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The Mini Countryman JCW marks the first time the John Cooper Works badge has adorned an all-wheel drive vehicle.
Combining JCW performance enhancement with the practicality of five doors, and the promise of some light off-roading capability, the most athletic Countryman has now officially joined its spirited siblings in the local seven-car range.
At $56,800 the Mini Countryman John Cooper Works appears to be the bargain of the JCW line-up. While third most expensive behind its flagship two-door variant – the Paceman JCW – and the lidless Cabrio, the Countryman gets more doors, more seats and keeps the same turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder.
Producing 160kW at 6000rpm and 280Nm between 1900-5000rpm, the petrol engine also gets an overboost function that can increase torque to 300Nm between 2100-4500rpm. Sourced from England, rather than Austria where the car is built, the engine has been uprated with reinforced pistons, a balanced crankshaft, an aluminium cylinder block and sodium-filled exhaust valves.
Teamed with either the standard six-speed manual transmission or the $3055-optional paddle-shifted six-speed automatic, the JCW unit will hustle the 1405kg (1430kg auto) Countryman from standstill to 100km/h in a claimed 7.0 seconds. That puts it 0.1sec behind both its 5kg lighter/9mm shorter Paceman sibling and its $56,000 2.0-litre turbocharged Audi Q3 rival.
In manual guise the Mini Countryman will net claimed fuel and CO2
figures of 8.0 litres per 100km and 186 grams per kilometre respectively. The auto, meanwhile, rates slightly higher at 8.3L/100km and 193g/km. Over the car’s local launch, which encompassed some of Tasmania’s famous Targa bends, our manual example averaged 10.5L/100km, according to the trip computer.
Driven sedately through town, at or below 60km/h, the Mini Countryman John Cooper Works is comfortable and easy to drive. The clutch is light but provides reasonable feedback and the notchy gearbox moves through its ratios cleanly.
While tame and soft south of 2000rpm, the engine becomes both more gruff and responsive by 3000rpm – even when the Countryman’s throttle-sharpening, exhaust-opening Sport mode isn't selected. Once the road clears and trees replace buildings, allowing the revs rise to 4000rpm and beyond results in solid acceleration and induction noise all the way to the 6500rpm redline.
Despite riding on 10mm-lower sports suspension, firmer springs and dampers and being fitted with strengthened anti-roll bars, the Countryman JCW handles most road imperfections and potholes with confidence and composure. This is particularly impressive given our test car was wearing optional ($2340) 19-inch light-alloy wheels with Pirelli P Zero rubber rather than the standard Bridgestone-wrapped 18-inch items.
Big mid-corner bumps and large undulations can challenge the car’s otherwise planted feel, while crests taken at higher speeds test the confidence of the driver, too.
Sadly, the Countryman’s more tolerant ride, which is far more liveable compared with the aggressively sprung Mini hatch, Coupe and Roadster, somewhat sacrifices the point-and-shoot go-kart-like handling its stablemates are renowned for.
While the steering is consistently light lock-to-lock and provides sufficient communication of what the front wheels are doing – with things only getting heavier not more accurate in Sport mode – direction changes are blunted.
Doing a terrific job of helping to get out of one corner and into the next is the permanent all-wheel-drive system unique to both Countryman and Paceman John Cooper Works models.
Dubbed ALL4 by Mini, the system distributes power between the front and rear axles via an electromagnetic centre differential with assistance from the car’s electronic differential lock – essentially the computer auto-brakes a spinning inside wheel – and stability control. Even in wet, and occasionally icy, conditions in Tasmania, the ALL4 system accurately runs its logarithms resulting in harder and faster corner exits.
Fun as it is, driving this way does require a firmer grasp of the red-stitched three-spoke JCW multi-function leather sports steering wheel as the optional ($2548) leather seats struggle to grip bums.
Sliding around is particularly prominent when perched on the impressively spacious back seat’s three-seat bench – while other markets offer the option of two individual seats, Australia does not. Its flat layout lacks much side support with only the seatbelt and handgrips keeping passengers in place when cornering hard.
Mildly Tardis-like given the Countryman’s 4133mm exterior length – 252mm shorter than an Audi Q3 and 344mm less than the BMW X1 – even six-footers are afforded plenty of head and legroom.
This is another more family-friendly step away from the usual cramped, or non-existent, Mini rear.
As is the 350-litre luggage capacity, expandable to 1170L with the seats down. Although that’s 90L more than the Paceman's 1080L maximum, it is no larger than a small hatchback's figure, and is 195L shy of the Q3’s.
The Mini Countryman JCW is treated to piano black interior trim strips, black air vent surrounds, an anthracite-coloured headliner and a dark-coloured rev counter and 260km/h speedometer.
Red-stitched sports seats, floor mats and manual gear lever are all also standard, with our test car also having the added highlight of Chilli Red trim inserts (a $195 option).
While the add-ons do change the look of the cabin compared with the lower specced, and priced, non-JCW Countryman models, the lift in ambience is marginal and the quality level is well behind the likes of Audi.
The same Mini-standard air-vents, chrome toggle switches and oversized central speedo – often ignored in favour of the rev counter-mounted digital display – are again joined by a black egg carton-like dash and basic-looking stereo controls.
Marking the top Countryman’s flagship status, apart from the black roof rails, JCW aero kit and JCW logos, are front and rear fog lights, clear side indicators and a rear spoiler.
Cruise control, electric mirrors and rain sensing wipers with automatic headlights are included as standard.
The Countryman JCW otherwise mirrors its Paceman equivalent with a Chilli Package coming as standard adding bi-xenon headlights, cloth/leather upholstery and a 10-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system with Bluetooth connectivity. Also fitted to our test car were satellite navigation ($1495), a glass sunroof ($2587), heated front seats ($637) and adaptive headlights ($520).
Presenting as a family-focused John Cooper Works performance model, the Mini Countryman JCW is far more practical and liveable than any other bodystyles in the range. It makes more sense than the two-door Paceman, and though it can’t match its smaller, feistier brethren for outright thrills, it does retain much of the racing spirit that the brand is so well known for.