Introduced in 1959 by the British Motor Corp. and sold for more than four decades, the original two-door Mini hatchback is one of the most iconic vehicles the world has ever known.

But did you know that the Mini was made in multiple body styles — including a pickup that was sold for over 20 years?

BMW, the current owner and producer of the Mini brand, hasn’t announced a pickup yet, but give it time. At least one new Mini model seems to arrive every year, the manufacturer apparently determined to eventually offer as many many “flavors” as Baskin-Robbins.

A quick look at miniusa.com reveals at least six distinct current models, each offered in various configurations. Five of the models are available with high-performance John Cooper Works treatment, which Mini treats collectively as a seventh model.

When a visitor opts to “build” his or her own Mini, the website whimsically suggests there are 10 million possible combinations.

No doubt.

I recently tested one of the newest and most distinctive Mini models, the Countryman. Debuting as a 2011 model, this is the first BMW-produced Mini with four doors. It also is the first available with all-wheel drive, which Mini calls “ALL4.”

The test car was a top-of-the-line “S” model, making its official moniker “Mini Cooper S Countryman All4.”

That means one of the smallest four-doors on the planet has one of the longest names ever bestowed on a vehicle. I seriously considered asking my editors to run this review in a wide-column format so the vehicle’s name would fit on one line.

Fortunately, I found the Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 — which I’m nicknaming MCC to avoid carpel tunnel syndrome while writing this column — as long on appeal as it is in nomenclature.

The Mini has always been both a special vehicle and a specialty vehicle. Its nimbleness, go-kart handling and spunky engine make it a treat to drive. But its two doors and limited capacity also make it a treat in which only a relatively small percentage of car owners can indulge.

The four-door Countryman makes the Mini’s pleasures available to a much wider audience. For one thing, there is enough room behind the front seats for a couple of adults to ride comfortably. Getting in and out of the rear buckets is relatively easy, thanks to surprisingly wide and tall full-size door openings.

With all of its seats occupied, the MCC still has room for 16.5 cubic feet of groceries, luggage, or whatever other junk you need to transport.

Folding the rear seatbacks greatly increases the Countryman’s cargo capacity and versatility. I was very surprised to discover that folding just one of its rear seatbacks enabled the MCC to swallow a full-size hockey goalie gear bag. To put that into perspective, the only carrier larger than a hockey goalie bag is a steamer trunk designed for two-week ocean cruises.

Mini mavens who live in places where hockey is popular will appreciate the availability of ALL4 on the Countryman. ALL4 is a full-time all-wheel drive system that sends all of the Mini’s power to the front wheels until those wheels start to slip. At that point, it automatically and seamlessly diverts up to 50 percent to the rear wheels.

The system worked well enough on the MCC test car to enable it to track through a snowstorm that prompted Maine Turnpike officials to lower speeds to 45 mph. It also had no trouble bursting through the snowplow berm at the end of my driveway or dealing with the 8 inches of white stuff that filled it.

But I wouldn’t have felt comfortable driving the test car on public roads covered with that much snow. With a maximum 6.2 inches of ground clearance and optional low-profile, high-performance 18-inch tires and wheels, the MCC’s AWD system is clearly intended to provide additional traction, not turn the Mini into a diminutive Hummer.

Possessing a nimbleness, quickness and agility that is rare in automobiles, the Mini’s personality is about as far from “Hummeresque” as you can get. Folks who enjoy driving enjoy driving conventional Minis because they are engaging, responsive and rewarding.

The same is true of the new Countryman ALL4, at least in “S” trim. Its peppy engine provides quick takeoffs, its robust brakes provide secure landings, and its sport-tuned suspension slithers through turns like a snake.

The extra ground clearance and weight associated with ALL4 doesn’t seem to adversely affect those qualities.

But the sport suspension and tires also result in a harsh ride that isn’t for everyone. The same is true for the Mini’s switchgear, which sometimes requires access to the owner’s manual to figure out how to do something that should be intuitive.

Mini fans will consider those things endearing personality traits rather than character flaws. Given how much I enjoyed driving the latest and most practical Mini made, I obviously qualify as a fan.

 


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