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2013 MINI JCW COUNTRYMAN: A maxi with a Mini heart

Countryman bigger, more practical than its little bro

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2013 Mini Countryman JCW Although it's still a Mini at heart, Nick Tragianis claims the Countryman's bigger size and higher centre of gravity impact performance.

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Unlike the Cooper, with the 4-door Countryman you can actually store a fair bit of stuff in the back, even with the seats up and rear passengers on board.

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The Countryman interior is as unique as the Cooper, with plenty of retro toggle switches and a big speedometer smack-dab in the middle of the dashboard.

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Remember when autumn leaves covered the ground instead of snow? To bring you back to the warm days of fall, Driving's Nick Tragianis and Jodi Lai find out if the Mini Countryman JCW stays true to its go-kart roots.

-- Overview: Everything you love about a Mini, but with more practicality

-- Pros: A Mini at heart, excellent steering, unique design inside and out

-- Cons: Added weight and automatic transmission diminish Mini's trademark driving dynamics; price climbs quickly

-- Value for money: Could be better

-- What we would change: More standard equipment. Even an armrest is optional

Nick Tragianis: It's impossible to close your eyes and look up, and there is no such thing as jumbo shrimp, but that doesn't mean an oxymoron can't exist. All you need to do is take a look at the John Cooper Works-tuned 2013 Mini Countryman. It's as big as a BMW X1 and has an extra set of doors, but adding JCW to its name still means it's a Mini at heart.

Jodi Lai: If you put the Countryman alone in a parking lot without anything to compare it to, you'd just look at it and think it's a regular Mini. Mini kept the proportions right so it still looks like a mini Mini and not a, well, jumbo Mini. It isn't until you park it next to any other car that you really realize how much bigger it is.

You're right that it's still a Mini at heart, but the bigger size and higher centre of gravity impact performance in a way that takes away from the go-kart feeling Mini is so loved for, JCW or not. The bigger size, however, proved useful when I was driving the Countryman during my move into a new house, as it helped me move things a regular Mini couldn't dream of. So it's a case of give and take: Mini took away some zippy hooliganism but gave us more practicality.

NT: On paper, the Countryman has the goods to be the perfect blend of practicality and the personality Minis are known for. It's powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, good for 208 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. I love Mini's turbo four, but only when it's paired with the right transmission.

Although a stick shift is available, our Countryman was equipped with a six-speed automatic. It delivers reasonably snappy shifts when you want to have fun, but I just could not shake the feeling the slushbox neuters the bodacious dynamics Minis are otherwise known for. Put simply, despite its JCW credentials, the Countryman felt nowhere near as engaging as the Cooper S we drove a while ago.

JL: You speak the truth, Young Grasshopper, and although I agree that manual is the way to go, Mini has at least kept the Countryman's steering tuned on the sporty side. Even with the increased size, the steering felt responsive and gave good feedback. It didn't feel as squishy as some of its competitors. One thing my passengers were also thankful for was the Countryman's increased legroom and softer suspension. It's soft enough that it doesn't break backs when driving over rough roads, but it also doesn't go into the squishy territory where it doesn't encourage you to drive enthusiastically.

NT: Thankfully, the Countryman doesn't lose any of its DNA when you step inside. It's as unique as the Cooper, with plenty of retro toggle switches and a big speedometer smack-dab in the middle of the dashboard. You also get the requisite sporty touches expected with a John Cooper Works Mini, including checkered-flag door sills, a meaty steering wheel and plenty of red trim. Now you'd think the red trim would clash and look chintzy, but it doesn't look out of place in the Countryman, especially since it's complemented by red piping.

Best of all? Unlike the Cooper, you can actually store a fair bit of stuff in the back with the seats up.

But like the Cooper, there's the value issue. It starts at $38,500 -- hardly chump change for a compact crossover, let alone a Mini -- but our fully-equipped tester tops out at $49,285.

Even if the Countryman JCW is a unique and quick sport-cute, you need to ask yourself if the iconic Mini look and character are worth your hard-earned dollars. If it isn't, there's a well-equipped, Countryman-size BMW X1 with a 300-horsepower in-line six at the other end of the BMW showroom waiting for you.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

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