Skip advert
Advertisement

New MINI Countryman JCW 2024 review: fails to live up to its potential

The bigger MINI Countryman SUV is now a genuine family car, and we try the hot JCW version for the first time

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

Find your MINI Countryman
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
Or are you looking to sell your car?
Customers got an average £1000 more vs part exchange quotes
Advertisement

Verdict

As a performance car, the MINI Countryman JCW fails to live up to its potential. It proves that the brand’s desire for ‘go-kart handling’ is a stretch too far in a 1.7-tonne SUV, because the end result is too fidgety, too hyperactive and too clumsy to be fun to drive. We’d save a hatload of cash and go for the standard Countryman, which pulls all of the JCW’s extreme behaviour down a step yet still benefits from the same stunning cabin design.

Advertisement - Article continues below

There are some cars that you get into and they just flow naturally. Cars whose controls are all perfectly matched and well-suited to one another, and work with the way the chassis turns into a corner and rolls through it. It’s a quality that absolutely does not need to be exclusive to fast or even expensive cars, but it becomes even more desirable in something with plenty of performance intent.

Unfortunately, the new MINI Countryman JCW is not one of those cars. 

We’ll come onto the why in a minute, because from the on-paper details it shows plenty of promise. The hottest version of the all-new Countryman rides on the same platform as the BMW X1 and X2, which pretty much have any other compact premium SUV covered when it comes to keen handling. 

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

While base models of the new Countryman are powered by a mild hybrid 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol - and with fully electric options to follow - the JCW gets a more chunky 2.0-litre four-cylinder which puts out a very healthy 296bhp and 400Nm of torque. Deployed to all four wheels via a seven-speed automatic gearbox, it enables the Countryman to sprint from 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds. On the chassis side, the JCW gets adaptive dampers and rides on 20-inch wheels with 245mm-section tyres.

But on the road, everything just feels out of sorts. The steering is hyperactively sharp, which combined with an enthusiasm for tramlining across all but the smoothest surfaces and a firm ride that bounces you from one bump to the next, it feels like you’re involved in a rather clumsy wrestle rather than a dance - even if you’re pushing to nowhere near ten tenths of the car’s or your own ability. 

Advertisement - Article continues below

Even on smoother surfaces, it isn’t brilliant. The steering is so sharp, but so short on feedback, that it’s difficult to place the car accurately, causing you to make mid-corner corrections, which again are difficult to execute cleanly because of that sharpness. Compounding the problem further is the fact that the chassis - all 1,735kg of it - can’t keep up with the inputs you’re making (intentionally or not) at the wheel, so it all starts to get out of shape rather drastically.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

When you’re not struggling to cleanly execute a twisty road, the stiff suspension never quite settles down. The damping feels sophisticated enough to mean that it doesn’t really crash into bumps, but it would be nice if the whole car could just relax a little when you’re driving around town or on a motorway. 

The powertrain doesn’t do much to help the driving experience, either. Those-on paper stats might look promising, but in practice the engine feels a little flat. The power delivery is fairly consistent from low down, and doesn’t build much as the revs rise. This, combined with a fairly uninspiring soundtrack, means there’s not much incentive to venture close to the red line. Even the gearbox can jar, with the twin-clutch unit jerking clumsily away from a standstill. Full-bore upshifts are quite fast, though.

This is all a huge shame, because once the driving experience is put to one side, there’s a huge amount to like about the new Countryman, most of which comes inside. MINI has created a fantastic piece of modern interior design; the large, round OLED display sitting front and centre on the dashboard sits above a small bank of toggle switches, a layout which takes inspiration from the original Issigonis-designed Minis. The materials, the quality and the ergonomics are all class-leading.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

The touchscreen looks fantastic, loads quickly and is easy to use; our only small gripe rears its head if you choose to use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which are clumsily dropped into a small rectangle in the middle of that circle. While there are no traditional dials ahead of the driver, a head-up display presents vital driving information in the perfect spot. Further back, there’s loads of space both for passengers and in the 460-litre boot. The sliding rear bench can even slide 130mm further forward if you need more storage space.

Prices for the JCW start from £42,520 - a hefty £13,195 more expensive than the base version of the new Countryman. Sure, that car has less performance from its 168bhp engine, and we’d jump up to the £31,825 Exclusive pack to get the nicest interior design and extra standard kit, but either way, it’s significantly sweeter to drive than the top JCW and will save you a huge amount of cash at the same time. 

But what of its direct rivals? A Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 is marginally quicker and much more composed on the road, but costs over £52,000. We’d instead go for the Cupra Formentor TSI 310, which is quicker, more comfortable and much more fun to drive than the Countryman, and starts from £45,070.

Model:MINI Countryman JCW
Price:£42,520
Powertrain:2.0-litre 4cyl turbo
Power/torque:296bhp/400Nm
Transmission:Seven-speed auto, four-wheel drive
0-62mph:5.4 seconds
Top speed:155 mph
Economy/CO2:35.3mpg/180g/km
Size (L/W/H):4,447/1,843/1,645mm
On sale:Now
Skip advert
Advertisement
Chief reviewer

Alex joined Auto Express as staff writer in early 2018, helping out with news, drives, features, and the occasional sports report. His current role of Chief reviewer sees him head up our road test team, which gives readers the full lowdown on our comparison tests.

Skip advert
Advertisement

Most Popular

New Kia EV3 is a £30k electric car with a 372-mile range
Kia EV3 - front
News

New Kia EV3 is a £30k electric car with a 372-mile range

Kia expands its electric line up with the EV3 – taking plenty of inspiration from the flagship EV9
23 May 2024
Renault Scenic review
Renault Scenic UK - front
In-depth reviews

Renault Scenic review

The Renault Scenic takes a pragmatic and polished approach to zero-emissions motoring
21 May 2024
Citroen C3 review
Citroen e-C3 - front
In-depth reviews

Citroen C3 review

A clever rethink of the small, affordable car theme, the C3 and its all-electric e-C3 twin have the potential to really shake up the market
22 May 2024