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MF Garage: MINI Countryman All4 in the Snow

As recently discussed over at our sister site BimmerFile, there are few guilty pleasures that rival driving a winter-tire equipped rear wheel drive car in snow. It’s the definition of easy hooning and a fun way to play drift champ without sacrificing tires. Yet the front wheel drive MINI gives you a very different experience. It can be a solid car in the snow as it’s light weight and quick steering ratio make it potentially very entertaining in experienced hands. Yet it’s never had the tail-out fun of a classic rear wheel drive car.

Enter the Countryman All4.

We’ve detailed the Countryman’s All4 system on MF quite a few times over the years but it’s worth a quick recap. The system is relatively simple but blindingly quick to transfer power. This is what gives it the seamless, balanced feel. All4 engages a small clutch in the front detecting wheel slip when engaging the rear driveshaft. Unlike BMW’s xDrive, it’s a simple (but very effective) system that doesn’t use complex electronics. It’s not quite the center differential locking system in a car like the WRX STI, but it is a simple, lightweight system that works quickly and effectively in sending up to 50% of the available power to the rear wheels.

The result is something magical – oversteer.

It’s not the loose and aggressive oversteer of a rear wheel driven car mind you. Instead it’s a controlled oversteer that (even with DSC completely off) allows you to place the car where intended while having an almost elastic quality of ultimate control. In other words no matter how much you try, it’s quite difficult to get completely out of shape. Yet (and here’s the amazing part) it’s still incredibly fun. You still have the ability to make things interesting if you should wish.

In real work experience with all systems set to their default on it’s much less dramatic. The Countryman All4 simply goes where you point it. And with snow tires on (we’re currently testing the MINI approved Pirelli’s) the Countryman All4 is nothing short of a little bulldog in the snow. It’s quick steering rack combined with incredible traction gives you the feeling of invincibility while staying connected to the road and conditions. By that I mean you don’t feel isolated and unable to get in trouble. Instead phenomenal traction, great braking performance (thanks to the relative lightness of the car compared to another all wheel drive vehicles) and the normal MINI eagerness that we call go-kart handling.

Last summer we tested all three MINI Countryman models available in the US. The Cooper, Cooper S and Cooper S All4. At the time we pronounced the Cooper S the winner. We have to add an addendum to that result. If you live in the snow-belt the Cooper S All4 is our new Countryman champion.

Written By: Gabe

  • DUCTTAPE

    Don’t spend the money. I’ve had four MINIs already. Follow next weeks trip to the Beaufort Sea (Arctic Ocean) in a regular R56 at #ArcticMINI on Twitter

  • RakSiam

    “Feeling of invisibility”? Seems like you would want to feel visible. In my old Cooper I often felt invisible when people would muscle into my lane without looking.

    Maybe you meant feeling of invinciblity? :-)

  • David

    Second last paragraph, the writer likely intended to use the word “invincibilty”, no?

    • David

      Or, make that “invincibility”…

  • http://about.me/bentyyc Ben Tsui

    Had an R55 S with Blizzaks and thought that was a great winter car. Our current R60 S with Pirelli Sottozeros is even better. Yes, you can enjoy a little controlled oversteer and it is a lot of fun…

  • http://about.me/bentyyc Ben Tsui

    Had an R55 S with Blizzaks and thought that was a great winter car. Our current R60 S with Pirelli Sottozeros is even better. Yes, you can enjoy a little controlled oversteer and it is a lot of fun…

  • Bilbo Baggins

    They just look so bloody big.

  • MINIme

    This is a bit off topic, but I am searching for any info I can find regarding the setup on the MCS that was built for DSquared for the fundraiser event.  It was dubbed the “MINI Red Mudder”.  It appears to have a “raised” suspension, real all-terrain tires and some nice bolt-on parts that make the car look very rugged.  This is my idea of a SAV.  If this setup was combined with the All4 drive-train, we would have a nice backroad runner.  Gabe, can you help a brother out??

  • that.guy

    “It’s not quite the center differential locking system in a car like the WRX STI.”

