The Mini Countryman has always come in for a bit of stick, mainly because there’s nothing ‘mini’ or ‘country’ about it. Regardless it’s an important car for the firm. A careful review of sales stats reveals the Mini Countryman took over 30 per cent of UK MINI sales in 2012. Sporty John Cooper Works models enjoyed a 27 percent uplift in the same year, so it’s no surprise some JCW magic has been applied to this most practical model.
The Mini JCW Countryman uses the same 215bhp engine as the top-spec JCW GP hot-hatch, offers four-wheel drive and introduces an automatic gearbox to the JCW range for the first time.
The Mini Countryman is best viewed from inside, behind the wheel, rather than outside. There’s no doubt the Countryman is the ugly duckling of the family, resembling a hatchback that’s been inflated with a bicycle pump. The badge on the tailgate is huge, like it’s been magnified in the photocopier one too many times.
Look past the unsightly bulges and it’s easy to see the MINI DNA shining through though, the prominent and distinctive face combining with the typically upright windscreen. JCW updates add a racy bodykit with faux air-intakes along the sides and some neat alloy wheels.
The Mini Countryman’s prime reason for even existing is its practicality — it’s the first MINI with more than two and a half doors so it is the perfect family car for those looking to upgrade from the smaller hatch. Be careful not to specify the centre rail that runs right through the car if people-moving is your objective, as this turns it into a strict four-seater. Regardless of layout there’s plenty of headroom, and legroom in the rear is decent. Even the boot, a traditional MINI failing, can carry 350 litres of junk with the backrests in place and up to 1,170 with them folded.
Performance & handling
The Mini John Cooper Works Countryman shares the Mini John Cooper Works GP’s top spec 215bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, but it never feels quite as urgent as that car. That’s most likely due to the extra weight it’s carrying (around 250kg), and the standard fitment of ALL4 four-wheel drive – which can still send 100% of the power to the rear axle when you want to get sideways.
Still, it feels pleasantly brisk, and the on-paper figures stack up well; the 0-62mph dash is completed in only 7 seconds. That’s near as damnit the same time as front-wheel drive Volkswagen Golf GTi.
And though there’s clearly plenty of grip and little in the way of bodyroll, quick changes in direction do highlight the car’s weight, and unlike the rest of the JCW range we doubt you’d have too much fun ragging it around a track. Those looking to carry young children could be put off by the firm ride as well, though if that’s a problem one of the lesser Cooper models on smaller wheels might be the best answer.
Economy & environment
Considering the Mini John Cooper Works Countryman’s 215bhp output, the economy and emissions are something of a surprise. Choose the auto and the headline figures are 35.8mpg and 184g/km, but the more efficient manual improves these further to 38.2mpg and 172g/km – and remember that’s with standard four-wheel drive.
Like the rest of the MINI range the Countryman uses a smattering of parent firm BMW’s Efficient Dynamics technology, or MINImalism in MINI speak. Stop/Start is standard, and the models use variable flow oil pumps and a switchable water pump that only turns on when needed – reducing wasted energy and making the JCW Countryman more fuel efficient.
Equipment & value
The Mini JCW Countryman gets access to the usual MINI personalisation options, so there’s a vast (and sometimes gob-smackingly odd) array of wheel, decals, paint, trim and technology options available. It has a generous standard specification including, 18inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, DAB radio, air conditioning, parking sensors and an array of JCW specific detailing that can easily be upgraded to your personal taste. Our test example had over £6,000 of options loaded onto it, making it a near £35,000 car. In that context the JCW Countryman is pretty expensive – a five-door VW Golf R is only £32,355.
The Mini Countryman is one of the safest MINIs available, having earned five stars with excellent results for both children and adults in the Euro NCAP tests. There’s an array of safety systems including tyre pressure monitoring, Dynamic Traction Control and Dynamic Stability Control as well as a host of airbags. Add the JCW’s ALL4 four-wheel drive and it’s a confidence inspiring vehicle.
Before completing this review, we had plenty of pre-conceptions born out of our experience of the standard Countryman. We expected to leave disappointed and to a certain degree that was justified – if you want a fast MINI then the hatchback or even the new Coupe and Roadster models are a far better base with which to start.
However, the Countryman JCW uses the most powerful MINI engine available, mates it to an effective four wheel drive system and offers more room and practicality than any other. It’s no sports car, but for family buyers looking to hold onto the more exciting side of life for a little while longer it’s ideal.
Model tested: MINI John Cooper Works Countryman
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Torque: 280Nm (300Nm on overboost)
Acceleration: 0-62 in 7.0 seconds
Top speed: 140mph
Emissions: 172g/km CO2