On paper, the car’s credentials are promising. With 215bhp, it’s the most powerful model ever to wear the JCW badge – eclipsing the hatchback, Convertible, Clubman, Coupe and Roadster JCWs by 7bhp. It’s also the first to feature four-wheel drive and a five-door layout.
A deeper bodykit, with a trademark vent in the side sills, plus new 18-inch alloys and a few JCW badges mark it out, but it’s no looker. There are seven colours, while the roof, mirrors and stripes are white, black or – exclusive to the JCW – red.
The interior is a bombardment of colour, thanks to optional Chili Red trim strips and red stitching on the gearlever and steering wheel. There’s the same space as in any Countryman – so it’s big for a MINI, but it’s no large family car. The 350-litre boot, which expands to 1,170 litres with the rear seats folded, trails the new VW Golf by 30 litres.
But this car’s focus is on performance, not practicality, which is why the 1.6-litre turbo from the Cooper S is tuned to 215bhp. Whether you go for the six-speed manual or six-speed auto, it covers 0-62mph in seven seconds and hits 140mph.
That’s quick by any normal standards, but the acceleration feels brisk rather than ballistic – blame its extra 190kg over the JCW hatch for that. What hasn’t been diluted is the burbling exhaust, which lets out a flurry of small explosions on the overrun.
The stand-out difference between this and any other JCW model is the effect four-wheel drive has on the handling. In normal situations, MINI’s All4 system splits power evenly between the front and rear axles, but has the ability to send up to 100 per cent of the torque to either end in extreme situations.
The upshot is that the torque steer from the rest of the range is eradicated, which lets you apply smoother steering inputs, even on the limit. There’s also more traction, as all four wheels claw at the tarmac, but carry too much speed into a corner and you’ll wash wide with understeer.
Suspension lowered by 10mm, along with firmer springs and dampers, keeps the high-sided Countryman from rolling around in corners, while it takes sharp changes of direction in its stride.
Yet it does crash over every bump in the road, which leaves us thinking a Countryman with the JCW’s styling and engine, but the Cooper S version’s suspension, would have a far broader appeal.