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Entry price: $22,900

Price as tested: $51,450

Likes: John Cooper Works legend, horsepower, excellent handling.

Dislikes: Expensive options, rear door pillars hinder visibility.

This week, we’re driving the top line and largest MINI available, namely the 2021 MINI Cooper Countryman. This four-door model is built to deliver surprising driving comfort, room for five and enough cargo room to please owners.

New for 2021 is an impressive front fascia and grille, upgraded front air intakes, LED headlight motif and several new wheel designs. On the inside you’ll find upgraded materials everywhere, larger infotainment center, and more amenities. Out back, the rear deck and taillights are enhanced while even the shiny dual exhaust tips now flare outward.

Featuring an extended wheelbase design that still delivers all the looks and performance MINI Coopers are known for, this MINI arrived in “All4” AWD trim and, most important of all, with the John Cooper Works legendary performance goodies.

And when you see the John Cooper Works badges, everything changes. 

With the MINI’s cult like following that began when introduced in the United Kingdom back in 1959, today’s MINI Cooper is assembled in Born, Netherlands. Further, MINI is still an independent nameplate of the BMW Group and operates as a business unit of BMW of North America, LLC. The MINI USA organization is represented by a network of dealers that MINI USA introduced in 2002 and offered just two MINIs in two-door versions only. Since then, the legend and sales of MINI Cooper in the USA have progressed significantly.

Our tester is a tribute to its famous founder John Cooper, who developed the MINI while also building a reputation on the global racetracks as both a Formula 1 driver and builder. Using a sideways-mounted engine and a then yet to be proven front-wheel-drive combination, Cooper not only founded the Cooper Car Company, he drove to three Monte Carlo Rally titles and 16 Grand Prix victories in his Formula 1 Cooper machines.

His name lives on in auto and racing history as today’s MINI Coopers are better than ever and priced appropriately, meaning even those on a tighter budget can still afford one.

MINI Coopers start at $22,900 for the entry level two-door hardtop to our top line John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4 performance model that starts at $41,500. In either front or AWD in short and long wheelbase trims, there are a total of 16 other MINI trims to choose from including convertibles, hardtops and two- and four-door designs.

Under the hood, our tester featured a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that now delivers 301-horsepower and 331 lb. ft. of torque with a top speed of 149-MPH. Coupled to an eight-speed Sport automatic transmission, our tester can accelerate from zero to 60-mph in a very impressive 4.9-seconds.

Underneath, the John Cooper advantages begin to sparkle. MINI’s racing-bred suspension and combination of lightweight chassis, high-tech transmission and turbo engine allows keeping up with most anything on the highway. The MPG numbers are also noteworthy as 23 city and 30 highway are quite good for a 4x4 performance vehicle.

The ALL4 system shifts power from the front to the rear wheels in just a quarter of a second when called on. It is also lighter and more compact than previous all-wheel drive platforms.

Meanwhile, it’s on the open road where the John Cooper Works MINI shows off its race-bred genes. Anyone who enjoys a good handling, peppy car will rejoice in the MINI’s hard driving abilities. With three specific driving modes to choose from including Sport, Mid or Green, all have specific engine RPM shifting points and steering response attributes that can turn your MINI from freeway cruiser to race track capable handler.  

Greg Zyla writes weekly on cars for More Content Now and Gannett Co., Inc.

 

Auto Bits

Will buyers fall for Ford’s new little pickup?

Ford, the automaker synonymous with big pickups, is about to introduce a new compact truck, one considerably smaller than its popular midsize Ranger. 

The little pickup is likely to be called “Maverick,” a name Ford last used for a popular compact car it built in the 1970s. It should go on sale in the third quarter of this year. 

Small pickups built on car-type, or unibody, platforms have an uninterrupted history of disappointing in the U.S. Examples — largely forgotten — include the Volkswagen Rabbit pickup and Subaru’s Brat and Baja. 

But if any automaker can make this work, it’s probably Ford. 

Hummer EVs to influence GMC’s future buying process 

Consumers looking to buy the new GMC Hummer EV pickup or SUV will be doing it online with minimal dealer involvement, directly from General Motors, for at least the next two years. 

After that, the retail shopping experience will “evolve” as GM rolls out more electric vehicles. 

The vehicles will make it to GMC dealership showrooms eventually, but even then, the buying process will change, said Phil Brook, vice president of marketing for Buick and GMC. 

MCN/Detroit Free Press