All-wheel-drive mated to the marque's most powerful motor ever makes this compact SUV a blast to pilot
Performance Maxi Mini PHOTO: TORQUE

The first all-wheel-drive John Cooper Works (JCW) has broken cover and it is a much better daily drive than the other models in the lineup.

Maybe it's the extra weight. Or it could even be the fact that torque goes to all four wheels. Whatever the case may be, it's my favourite MINI by far.

Typical of JCW offerings, the Paceman looks more gung-ho on the outside. A butch bodykit, 18-inch alloy wheels, red mirror caps and JCW badges differentiate it from the stock Countryman models.

The cabin receives similar treatment. Occupants will notice the JCW logos on the sills, seats with extra bolstering and beemblemed steering wheel.

Although the size of the motor is identical to those of other John Cooper Works cars (displacing 1.6 litres), it makes more power and torque. In fact, with 218bhp, it is the most prodigious engine that the company has ever produced, identical to the limited edition JCW GP hatch. With 280Nm on tap plus another 20Nm during brief "overboost" periods, this compact SUV gallops from zero to 100km/h in 7 seconds flat, putting it squarely in hot hatch territory (the JCW Paceman on the next page does the century sprint marginally more quickly).

And while lighter pocket rockets such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI and JCW hatch will out-sprint the JCW Countryman in a straight-line dash, this maxi MINI might prove much harder to shake off when the road ahead starts getting curvy.

The ALL4 all-wheel-drive system sends torque to the front wheels most of the time, but its centre differential can apportion drive to the rear when needed. This not only gives the car improved handling on dry surfaces, but also makes driving on slippery bitumen a blast. That and the grippy tyres make the Countryman cling on like a spider on its web.

The JCW Countryman showed off this prowess on the 120km test route that was mapped out for my drive. The journey took me across a good mix of B roads and deregulated stretches of the autobahn. Wherever I was, and however hard it poured, the car was assuredly surefooted. The ride is a little fi rmer than a standard Countryman's, but fabulous damping still makes it retain much of its comfort.

Another item that made piloting the car a joy is the 6-speed manual gearbox. You can opt for an automatic unit with the same number of forward gears but the lovely, direct feel when the gearlever slots in, coupled with the light clutch action, made for sweet heel-and-toe manoeuvres.

And if you feel that even more performance is needed, there is still the Sport button. Depressing it amps up the performance quotient significantly, by quickening throttle response and altering power steering assistance. The intoxicating, raspy note of the exhaust is also more pronounced.

On that "note", the rasp adds a big spoonful of panache to go with the car's poise on both autobahns and back roads. Furthermore, with a huge tailgate opening into a spacious 450-litre boot, the JCW Countryman combines high practicality with high performance.

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This article first appeared in the September 2013 issue of Torque.  

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