Test Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4 car test drives mini
2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Lesley Wimbush

When Sir Alec Issigonis stuffed the very first transverse engine under the tiny bonnet of the original Mini more than fifty years ago, he changed the destiny of small cars forever.

No longer bound by conventional dimensions requiring a lengthy hood and space-devouring transmission tunnel, the Mini’s one-box configuration provided maximum cabin space on a tiny footprint.

And thus the Mini rocketed to fame, becoming the bestselling car in British history and one of the most recognizable automotive icons of the 60s.

Though it seems counterproductive to offer a larger version of a car whose claim to fame is its diminutive size, Mini is tearing a page from other premium automakers’ playbooks by offering a little something for everyone and hopefully widening their customer base. Certainly it has worked for Porsche, who faced plenty of irate backlash from its loyal followers for branching out into the utility vehicle segment with the Cayenne. But that car, sacrilegious though it may be to the Zuffenhausen faithful, helped pull Porsche through the economic meltdown of a few years ago.

Test Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4 car test drives mini
2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4. Click image to enlarge

And since BMW revived the Mini brand in 2001, sales have leapt 21 percent, to more than 285,000 cars sold in 2012.

So, who the heck buys a bigger Mini in the first place – isn’t that just a contradiction in terms?

Not if you ask head of Mini Engineering, Dr. Oliver Friedman, who says that the “larger platform was created to reflect the changing needs of their customers – many of whom have a long relationship with Mini, but now require more room.”

Clearly, it’s worked for the Countryman, which is now the second-best selling Mini in Canada, right behind the Cooper hatchback.  It’s the utility vehicle for those who don’t want to drive a lumbering SUV.

My tester sports the extra badging and outrageous add-ons of Mini’s in-house JCW skunkworks division.  The moniker refers to John Cooper Works, paying tribute to the original Mini tuning master responsible for all those crazy world-beating rally cars of the ‘60s.

It retains all of Mini’s prerequisite cuteness, with some testosterone-laden performance extras bordering on cartoonish.

Test Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4 car test drives mini Test Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4 car test drives mini Test Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4 car test drives mini Test Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4 car test drives mini
2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4. Click image to enlarge

The familiar perky face is topped with a steroidal, bulging hood, and there are great, gaping air intakes at the jawline.  The blunt little rump is finished off with a diffuser sporting twin exhaust pipes.  Side skirts feature cool but non-functional brake cooling inlets. The effect is rather like one of those cute little lap dogs that suddenly turns on you, baring sharp fangs, hair standing on end.  Although it comes standard with 18-inch rims, my tester rides on 19-inch “Cross Spoke Crusher” wheels that are honestly one of the slickest set of rims out there.  It’s all wrapped up in a Chili Red package featuring black rally racing stripes with contrasting black mirror caps and roof.

Test Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4 car test drives mini Test Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4 car test drives mini Test Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4 car test drives mini
2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4. Click image to enlarge

Because it retains so many design characteristics of the regular Mini Cooper, the Countryman’s size is deceiving – it looks compact until parked alongside the average hatch.  Only then does it become apparent that the Mini Countryman’s 4,133-mm length places it squarely in utility country.

TARDIS-like in cargo capacity, the Countryman has a 350 L trunk capacity, which expands to 1,170 L with the seats folded flat.

Test Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4 car test drives mini Test Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4 car test drives mini Test Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4 car test drives mini
2013 Mini Countryman JCW All4. Click image to enlarge

Inside, my tester features plenty of telltale design cues that it’s not just a run-of-the-mill Countryman. Sporty front seats are upholstered in black leather trimmed with bright red piping. The contrasting red trim is repeated throughout the cabin, on swooping enamel trim strips and red stitching on steering wheel and shift boot.

There are JCW logos machined into the metal door sills, and while front seat passengers get the extra bolstering necessary for “spirited” driving on the twisties, those in the rear may experience a little sliding around in models featuring the three-seat bench, while the optional two-seater does offer a bit more support.




About LesleyWimbush

In 5th grade, Lesley traded drawings of muscles cars for chocolate bars and things really haven't changed much since then. When not cursing the gremlins behind the insidious check engine light on her 400 hp modified Dodge Dakota, Lesley can be found lapping her Mazda MX3 KLZE at Mosport.