MINI gives the John Cooper Works treatment to the Countryman, creating the largest and most expensive vehicle in the range, while trying to invoke retro imagery.
WHY WE'RE DRIVING IT
The Countryman is the largest in the Mini family, and one of our favourites from the range. We drove the Countryman JCW on Aussie roads to find out if the performance upgrades live up to marketing hype.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The JCW dressings brings restyled bodywork and a more powerful engine to the Countryman’s repertoire, without detracting too significantly from its impressive ability as an alternative to other premium small SUV offerings. It’s turbo petrol engine adds some needed performance to the range, but its well sorted suspension and damping is let down by a lack of feel in the steering.
Plus: Everyday performance with practical body style, adaptive dampers do sport and comfort well, lovely exhaust crackle
Minus: Lack of steering feel, hard seats, hefty weight
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THE Mini Countryman JCW is an odd thing. It’s a small-SUV offering from a brand that continues to cash in on the iconic imagery and racing history of pint-sized ‘60s hatchbacks.
But a clamouring for historical relevance doesn’t tell the true story of the Countryman. In the real world, and modern buyers market, this new range-topping Countryman is a neat package which rides the line between tuned-up performance and everyday usability with finesse, despite the ham-fisted historical and visual cliches. It doesn’t require a five decade backstory to please in our current SUV-crazy market.
The JCW branding brings with it a more powerful engine for the countryman, with an improved cooling package, and upgraded four-pot Brembo brakes, along with reworked bumpers, diffuser, and rear spoiler. The cabin also gets the JCW treatment with bespoke head-up display and sport seats and steering wheel.
Powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine, the Countryman JCW produces 170kW and 350Nm (29kW/70Nm up on the Countryman Cooper S). This is sent through an on-demand all-wheel-drive transmission (an eight-speed automatic is standard, while a six-speed manual is a no-cost option). The 0-100km/h is completed in 6.5sec with both transmissions.
With a sticker price of $57,900, Mini hopes generous standard equipment will entice buyers. Highlights include 19-inch alloys, a Harmon Kardon 12-speaker audio system, an 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and front and rear parking assist.
Two highlights of the Countryman JCW are the powertrain, and adaptive dampers. The turbo petrol engine is a gutsy unit delivering its power in a smooth linear fashion, although it does run out of puff slightly past 4000rpm.
While the Countryman isn’t going to come out tops in a pub spec-sheet bragging contest, in the real world, it offers most of the fun you could desire. Its acceleration is energetic without being anti-social and the whooshes of turbo noise and exhaust crackle bring a lighthearted character to the driving experience (even if it is a bit muffled inside the cabin).
While hardcore driving enthusiasts will opt for the manual, nine out of every 10 Countryman JCW buyers will stick with the eight-speed automatic. It’s an intuitive unit, that doesn’t fall out of step with your desires as a driver, whether that is sedated cruising or a more throttle-heavy application. Gears are shifted smoothly, and the two extra ratios over the manual means the automatic is more rewarding with power delivery in spirited driving.
The adaptive dampers which are a standard feature on the Countryman JCW give it a diversity in ride which allows it to be a livable prospect for everyday duties, while also holding its own in performance-orientated settings. In the normal setting the suspension softens off to allow more compliance, with bumps, and potholes smoothed out. It isn’t plush, but the damping is impressive in Aussie conditions. In sport, the ride sacrifices comfort for cornering ability, with bumps and imperfections in the road communicated through the cabin. However, there is little in the way of body roll, with impressive road-holding for the Countryman’s stature.
While the ride and handling is impressive for a car of this type (it’s a small-SUV, but still tips the scales at 1555kg), the steering lacks the necessary feel to truly round out the package. There is a good weight to the wheel in sport and normal mode, but there is a disconnect at times between what the car is doing and feedback transmitted to the driver. The limit is detected more easily by the seat of the pants and chassis than what is transmitted through the wheel. Aggressive turn-in is akin to fumbling in the dark to find the limit of traction if relying solely on steering wheel feedback.
While the JCW sports seats provide good lateral support, they are on the firmer side. But there is plenty of space inside the Countryman’s cabin for four adults and associated luggage.
Overall, the JCW brings some real-world oomph to the Countryman package, which is likely to please performance-hungry Aussies. But the performance upgrades don’t have serious depth, with the well-sorted damping, and dynamic credentials let down by uncommunicative steering.
Model: 2017 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4
Engine: 1998cc 4-cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 170kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 350Nm @ 1450-4500rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 6.5sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 6.9L/100km
On sale: Now