Mini Countryman John Cooper Works review

* Mini Countryman flagship model driven * John Cooper Works makeover * On sale autumn 2012...

Mini Countryman John Cooper Works review

The Mini Countryman John Cooper Works will be the range-topping Countryman model, when it goes on sale in the second half of 2012.

It gets a similar makeover to Minis other John Cooper Works models, with more power, an upgraded chassis and a range of cosmetic tweaks.

Prices and full technical details are yet to be confirmed, but we've driven a prototype version in Austria.

Whats it like to drive? Good fun, and especially suited to the snowy Austrian roads we drove on.

The John Cooper Works model is based on the Countryman Cooper S All4, and uses a version of the same 1.6-litre turbocharged engine. Mini hasnt revealed exact details, but wed expect a power output in the region of 208bhp, compared with the Cooper Ss 181bhp.

Like the Cooper S All4, the John Cooper Works has Minis four-wheel-drive system, which splits power equally between the front and rear wheels in everyday driving, but can send more to either end if the wheels start to spin.

The car we drove was a prototype and according to Mini's engineers only 85% developed. Even so, first impressions were good.

We drove the Countryman John Cooper Works version back-to-back with a (front-wheel-drive) Mini Coupe John Cooper Works (both on winter tyres) and on snow-strewn mountain roads the difference was startling. Both cars are fun, but the Countrymans four-wheel-drive chassis inspires more confidence and allows you to accelerate harder out of corners.

Its certainly the most enjoyable Countryman to drive. Larger anti-roll bars and lowered suspension keeps it more tightly controlled through bends, which in turn makes the steering feel more responsive than in lesser Countryman models.

The ride albeit on mostly snow doesnt feel overly firm either, and there are occasional pops and bangs from the exhaust that give it a sporty feel.

Whats it like inside? The prototype model we drove had a standard Cooper S cabin, but you can expect the production version to have bespoke trim and seats.

As with any Mini, a wide range of options to personalise the cabin will be available.

Should I buy one? Mini is staying tight-lipped about prices for the Countryman John Cooper Works, but wed expect a similar premium to that for other Mini models, so a starting point of at least 25,000 is likely.

An on-sale date hasnt been confirmed either, but we expect itll be some time in the autumn. Later in 2012, Mini is due to launch a production version of its Paceman concept car a three-door coupe version of the Countryman. You can bet that a John Cooper Works version of that will be launched, too, but probably not until 2013.

What Car? says