    Understatement of the Day…

  • JonPD

    AWD is sill greatly speaking a nany aid 99.99% of the time. Skill far outpaces AWD in the snow. A fun video that shows this well.

    http://www.topgear.com/uk/car-news/nurburgring-snow-covered-lap-formula-race-car-2012-02-09#.TzbljDbmrGw.facebook

    • that.guy

      Ground clearance is the key.  An FWD car with proper tires is more than adequate in most snow situations, assuming it has good clearance (which Minis other than the Countryperson don’t).  I found the R53  was good up to about 6-8″.  After that, you had to wait for a plow.  And waiting for a plow is not an option at 8am on a powder day…

      Our Subaru Outback with 9″ of clearance and Hakkas has yet to be denied access.  I’m confident it could spank a Countryperson when it gets deep.

      • JonPD

        Yep the bonus of the R60 is the additional ride height to give a little better clearance. The AWD gives fractional better grip potential during the .1% of the time you need it and then adds massive weight to this 3.2k “MINI”.

        • that.guy

          Countryperson has < 6″ of clearance.  That sauce be weak.

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/32ORJIPKGSGHGBJXHYWVUDQHBM David

          ALL4 only adds 155 lb to the R60, similar to one passenger.  Here in CA winter tires don’t cut it for legal reasons on snow covered mountain highways.  I’m sold on ALL4 for my use.

  • Scott

    MINI, please add the ALL4 system to the next Clubman, thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Slightly off subject…I’m considering getting back into off road camping and riding. I would be going offroading into Baja California, our local deserts here in California and nearby states. I would possibly be towing a trailer and a few toys. Is this vehicle a good choice and have you done any such tests?

    • JonPD

       The R60 is a soft roader. I have seen a couple with a very light trailer. No skid plate coverage. Remember the AWD is meant to help in slick conditions not the typical offroad. Having said that depending were you take go it might work but I would think of it this way imaine driving a R52/R56 offroad with a couple more inches of road clearance, those are the backroads I would likely stick to in a R60. It does not have enough ground clearance to much of a difference when the road gets rough.

      • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com Nathaniel Salzman

        In Austria at the MINI Snowman event in December, I got to drive several Countryman All4s on an offroad course they’d prepared. While no Jeep trail, it was certainly a route I wouldn’t even begin to attempt in an R56. It was steep, rough, and covered with ice and areas of standing water. The Countryman devoured it. Frankly, I was amazed how capable it was offroad right out of the box. I’ve got iPhone video if I ever get around to posting it.

        It’s no Jeep, and you’re right that the system is intended for better traction in the wet and slippery streets, but it’s a hell of a lot more capable than most are giving it credit for. Ground clearance is an issue, but the All4 system punches well above its weight. Personally, I wouldn’t buy a Countryman without it.

        • Anonymous

          Love to see the vid you speak of. 

        • MINIme

           I had an ’05 MCS with LSD.  Too bad the Countryman All4 doesn’t have this option front and rear…

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for your thoughts. I wonder if skid plates can be attached or if there’s going to do an after market set?

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/32ORJIPKGSGHGBJXHYWVUDQHBM David

          There is an aftermarket front skid plate available. Check on NAM.

        • MINIme

          Can’t find it on NAM.

  • C5D

    Ummm…not to be a stickler, but did you guys post an article about how you learned from Heinz Krusche that the All4 system actually defaults to AWD mode, and then disengages the rear wheels at highway speed…not, “All4 engages a small clutch in the front detecting wheel slip when engaging the rear driveshaft.”

    http://www.motoringfile.com/2011/12/16/minis-all4-system-clarified/ 

    This would explain why the rear end would swing around as quickly as it does at slow speeds on slippery surfaces (I have an All4), instead starting to under-steer and THEN the rear swings around.

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com Nathaniel Salzman

      You’re correct. It starts at 50/50 and gives power back to the front wheels as needed or as speed increases. “Sent to back” vs “Sent to front” is mostly semantic at this point, but the result is the same: great traction and a car that is not simply capable in snow, but downright fun.

  • veggivet

    The Countryman is too big for my needs/taste, but I am very happy to read the positive impressions of the ALL4 in snow. I’m looking forward to ordering a Justa with ALL4 when the R61 arrives later this year to add to the stable. 


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