The bulky Mini takes JCW steroids

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At long last, says BMW SA, South African Mini fans are about to get their allocation of the naughtiest, rortiest five-door Mini yet - the John Cooper Works Countryman - an unlikely-sounding combination of high-revving JCW power and surefooted all-wheel drive.

Sort of like the Range Rover Sport of Minis, but without the CO2 tax.

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Mini JCW Countryman has 160kW and the genuine Cooper attitude. All-wheel drive is a bonus.Countryman is big enough to be a practical small family car, with a seriously naughty side.Sporty interior is more tarmac terror than beetle-crusher.

It'll be available in South Africa from the first quarter of next year, but the order book, says BMW, will open in November 2012 - so it's likely to be a case of you snooze, you lose.

At first glance the JCW Countryman seems like a contradiction in terms but a closer look shows that there is method in Oxford's madness.

This is not your average Mini.

A new version of the JCW 1.6-litre engine, with a twin-scroll turbo, direct injection and Valvetronic variable camshafts borrowed from the parent company's straight-six engines, kicks out a quoted 160kW (that's 100kW per litre, Cyril - from a street-legal engine!) and a muscular 280Nm (with 300Nm available - briefly - on overboost in the intermediate gears) with the appropriate soundtrack from a throaty free-flow exhaust.

Standard issue is a six-speed manual gearbox, but a six-speed auto tranny is available on demand. In either case, the JCW Countryman scoots up to 100km/h in a quoted seven seconds flat and tops out at 225km/h (223 for the auto).

The only performance facet where the auto loses out (and even then, not by much) is on fuel-efficiency, where the manual is quoted at 7.4 litres per 100km and 172g/km of CO2, while the auto burns 7.9 litres per 100km and spits out 184g/km.

This is also the first John Cooper Works model with all-wheel drive, using an electromagnetic centre differential to distribute the drive seamlessly between front and rear axles, sending more power to the axle that's turning more slowly.

But this is not a beetle-crusher.

It runs on 18”, twin-spoked alloy rims over sports brake callipers finished in red, and sports suspension with firmly tuned springs and dampers, stiffer anti-roll bars and a 10-millimetre lower ride height.

Dynamic stability control with traction control is standard, as is a Sport Button that tweaks the engine's responses and vocal character, and adjusts the power assistance provided by the steering.

If you want to get serious about it, this is no longer a Mini; it's 4.13 metres long, where the original was less than three, but it's big enough to be a practical (small) family car, in seriously sporty trim, with JCW body kit and special paint combinations.

Inside, you get your choice of rear bench seat or two individual chairs; either way, you can fold them flat to increase the cargo bay capacity from 350 to 1170 litres

Special sports front seats, a JCW steering wheel, gloss black interior trim strips, a dark grey roof liner and dark speedometer and rev-counter dials help to generate a sports-car ambience.

Aircon and audio are standard, while the list of options is so long that it’s regarded as a statistical impossibility that any two Minis will ever by truly identical.

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