Mini Countryman John Cooper Works
By Bill McCarthy
Countryman is a name that hardly describes this firecracker from MINI, conjuring up images of genteel tweed and green wellies.
The JCW version of the small SUV is anything but genteel, offering brutal power with the two litre petrol engine delivering 306 bhp and 450Nm of torque, via twin turbo technology, all wheel drive and the latest eight-speed Steptronic transmission.
It is also hugely practical in typical SUV style having a wide girth and sitting high off the road. This offers excellent space with good head and legroom and a decent boot of 450 litres increasing to 1,390 with the rear seats folded.
It certainly looks hot, particularly this model, fully blinged up with scoops and spoilers in contrasting black and red black trim with JCW badging throughout. The go-faster stripes are there and in this case justified, together with colour coded sports brake calipers and door mirrors, sporty alloy wheels and twin exhausts.
The large air inlets on the front of the vehicle are designed to serve the cooling requirements of both the drive and the brake system.
Much of the exterior is colour coded in red and black with contrasting sports pedals and bright trim, with high quality fixtures and fittings. It is dominated by the Mini’s trademark dinner plate-style dash which houses the touchscreen infotainment system which controls sat nav, music and connectivity.
Also familiar are the toggle switches with central console houses a control dial for the various functions, sitting behind the gear lever.
The part-leather Recaro sports seats are surprisingly comfortable and supportive, with contrasting colour stitching while the JCW branding is visible on door sills.
On the road performance is brutal. Mated to the eight-speed auto gearbox, the car rockets to 60mph in around five seconds. It zips seamlessly through the gears, but if you want a more engaging drive, switch to the paddles behind the multi-function steering wheel.
That kind of pace requires handling to match with the chassis improved thanks to the single-joint spring-strut-type axle for the front wheel and the multi-joint rear axle.
An adaptive chassis with electronically controlled dampers is available as an additional option.
What this means is the handling is sharper and ride firmer although not so firm as to be uncomfortable with the firm suspension not unduly troubled by ruts and potholes, but delivering an exhilarating drive when driven hard. The firm says the powertrain has been designed to offer a spontaneous response to the slightest movement of the accelerator, but I did detect a slight lag when flooring the accelerator pedal, with steering not the most responsive if you’re being ultra picky.
Economy is still pretty decent with an average of around 39mpg available and lowish emissions for the type of car.
The intelligent controller of the ALL4 drive system delivers drive on demand to both axles. It is connected to the stability control system and constantly calculates the ideal power distribution ratio between the front and rear wheels.
In normal driving conditions power goes to the front wheels, but if the traction controller detects a danger of slip on the front wheels, within a fraction of a second, drive is transferred to the rear wheels.
Equipment levels are good, but in typical BMW/MINI style, extras can cost and arm and leg, but standard kit includes LED headlights, Mini Driving Modes, navigation with 6.5 inch display with touchscreen function and smartphone mirroring a redesigned graphical display and Real Time Traffic Information (RRTI).
The Comfort Plus pack is provided as standard including front and rear Park Distance Control (PDC) with Park Assist, a rear view camera, seat heating and folder mirrors.
Eighteen-inch John Cooper Works light metal wheels in Black Grip Spoke design are also offered as standard.
It may be an SUV, but despite its bulk on height off the road, give it its head and it is an exhilarating drive in true John Cooper tradition, with only the slightly heavy steering a drawback.
MINI Countryman John Cooper Works ALL4 2.0i
Mechanical: 306bhp, 1998cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving all wheels via eight-speed Steptronic gearbox
Max speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 5.1 seconds
Combined mpg: 38.7-40.9
Insurance group: 38E
CO2 emissions: 156g/km
BiK rating: 37%
Warranty: 3yrs/unlimited miles