MINI Countryman JCW review
The MINI JCW Countryman adds storming performance and edgy handling to the 4x4 crossover
Practicality and performance come together in the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman. The chunky 4x4 Countryman is already the most practical MINI, but the JCW version is also the most expensive, and the most powerful, too – it features a 215bhp version of the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine found in other JCW models. This will help the car rival the forthcoming new Audi RS Q3, as well as high-performance versions of the BMW X1 and Range Rover Evoque, and even the VW Golf R hot hatch. It rides lower than lesser Countryman models, on gorgeous 18-inch alloy wheels, while the MINI ALL4 4x4 system ensures excellent traction on the road and decent ability off it.
Our choice: MINI JCW Countryman
The Countryman already stands out in the MINI range with its large body, raised stance and chunky looks. But the MINI JCW Countryman will turn even more heads. Its muscular nose is defined by a wide grille, huge air intakes and a beefy spoiler. A bodykit adds to the road-hugging appearance, although the car also rides 10mm lower than a Cooper S Countryman to improve the handling. A set of stylish 18-inch alloy wheels is standard, with 19-inch alloys optional. A facelift in 2014 brought with it a subtly updated grille, which includes a red streak running through it, and some optionally available black surrounds for the lights. A set of LED foglights are a new option, too.
The JCW Countryman isn’t only the most powerful MINI in the range, with its 215bhp 1.6-litre turbo; it’s also the first and only JCW model to feature four-wheel drive, plus the only one to be offered with an automatic gearbox. A manual box is standard, though, and it delivers the same sharp shifts as the six-speed in other MINI JCW models. Whichever you go for, performance is devastating, with 0-62mph in 6.9. Most of the time, the clever ALL4 4x4 system divides power between the front and rear axles, but it can send it all to the rear to make the agile handling even more sharp. And while the ride height is lower than in other Countryman models, and the ride firmer as a result, drivers still get a great view of the road.
Euro NCAP awarded the MINI Countryman five stars in its independent crash tests, and the JCW comes equipped with stability control as standard, boosting its safety credentials. Plus, its 4x4 transmission promises reassuring grip in slippery winter conditions. As in all MINIs, most of the materials used inside the car have a high-quality feel, which will reassure buyers that the car is built to last. But the company doesn’t have the best reliability record in our annual Driver Power satisfaction surveys – owners have questioned reliability on the hatchback – and finished a disappointing 21st out of 30 in the Driver Power 2012 manufacturer chart.
The Countryman is easily the most practical car in the MINI range – not that this is saying much – and the JCW model takes nothing away from this. The five-door layout provides easy access to the interior, and the rear can be specified with two or three seats. Go for the former, and the seats slide back and forth, while cup-holders and sunglasses holders can be fixed to the centre rail running the length of the cabin. Rivals like the Audi Q3 and Range Rover Evoque offer more legroom, and they also have the edge on boot space – although the JCW provides the same luggage capacity as other Countryman models, with a 350-litre space increasing to 1,170 litres when the rear seats are folded. With the five-door MINI hatchback now available, the Countryman's practicality doesn't look quite as impressive, though.
Considering its huge performance potential, the MINI JCW Countryman is incredibly efficient. It features the same range of eco-friendly tweaks as other models in the range – including stop-start – so the manual car returns 39.8mpg fuel economy and claims 165g/km CO2 emissions. The auto isn’t as green, although it still offers 37.7mpg and 175g/km. Not quite so impressive is the price – even though this is the flagship of the range, the JCW Countryman looks expensive, and as usual with a MINI, it doesn’t come especially well equipped. Buyers will have no complaints about the company’s great-value tlc servicing packages, however.