55km electric-only range.
The Mini drives all four wheels through a conventional six-speed automatic transmission, and offers a claimed combined fuel consumption of 2.4L/100km.
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|Key details||2021 Lexus UX250h Sports Luxury FWD||2021 Mini Cooper Countryman SE Mini Yours Hybrid AWD|
|Price (MSRP)||$59,100 plus on-road costs||$69,000 plus on-road costs|
|Colour of test car||Soniq Quartz (white)||Rooftop Grey|
|Options||Enhancement Pack $3500||None|
|Price as tested||$70,657 drive-away (Melb.)||$76,108 drive-away (Melb.)|
The UX250h test car came with a white leather interior, perforated on the front seats that also have integrated headrests and blue accents. Both front seats are electrically adjustable, as is the steering wheel for reach and tilt.
Dual-zone climate control is standard, as is a 10.3-inch display screen housing satellite navigation and Bluetooth phone integration, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. There are two USB ports under the armrest and a wireless charging mat up front.
This UX250h test car also had a moonroof, head-up display and smart key card as mentioned above.
As for convenience factors, both front doors have good-sized pockets that can take water bottles. The back doors do not, but there are cupholders in the centre armrest.
Getting into the back seat is not as easy as it could be thanks to a narrow door opening. Headroom is okay if you’re under six foot like me, and there’s a decent amount of legroom (for me) back there too.
The back seats also get air vents and USB-C charging points, and there are ISOFIX points in the two outboard seats.
As for the boot, the UX250h hybrid stores its battery pack under the boot floor, which means it’s a higher floor than some rivals, and it also lops seven litres off total boot capacity, 364L compared to the UX200’s 371L. The all-wheel-drive version is smaller again at 334L.
None of those numbers are particularly impressive, even for a small SUV. That said, the UX250h does offer a double-floor system in the boot that allows you to store slim objects like laptop bags out of sight. There is also a carry hook and 12V power charger in the boot.
The back seat folds forward in a 60/40 split to accommodate larger loads at the expense of passenger capacity. The tailgate on the Sports Luxury variant is electric opening and closing.
In addition to all that, there are a number of thoughtful touches that might not seem obvious on first look. These include the illuminated air vent knobs to help you adjust airflow at night, or the cargo cover that can be folded like a net and stowed when not in use, or windscreen wipers that stop when a door opens to prevent passengers getting splashed.
The interior of pretty much every modern Mini is a riot of rounds. Circles are the motif du jour, and we’re not just talking about the steering wheel.
The round centre stack includes the integrated infotainment screen and fun dynamic interior lighting ring, and sits above a trio of round air-conditioning controls. On the console below this are a pair of round cupholders that sit in front of the round transmission trim.
On the steering wheel, you’ll find six round buttons to control audio and driver assistance functions. Feedback is given through a mostly round instrument cluster, and if you’ve got to this point and feel things are just getting too circular, then you’ll be pleased to know the door handles to get out are round too.
You sit reasonably low for an SUV, making the Mini feel a bit more sporty to be in. The seats are comfortable (heated with memory in our car) and have a Union Jack embossed into the headrests. Because of course they do.
Rear passenger room is quite impressive for the car’s size (2670mm wheelbase), and the leather is soft and comfortable. You can recline the seats for even more comfort, and while there is no dedicated centre armrest, the middle ’20 per cent’ of the backrest can fold down if you want something to lean on.
There are two USB-C ports and air vents, but the trim and its implementation are a little light and plastic-feeling. You do get a handy blind over the rear sunroof panel, though.
A powered tailgate conceals a cargo volume of 405L (down on the 450L of a non-hybrid Countryman due to the battery pack), which can be expanded to 1275L with the handy 40: 20: 40 split rear seat.
While there are no remote releases for the backrest from the boot itself, you will find a 12-volt outlet and storage under the floor for the home charger. What isn’t under the floor, though, is a spare tyre, with the Mini relying on run-flat Continentals.
|2021 Lexus UX250h Sports Luxury FWD||2021 Mini Cooper Countryman SE Mini Yours Hybrid|
Infotainment and Connectivity
The Lexus UX250h Sports Luxury comes standard with a Mark Levinson 13-speaker sound system that is state-of-the-art and a CD player in the dash that is not.
A 10.3-inch central display houses the infotainment and connectivity functions, including DAB+ digital radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It can be used by talking to it, by touching the screen, or by clumsily fumbling with Lexus’s unloved touchpad – which will be kicked to the kerb for all next-gen Lexus models.
