2013 Mini Countryman Cooper S John Cooper Works Prototype - First Drive and Review

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First Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman Cooper S John Cooper Works (prototype)

(Originally Published December 2011)

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel

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KÜHTAI, Austria, December 17, 2011. John Cooper Works, the family name of fast Mini’s, gets another model: de Mini Countryman JCW. Last week, I was in Austria for the first glimpse and touch of the youngest JCW-model. The original invitation came in October from the Snowman, but is/was obvious that the Mini PR-people were behind the mysterious e-mail. So I sent back a reply from an e-mail address I have never used in my communication with Mini, saying: “Yes, I will be there! Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer.” The request for a reply marked the fact that they had no clue who was Rudolph…..

Last week, upon arrival in Kühtai, up some 7,000 feet in the Tyrolean Alps, the PR-team looked sad: There was not much snow and they feared the event was not going to be the way they had planned – and hoped for.

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But after the drives uphill with the Countryman on a small path that had enough snow to get stuck in, in the afternoon a real snow storm made their day … and three more to come.

The Countryman’s standard All4 all-wheel-drive made the exercise feel like a piece of cake. But most drivers would think twice before hitting a snow covered trail, that goes uphill like the one we ‘conquered’. The only thing you need to have is confidence and gentle foot.

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We also drove the new Coupe JCW on the somewhat slippery public roads towards another beautiful winter sport village.

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But the most interesting car participating in the Snowman event, was the Countryman JCW Prototype. Since this new model is going to make its world debut in March at the Geneva Show, it was, of course, clad in the usual swirled camouflage that Mini and its parent BMW are using for prototypes ‘in the open’.

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Nevertheless, we could see that the JCW has the same grille with the narrow air duct underneath as the Cooper S. Also the two square air intakes in the lower grille and the deeper bumper spoiler are shared. The side skirts were there too and at the rear the bumper falls deeper and encloses the two tail pipes. Mini did not give away many details about the upcoming model. In fact, the only one they mentioned is that the suspension is 10 mm lower than of the Cooper S.

With performance on par or even somewhat more than the other JCW Mini’s, the acceleration is excellent. On the winter tires the car felt sure footed and firm, while the stability control system gives the driver some confidence to hit the throttle.

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Heinz Krusche, BMW’s head of driving dynamics, co-piloted the participating journalists. You may remember my earlier story on the Z4, when I heard that Mr. Krusche internally is called Mr. Butt, since he does not need telematics, but with his bum and lower spine can exactly feel what a car’s suspension is doing.

He said that the Countryman JCW will likely have between 12 and 17 hp more than the strongest JCW model so far. This means up from 208 hp to some 220-223 hp “with the same torque”.

The lowered stance and sportier bodywork, means that the Countryman JCW looks more active. And it is not looks only., it feels more active. Mr. Krusche told me that there was no problem is with the other JCW models to deal with torque steer, because the torque is shared between the front and rear axles.

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Central is the add-on electro-magnetic rear differential. It has an obvious advantage over BMW’s XDrive all-wheel-drive system: it’s less heavy, easy to mount and less expensive as well. Even with the extra weight a Countryman puts in the scale, the JCW feels agile and has lots of grip on the snowy roads. Under normal circumstances the JCW is like all Countrymen, front wheel driven

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In the interior we see the usual JCW trim of black leather, red piping matching the body color and John Cooper Works emblems.

This first drive was a satisfying one and can make it worth while for true fans of Mini dynamics to wait for this larger model. The letters JCW also become the Countryman.

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