MINI’s diminutive SUV packs big attitude. The John Cooper Works Countryman has made its way stateside, no doubt after bullying an innocent ferry to cross the pond.

MINI’s move to AWD performance with the JCW Countryman takes JCW in an entirely new direction from previous JCW products. We love MINIs and we love JCWs even more… the fact MINI’s are front wheel drive is part of their heritage, charm, and unique driving character. An AWD MINI, however, adds of level of dynamism not possible without powering the rear wheels.

Starting with the Countryman S as a baseline, the JCW version adds several technical modifications, starting with the suspension. The new JCW version sports a suspension lowered by 10 mm, with slightly stiffer spring rates and stiffer anti-roll bars, now measuring 22 mm and 17 mm front and rear. The standard wheel size will measure 17 inches, with larger wheels available as an option. The rear brakes have also grown by 16 mm to 296 mm (16″), which should reduce understeer while braking into a corner.

The suspension is burdened with a 1,460 kg (3,220 lb) curb weight, a far cry from the original MINI’s 616 kg (1,360 lb), however the Countryman JCW serves up curvy-road moves that would suggest it carries less weight than the scales confirm. The Countryman JCW may weigh twice as much as its ancestral forefather, but it’s also more than twice its size, and at least 10 times more practical.

The same 6 speed manual as found in the Countryman S model will be the stand-alone transmission featured in the JCW – the 6 speed manual being the weapon of choice for those who enjoy an engaging drive. The three pedal option was a joy to drive with precise engagement and short throws of the stick. Pedal placement was a bit tricky for heel-and-toe downshifting with the brake and gas pedals just a tick too far apart. A wider floor-hinged accelerator pedal would improve the situation, and considering the driving habits of JCW cliental, this detail is more significant than in cars with a less sporting pedigree. The clutch pedal was a touch light for a hardened sports car, but MINI was quick to emphasize that the Countryman JCW aims to please its owner as a well-rounded daily driver. Porsche 911 levels of clutch resistance would likely deter many potential buyers from signing on the dotted line, so a compromise was found somewhere down the middle.

On to the engine department, the brilliant 1.6 liter single twin-scroll turbo 4-cylinder found in the ‘S’ model has been massaged with Valvetronic variable valve lift found standard, along with direct injection. MINI has taken things a step further by remapping the ECU and tweaking the mechanicals to produce a substantial boost in power. The current 1.6 liter JCW engine as found in the Cooper JCW produces 208 hp, and the Countryman JCW’s output jumps to 211 hp. This is a staggering figure for a 1.6 liter, offering up a specific output of 132 hp / liter. Torque has remained the same from the previous engine’s 207 lb-ft, producing 221 lb-ft between 2,100 and 5,200 rpm with over-boost. The exhaust note is surprisingly audible and baritone for a small displacement turbo 4-cylinder. We loved the growl this car let loose as it reminded us that we were in a performance car without being too loud or obnoxious.

Enjoy our photo gallery shot live from the show floor in NYC.