Countryman impresses this country boy

by Willy Williamson . Mar 01 2019
Willy Williamson / Winnipeg Free PressThe John Cooper Works Countryman edition comes complete with Mini’s impressive ALL4 all-wheel-drive system and was equipped with a grippy set of Bridgestone winter tires, making for a surprisingly enjoyable ride through the snow.

Willy Williamson / Winnipeg Free Press

The John Cooper Works Countryman edition comes complete with Mini’s impressive ALL4 all-wheel-drive system and was equipped with a grippy set of Bridgestone winter tires, making for a surprisingly enjoyable ride through the snow.

A Mini Countryman in winter? My first thought was there is no way that poor little car is going to make it down our rural road.

Thanks to ME, the snow on our driveway is always cleared to perfection; however, the R.M. of Springfield seems content to only occasionally plow our gravel road — to about the width of the average goat path.

Thanks to this particularly snowy winter, the road looks like a war zone most mornings, littered with abandoned vehicles sucked into the snowy abyss and left for dead in the ditch.

Trust me... never the way you want to end a test drive.

But our tester was a John Cooper Works Countryman edition complete with Mini’s impressive ALL4 all-wheel-drive system and a grippy set of Bridgestone winter tires.

Despite my better judgment, I went for it. Miraculously, the Countryman didn’t skip a beat. In fact, it was ridiculously fun.

In addition to the intuitive AWD system, the JCW edition features a rather ferocious 2.0-litre turbo engine with 231 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque to help get you out of (or into) trouble in the slippery stuff. Although I certainly never tried, this bad boy has a top speed of 234 km/h and reaches 100 km/h in a scant 6.5 seconds.

Like Kelly Taylor says, it is indeed a little on the cold-blooded side, but when it warms up, so does the fun. Initially, it seemed odd they’d send us such a sporty little car in the dead of winter, but after a week behind the wheel, it is easy to see why. This car is not just capable in winter conditions, it actually shines.

The majority of AWD vehicles we test are loaded with electronics designed to keep things straight on snow and ice, but the Countryman seems to manage to maintain its sporty DNA and remind us that driving in the winter doesn’t have to be scary — or boring.

Remember back in the day, when you’d borrow your dad’s car on the first snowfall and do doughnuts in the Safeway parking lot? Yeah, you can totally do that in this car.

By now, you’ve probably already conjured up an image of me squeezed into a Mini — if not, think Chris Farley singing Fat Guy in a Little Coat. Actually, all kidding aside, the Countryman is quite roomy.

My buddy Jayman, (who is only a couple of cheeseburgers away from shopping with me at Mr. Big & Tall), was fairly convinced we both wouldn’t fit in the car. We had plenty of room — our elbows only came into contact once, with the traction control off — while doing doughnuts in the Safeway parking lot. Jayman also thought the Mini was cool, and pawed every one of the funky buttons on the dash.

My daughter, Kate, who is 26, remarked this was a car she would definitely consider buying. She liked how it looked and loved the interior, which is clearly designed to mimic a nightclub in London, complete with disco lights and a thumping Harman Kardon sound system. The fact my buddy and my daughter both like this car is a small victory for Mini — they are both, dare I say, a bit picky.

While Kelly prefers to shift gears, I prefer automatics, and the eight-speed Steptronic Sport auto is a real treat when compared to the variety of brutally boring CVT setups found in so many new vehicles. It also has Dynamic Damper Control, a system which either softens or firms suspension feel depending on the driving mode. In Sport mode, the chassis feels firmer and acceleration is sharper. The exhaust also growls like an angry little dog.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to like this car. It’s kind of quirky looking and seems to have a bit of an identity crisis — think miniature Chevrolet Suburban. Yet somewhere along the snow-covered road home, just as I was about to get sucked into that dreadful ditch, I hammered on the skinny pedal with my size-13 Ski-Doo boot and powered my way out of trouble.

Then, a maniacal laugh slipped out of nowhere.

For the life of me, I cannot remember enjoying another car this much in winter.

Just imagine how fun it is in summer.

willy@freepress.mb.ca