What's amusing is that while Mini's engines were historically about as stone-age you could get, now they're among the most sophisticated. Including: BMW's Valvetronic intake technology (varying lift and valve-timing -- eliminating the traditional throttle), adjustable exhaust timing, electronically-controlled oil and water pumps, and in the case of the S, a twin-scroll turbocharger that prohibits exhaust pulses from contaminating the evacuation of neighboring cylinders. The transmissions aren't left behind, either, with the 6-speed manual enjoying carbon-fiber synchros on all the gears and low-friction shift cables, while the paddle-shiftable automatic now drops into neutral when at a stop to reduce losses.

On the track, our evaluation cars were all equipped with Mini's new All4 AWD system which consists of a multi-plate clutch near the aft differential which, when activated by a low energy-consumption servo, can ultimately deliver 50 percent to the torque to rear wheels. Shod with 205/55 17-inch tires (18-inch and even 19-inch wheels being available), the Countryman S All4 was an extraordinarily pliable handler, just as happy to enter a corner sideways as exit it in a four-wheel drift. Ah, and I sense your next question: does it steer like a go-kart? Yes, like a great big go-kart with added weight and dimensions, because remember, those wheels are still slammed unbelievably close to the car's corners.

So here's my question to all of you still making faces about the Countryman's scale: and let's be honest here -- when you see a Mini Hardtop on the highway, what do you think? Cool car, but gee ...it's rather small for me. Remember the Countryman's 8.8 extra inches of rear shoulder room, and additional 47.4 cubic feet of cargo space? Bingo.

2011 Mini Countryman S All4
Base Price $24,000-$28,500 (est)
Vehicle layout Front-engine, FWD or AWD,4-pass, 4-door hatchback
Engines 1.6L/120-hp/118-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4; 1.6L/181-hp/177-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic
Curb weight 3150-3350 lb
Wheelbase 102.2 in
Length x width x height 161.3 x 70.4 x 61.5 in
0-60 mph 7.6-11.5 sec (mfr est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 26/35 mpg (est)
CO2 emissions 0.66 lb/mile (est)
On sale in the U.S. Currently