I had always imagined that the expression "May you live in interesting times" was a positive statement that hoped that the person who was on the receiving end of those words would enjoy a full and fascinating life. As it turns out, it may well be that the origins of the expression could be a Chinese curse, which would make it kind of appropriate in the interesting times we are all currently navigating. In any case, regardless of where the expression came from and whether we like it or not, we are all certainly living in a time full of interest and more than a little uncertainty.
At times such as this, it is no bad thing to be able to enjoy some of life's simple pleasures, and for someone like me, who has petrol flowing through their veins, driving a joyous and playful car can certainly provide an excellent distraction from the solid wall of negative white noise currently emanating from every single news source. And the JCW Countryman is certainly a joyful car.
My Mini is coming up on its second birthday and 65,000 kilometres. The car has been completely faultless in that time. The Countryman is built on BMW's UKL platform, which it shares with the BMW X1 and X2, and in my humble opinion they have got the formula for the car absolutely right. I'm not sure exactly how many cars I have owned but it is a substantial number. Everything from a Lada Niva (better than you would imagine) to a few Mercedes have found a place in my garage over the years. The basic build quality of the Countryman is excellent and is the equal or better of anything I personally have owned. The paint is thick, the doors shut with a quality thunk, everything works perfectly, the interior really hasn't worn in any significant way and the car still feels just like it did on the day it was delivered.
Whilst you purchase a Mini for the fun factor and the quality, there are certainly no real compromises with the practicality of a Countryman. The Countryman is a small to mid-size SUV and can probably be almost directly compared to the Mazda CX-5 with its interior space. Both cars have around 450 litres of boot space. The car is relatively frugal and it makes good use of its 2.0-litre 170 kilowatt turbo that is mated to an 8-speed auto.
There are three modes to choose from - Green, Mid and Sport. I drive mine in Sport mode 90 per cent of the time because it sharpens the handling up, adds a little crackle to the exhaust and improves the throttle response. Strangely enough, the steering feel becomes ever so slightly wooden in Sport mode, as if BMW went a little too far in their attempt to make the feel through the steering wheel deliberately heavy. It's not a major issue but you do notice it. Another practical aspect of the car is its ability to comfortably consume highway kilometres. A long motorway stint is a pleasurable experience when you select Green mode with its quiet exhaust setting, comfortable suspension tune and the engine response dialed down for economy. The back seat is comfortable with reclining back rests, two ISOFIX points and rear occupants have their own vents and charging points.
Then there are the many built-in attributes that the JCW has as standard, like the wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless phone charging, head-up display, electric tail gate, excellent lights, long service intervals, heated seats and brilliant brakes. Perhaps the most understated feature of the Countryman is the all-wheel drive system. Many of the kilometres that my car has acquired in the last two years have been on the Pacific Highway. This soon-to-be-much-better stretch of road gives you almost endless roadworks (finishing soon), seemingly unlimited B doubles and quite often very heavy rain. The sure-footed feeling that the Mini gives you on wet roads is incredibly comforting.
One of the most memorable moments the car has given me was a run up the Gwyder Highway very early one morning. It was pre-dawn and dark, the clouds were on the ground as we climbed the Gibralter Range and it was raining heavily. The JCW devoured that tricky slippery road with incredible ease and with a level of traction and safety that only all-wheel drive can give.
You can, of course, get all of the practical features of the Countryman in many other mid sized SUV's at a much lower price, but that would be missing the point of the JCW. I personally needed a practical car, but I wanted something that I would enjoy driving - and those two desired outcomes ruled out the majority of the offerings from Asia, as good as those vehicles may be. The current crisis we are living through has absolutely reinforced to me that life can be unpredictable and it is definitely short, and my personal policy of avoiding mainstream appliances for transport is something I am very glad I have always followed. Those of you with less passion for interesting cars may not agree and I respect that.
The other options available to me in this segment were also ruled out for different reasons - Audi was a no because of a bad VW experience, Macan for the same reason, Land Rover on reliability, and others on price. One of the more endearing qualities of the Mini for me is its lack of pretentiousness and the fact that, as a brand, it doesn't take itself too seriously.
The other expression that is relevant to my Mini is the "seven year itch", except for me (when it comes to cars) it's more like "the two year itch."
Usually after a few years into owning a car, I am looking at CarAdvice and other forums and planning my next purchase. It is quite an unusual position I currently find myself in where I am looking at reasons not to sell the Countryman. I just like it, and its personality, quality and character have made me very reluctant to part with it. This thought process is in the context of knowing there is a new version of my car available which would have all of my current vehicle's good points with even more power and performance.
The thing is, I actually think that 170 kilowatts is pretty close to perfect for a warm hatch on public roads as a daily driver. The JCW is already potentially antisocial enough if you want it to be, with its good performance and excellent handling more than capable of holding its own when mixing with the traffic of wobbly dual-cab utes, CVT-plagued underpowered SUVs and the other less focused choices of transport - especially when you throw in roundabouts, corners and anything other than straight roads.
And my wife is expressing a desire for us to buy a 4WD and a camper trailer so we can join the other doomsday preppers and head out west and live under a rock until normal programming is resumed. This sounds reasonably attractive but the thought of piloting a LandCruiser everyday after driving a Mini just isn't appealing, as good as that car is.
In any case, my Mini should be good for many years to come, based on its impeccable history to this point. Every drive in it has been a pleasure. If the world ends tomorrow, I have 65,000 kilometres of outstanding memories banked in this excellent little car.
NOTE: We've used a CarAdvice photo with this story.