The 8.8-inch LCD touchscreen that sits within the circular centre stack, and is sadly not round itself, runs Mini’s 4G-powered Mini Connected telemetry software. This combines handy info like live traffic maps on the navigation screens with the ability to communicate with the car remotely.
It’s a very handy and often overlooked function in the Mini, and means you can lock and unlock the car remotely with your phone, and even send navigation destinations to the vehicle from wherever you are (in the world).
Further, you can use it to remotely monitor the car’s charging status, which makes it an indispensable part of owning an EV.
For more day-to-day use, the system features a DAB+ digital radio tuner, there is a USB port on the console, then another plus a wireless charging pad in the central armrest. Full-screen Apple CarPlay is standard, and while there is the option to use it wirelessly, we find it works better when tethered with a cable.
Sound quality from the 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system is good too.
The Lexus UX was crash-tested by ANCAP shortly after its arrival in Australia in 2018. It was awarded five stars, scoring particularly well in adult occupant protection (96 per cent) and child occupant protection (88 per cent). It scored 83 per cent for safety assist systems and 82 per cent for vulnerable road user protection.
The Lexus UX range comes with the Safety Sense+ pack that includes auto emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, radar cruise control, a reversing camera and parking sensors all round.
The UX250h has a head-up display that puts speed and sat-nav information in the driver’s natural line of sight.
The Countryman scored five stars when tested by ANCAP in 2017 (with a 51 per cent safety system rating), but despite the mid-cycle refresh for this year, it still doesn’t include blind-spot warning or rear cross-traffic alert.
It was scored 90 per cent for adult occupant protection, 80 per cent for children and 64 per cent for pedestrians.
The all-digital 6.5-inch display in the Countryman is essentially lifted from the full-electric Mini Cooper, and provides a clear but simple readout of speed, fuel and battery charge state.
You can cycle through other readout functions, but only show one at a time. It works, but it is pretty basic.
Adaptive cruise control is standard, but as the system uses a camera rather than radar to scan ahead, it can be easily tricked by bright sunlight. So don’t plan on travelling west in the afternoon.
The rear camera quality is good, but there is sadly no surround-view option available.
If you buy a Lexus after January 1, 2022, it will come with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. If you bought before that date – but still in 2021 – Lexus will convert your current four-year, 100,000km warranty to the new five-year term from January 1.
After that same date, battery packs fitted to electric and hybrid models like the UX250h will be covered by a 10-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, up from eight years and 160,000km.
The UX needs to be serviced every 12 months or 15,000km, and each of the first three visits will cost a capped $495.
As for fuel use, Lexus claims 4.5L/100km of regular unleaded on the city/hwy combined cycle. During our week-long test we averaged 5.8L/100km.
Mini’s three-year warranty is something of a relic in the current environment where most brands, including Lexus, have moved to five years.
Servicing through the capped-price Mini Service Inclusive program runs to $1595 for a basic five-year package or $4155 for comprehensive cover (which includes brake pads, rotors, wipers and spark plugs) over the same time period. You can even add a year of monthly washes, plus an annual detail, for $650.
As for driving efficiency, we managed a bit under 40km (against the claim of 55–60km) of full-electric driving around town, which is enough to satisfy the daily commute and a number of other errands for most urban drivers.
You can drive in one of three modes: Save Battery to prioritise the petrol engine; Max eDrive to prioritise the electric motor; and Auto eDrive to balance the mix of the two.
Mini claims a combined fuel consumption cycle of 2.4L/100km, which isn’t really achievable on trips longer than 50km, as once the battery depletes, you’re chewing nothing but fuel.
Our average for the week of a mixture of urban and highway driving in the auto eDrive setting was 5.8L/100km, which is a good 13 per cent less than the petrol-only Countryman S claim of 6.7L/100km (if you would even achieve that).
The Mini PHEV can accept up to 22kW from a Type-2 AC charger, which allows you to get a full charge into the car in about 40 minutes.
|At a glance||2021 Lexus UX250h Sports Luxury FWD||2021 Mini Cooper Countryman SE Mini Yours Hybrid|
|Warranty||Five years / unlimited km||Three years / unlimited km|
|Service intervals||12 months or 15,000km||Condition-based|
|Servicing costs||$1485 (3 years)||From $1595 (5 years)|
|Fuel cons. (claimed)||4.5L/100km||2.1L/100km|
|Fuel cons. (on test)||5.8L/100km||5.8L/100km|
|Fuel type||91-octane Regular Unleaded||95-octane Premium Unleaded|
|Fuel tank size||43L||47L|
The UX250h starts silently, leaning on electric power to move away and can stay that way up to 50km/h, although it doesn’t take much throttle pressure to waken the petrol engine.
