Mini has given the Countryman John Cooper Works (JCW) a significant boost for 2020. Along with the usual trim, styling and interior updates, the 2.0-litre engine under the bonnet has been boosted by 55kW and 100Nm.
The result is an SUV with 225kW and 450Nm put to all four wheels through a front-biased all-wheel-drive system and a mechanical-locking front differential.
The engine is shared with the BMW M135i and X2 M35i, as is the eight-speed automatic transmission. Thanks to the uprated powertrain, the Countryman will hit 100km/h in just 5.1 seconds from standstill, and flat out you'll be doing 250km/h.
Claimed fuel economy is 7.9L/100km, but we'll have to wait until the car comes through our garage to see how it translates to the real world.
Along with the upcoming John Cooper Works GP, the Countryman JCW and its Clubman sibling are Mini's most powerful models.
There's no questioning the car's performance on the road. It doesn't feel as fast as the Clubman, but once you're past a hint of low-down turbo lag it charges hard through to redline.
Thanks to the huge amount of torque on offer, you can leave it in a taller gear than you might expect and it still pulls hard. That's not to say there's no benefit to revving it out, though – the engine has plenty to give all the way through to redline, and it sounds beefy in Sport mode.
With that said, the raspy exhaust doesn't quite have the same bark as it does in the bombastic BMW X2 M35i.
Unlike the regular Countryman range, which has recently been updated to feature a dual-clutch transmission, the JCW runs with an eight-speed torque converter. It's relaxed around town, sauntering to the tallest gear possible on light throttle inputs to save fuel, but shifts ram home hard and fast in Sport.
There's no manual option for 2020. Blame a diminishing global market for three-pedal cars, and the fact BMW doesn't offer a manual version of the M135i or X2 M35i.
It's fast in a straight line, but the Countryman JCW can't match the sure-footed feeling on offer in the Clubman when the going gets twisty.
The steering has the right amount of weight to it, and it's pleasingly quick off-centre. But there's no hiding the Countryman's weight, and the fact it rides higher than the Clubman.
Whereas the Clubman feels dialled in, the Countryman is vaguer at the front end and it's keener to push wide. The traction control works harder in the SUV, too, with the traction light flickering away madly if you get too greedy with the accelerator through first- and second-gear corners.
It's still possible to get down a twisty stretch of road fast, but the Countryman doesn't feel athletic in the same way as its barn-doored sibling.
It also doesn't have the option of a Pure model with smaller wheels. Instead, it rides on 19-inch wheels as standard.
The result is a firm ride on bumpy roads. Mini has never offered a plush ride, especially in its sportier models, so the fact the Countryman JCW doesn't waft along isn't too surprising, but the option of smaller wheels to take the edge off would be nice.
Mini hinted the Clubman JCW Pure's take-up rate will indicate whether the Countryman will get a Pure trim.
Engine aside, changes to the Countryman JCW are small for 2020. Mini has tweaked the spec sheet by adding electric and heated front seats, along with anti-dazzle interior mirrors.
The cabin is still a nice place to be, with an interesting design that borrows heavily from Mini's smaller cars in its details. The dashboard is dominated by an 8.8-inch display running an infotainment system derived from BMW iDrive and surrounded by a colourful LED ring.
It's controlled by a rotary controller mounted on the transmission tunnel, and includes factory navigation and Apple CarPlay as standard. The subscription fee for CarPlay is gone, and the technology is free for life.
The driver is faced with a small pod containing a large speedo, a small rev counter, and a multifunction display. It's shared with the wider Mini range, and offers all the information you could possibly want. The fact it moves with the steering column is neat, and helps ensure it's visible from a wide range of driving positions.
Speaking of which, the front seats drop down nicely to the floor, and there's plenty of adjustment for leggy drivers. Rear seat space is better in the Countryman than the Clubman thanks to its larger body.
There's also more boot space, with 450L on hand when the rear seats are in place and 1390L with them folded.
Mini offers a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty across its range. Capped-price servicing is available priced at $1425 for five years of 'basic' cover or $3795 for 'plus' cover including consumables such as brake pads and spark plugs.
Like the Clubman, the Countryman JCW is a car you want rather than one anyone will really need.
It's the most practical fast Mini you can buy, but its bigger body and taller ride bring trade-offs. There's no doubt the Countryman is better suited to life as a regular city SUV, whereas the Cooper or Cooper S excel in a way the firmer JCW just doesn't.
The Clubman JCW (or any of the cheaper, equally quick hot hatches priced around $50K) is a better bet unless you absolutely must have an SUV – and if that's the case, we'd suggest checking out the BMW X2 M35i.