The Countryman might not be the MINI-est of MINIs, but it still follows the brand's familiar rubric: base model, Cooper S, John Cooper Works. Except the Countryman throws in a crossover special feature: ALL4 all-wheel drive.
The five-door body of the Countryman varies only in accoutrement; each model's chassis is fundamentally the same. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all of the engines are 1.6-liter four-cylinders, both normally aspirated and turbocharged. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a six-speed automatic is available on all models.
The base Countryman gets 121 horsepower from the sans turbo version of the engine, getting it to 60 mph in about 10 seconds. If that seems slow, it is; a Prius is a bit quicker. Using the Sport button improves the responsiveness of the automatic-transmission version, but it lacks paddles for driver engagement.
Upgrade to the Cooper S if you'd like a dash of sport with your quirky crossover, as its 181-horsepower rating from the turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder gives the Countryman a much-needed sense of pep. The Cooper S Countryman scoots to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds.
The 211-horsepower John Cooper Works Countryman is where the fun is to be had, though. Zero to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds isn't much quicker than the Cooper S, but a sharper setup and appearance helps get the most out of the Countryman's performance potential.
All-wheel drive in the form of the ALL4 system is available on Cooper and Cooper S models, and is standard on the JCW Countryman. It's not intended for rugged off-road use (nor is the Countryman itself) but it does enhance traction in low-grip situations like gravel roads, snow, or rain. An electronically activated differential splits power 50:50 front-to-rear in normal driving, and up to 100 percent rearward when traction fails in front. An electronic limited-slip differential is standard.
All MINIs are comparatively light and nimble for their segments; the Countryman is no different, except that it is very different--from other MINIs, at least. The height and weight of the Countryman are noticeably greater than that of the standard MINI. Accordingly, the go kart-like feel is traded for something more like hatchback-like feel. Ultimately, however, that's markedly sportier and nimbler than most other crossovers, compact or otherwise. Electric steering delivers rather positive feedback, the Countryman's brakes offer good bite and pedal feel, and ride quality is good for a fairly short-wheelbase vehicle.