Countryman makes good work of all-wheel traction, handling
"The Mini John Cooper Works Countryman proves small doesn’t mean inadequate when it comes to having fun behind the wheel."
FRANKFURT - What do you call a four-door Mini that rides as high as a CUV and packs a wallop equal to a 2013 BMW 128i Coupe? Officially, it’s called the 2013 Mini John Cooper Works Countryman and my recent seat time in the newest iteration proves small doesn’t mean inadequate when it comes to having fun behind the wheel.
Power comes in the form of a 1.6-litre, twin-scroll turbocharger four-cylinder engine. Official specs for the North America version have yet to be released, but Euro-spec numbers indicate 218 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque. From what Mini Canada sources whisper at a limited test drive event, I won’t be surprised to see final numbers in the range of 220 each. Sales should start in early 2013.
Engine performance is smooth and sporty as you would expect given its more recent Anglo-Saxon heritage. The best of Britain means robust engine sounds resonate through the tailpipes. Its rich German heritage shines through with a seamless engine performance and six-speed manual shifting that can only be described as moving a hot a knife through butter. We should also see a six-speed automatic.
Channelling power to the pavement is the work of Mini’s all-wheel drive system refreshingly referred to as ALL4 (sometimes, the simple titles are the best!). Designed to work in all weather and on any road surface, All4 will transfer up to 100% of the traction front or rear depending on slippage.
Steering is light at low speed, tightening as the power increases and the speedometer moves higher, but it still has that twitchiness for which Minis are famous for. Staying focussed on the road ahead is the key to really enjoying a Mini. This is particularly important when you add in extra horsepower and large tires; it can sometimes get away from you. Armed with this knowledge, it makes the Mini experience much more enjoyable. For first-timers, watch your step and stay in control.
Inside, the 2013 Mini JCW Countryman is as funky a place to hang out as was my friend’s apartment back in the late ’70s. Metal toggles activate the important features such as traction control, door locks and a sport mode setting. The world’s largest speedometer is mounted center dash. In our case, it also houses the navigation system and more through an easy-access, single knob interface. A three-spoke steering wheel orchestrates the drive experience, with cruise control and audio functions as well as mobile phone access.
A high roofline dominates the outward physique of the JCW Countryman. Driving in traffic, it is easy to see my counterpart in the rear view mirror as we wind our way through German wine country. The black with red stripe paint scheme is also a knock out! Robust stripes dominate the hood, roof and lower door sills. Blacked-out front and rear bumpers lower the look, chrome and brushed metal accents drawing your eye to a myriad of beauty and aerodynamic details. Fog lights are standard and the overall effect is one of rally racer meets every day grocery go-getter.
Our trail through Germany takes many twists and turns, most intentional, some not. At the end of a day, I am most impressed with the power to weight performance and tight handling characteristics. I experience some sense of its off-road acumen as we challenge the hills in a Riesling vineyard, putting the hill ascent capabilities and tight turning radius to the test.
2013 Mini JCW Countryman
Trim levels available: John Cooper Works
MSRP range: Not yet set
Notable options: Premium package; championship red lounge leather seats; wired package; midnight black metallic
Configuration: front engine/ all-wheel drive
Available engines: 1.6L turbo 4 cyl. (est. 220 hp/220 lb.-ft. of torque)
Available transmissions: 6-spd manual; exp. 6-spd automatic
Fuel economy ratings (L/100km): Comb. – not yet rated
Warranties: 4 years/ 80,000 km (comprehensive)
Competitors: BMW X1; Volkswagen Golf R
Strengths: turbo 4-cylinder engine; handling; front seats
Weaknesses: small trunk space