The UX feels like a compact car to drive; it’s nimble and easy to manoeuvre. The steering ratio is a quickish 2.8 turns lock-to-lock delivering a 10.4m turning circle kerb-to-kerb (11.2m if you prefer wall-to-wall).
The UX250h Sports Luxury is heavier than the UX200 thanks to the battery pack and other electric elements, weighing in at 1600kg (UX200 Sports Luxury is 1510kg).
So, a 1600kg SUV/hatch with 131kW of power is not a pocket rocket by any measure. But it does have a bit of punch to accelerate enthusiastically if you need it, although throttle response can be tardy in Eco and Normal driving modes. Lexus claims 0–100km/h in 8.5 seconds, which feels on the money.
Of the UX250h’s three driving modes, Sport sharpens throttle response and continuously variable transmission gearing appreciably. It also colours the instrument binnacle red to reflect your chosen mode.
The ride is well controlled, a touch firm, but that’s more about reducing body roll because it soaks up small, sharp bumps with a well-tuned finesse. Noise levels inside the cabin are fine at urban speeds, but tyre and engine noise can become intrusive at higher speeds.
With a claimed 0–100km/h sprint time of 6.8 seconds, the hybrid Countryman has plenty of impressive punch from its powertrain combo.
The three-cylinder engine offers peak torque from 1300 to 4300rpm, giving the car a very wide and flexible powerband in the perfect zone for urban running. Despite its ‘green’ credentials, it still feels like a fun and sporty Mini.
Changing over from electric to petrol and back again is very smooth, with only the buzz and vibration of the engine kicking in acting as an indication that things are working away under the bonnet.
There are multiple drive modes, including a sport and economy setting, to make the best use of the combined petrol-electric power or simply opt for the most efficient running of the Countryman around town.
While there is an element of regenerative braking when decelerating, the system isn’t highly aggressive so the car doesn’t really tend to recover energy much, unless you are on the downside of a steep hill.
The lower stance and seating position, paired with well-weighted steering, give the Countryman a very fun and sporting sensation on the road. It’s a very likeable car to drive and delivers on the engagement factor we’ve come to expect from Mini.
Parking and general manoeuvrability are good, and the car’s 11.4m turning circle means you can manage a normal four-lane U-turn without too much trouble.
Even on big 19-inch wheels (with runflat tyres), the Mini is compliant and comfortable around town, and it handles most surface changes well.
The tight and sporty feel you want from the brand is there, although the hybrid Countryman weighs in a hefty 235kg more than a ‘regular’ Countryman S (1715kg v 1480kg), which does account for its settled ride.
With this in mind, if you hit something a little sharper or with too much pace, the suspension will compress quickly and return a solid ‘thud’ in protest of your behaviour of trying to hustle the heavy Mini a little too eagerly.
So, how do the neighbours know you’ve thrown an additional $8000 at your boutique SUV to make it a plug-in? Yellow badges of course!
As otherwise the Cooper Countryman Mini Yours Hybrid looks and feels the same as a traditionally powered Mini, and is all the better for it. The hybrid drivetrain may not be groundbreaking in its implementation, by still offering a limited range and modest energy-recovery system, but the car works well as a quiet urban runner, especially if you can plug it in overnight to keep things topped up.
Pair that with a Mini that drives like a Mini, and you’ve got a nice balance on the road to a full-electric future.
Just know that you’ll never recoup the price premium in fuel savings, and the 2021 Mini Cooper Countryman Hybrid works well as a stepping stone, an SUV and a Mini, all in one neat package.
|Key details||2021 Lexus UX250h Sports Luxury FWD||2021 Mini Cooper Countryman SE Mini Yours Hybrid AWD|
|Engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid||1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol-electric hybrid|
|Power||107kW @ 6000rpm petrol engine
80kW electric motor
|100kW @ 6000rpm petrol engine
70kW electric motor
|Torque||188Nm @ 4400-5200rpm petrol engine
202Nm electric motor
|220Nm @ 1300-4300rpm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive||All-wheel drive|
|Transmission||Continuously variable transmission (CVT)||Six-speed automatic|
|Power to weight ratio||81kW/t||97kW/t|
|Tow rating||750kg braked and unbraked||N/A|
It’s a hotly contested race right to the finish line, and while there are no losers whichever one you choose, there is one winner.
For our money, the Mini is the better choice. It’s got a bigger boot, packs more equipment and performance, and is more economical. It also has more visual pizzazz than the Lexus, although the underdone three-year warranty, high servicing costs and missing safety features not only give pause for thought, they give anyone who chooses the Lexus more peace of mind.