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.