First drive review: Mini John Cooper Works Countryman
What is it?
It's the spiciest Mini Countryman around and the sixth model in the John Cooper Works (JCW) range. More importantly though, with its racy styling, potent performance, five-door practicality and raised ride height, if offers an interesting alternative to the hot hatch mainstream.
What's under the bonnet?
The Countryman JCW uses a new and enhanced version of the much-loved 1.6-litre four cylinder twin-scroll turbocharged engine hooked up to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed auto with wheel-mounted paddles. It's the engine which now resides in the entire John Cooper Works model range – from the poser's special, the Convertible, to the halo John Cooper Works GP. As opposed to the 211bhp in the JCW Hatch, Convertible, Clubman, Coupe and Roadster cars, the Countryman musters an extra 5bhp. There's 280Nm of useable torque (300Nm with overboost) and it'll crack 60mph in 6.8 seconds. Top whack is 140mph, while CO2 emissions are 172g/km. Official mpg figures are 38.2mpg – we averaged 35.6 over the course of 1,700 miles. All Countryman JCWs are four-wheel-drive too.
What's the kit like?
Quite meagre in fact – but this is Mini we're talking about. On the road price is £28,585 and for that you'll get 18-inch alloys; three rear seats; manual air con; anthracite headlining; basic Bluetooth with USB; DAB radio; a bodykit; lots of JCW badges; park distance control; a Sport button; and front sports seats. But our car cost a whopping £35k and had the options you'd want such as black leather with red piping; automatic air con; black headlamp inserts; Harman Kardon Hi-Fi; and Xenon headlights. There's a range of seven body colours; and three colour choices for the stripes, mirrors and roof. If you want a Countryman JCW, be prepared to pay for it.
There are more than you'd think. In the Crossover/SUV class, Mini says there's the feisty new Nissan Juke Nismo priced from £19,995, the newly introduced Volkswagen Tiguan R-Line at £28,915. We feel in this price range you'd have to have a look at the Range Rover Evoque (£29,195-£44,920), while in the hot hatchback segment there's the Volkswagen Golf R from £31,770.
Is it any good?
It is actually – but due to the car's extra 190kg over a JCW hatch there's never really the sense of it being lightening fast. But this car's real coup is the fact it's the first four-wheel-drive JCW and that makes a real difference. Mini Hatch Cooper S and JCW owners will be used to their cars' penchant for torque-steer, but the 4x4 Countryman eradicates all of that. It means the handling is precise and planted. But a steering system slightly lacking in feedback means it doesn't feel completely pleasurable, and nor is the ride comfort ever great - even on our car's smaller 17-inch wheels with winter tyres. Interior ambience is top-notch and has its typical Mini charm.
The AOL Cars verdict
We have to admit we were all ready to be a little mean to this car. But over the course of 1,700 miles we became a little attached to it. There's not much of the all-out turn of speed of the other John Cooper Works models, but the Countryman JCW's more grown-up character is appealing. And we have to say we like the challenging styling and the childish pleasure we get from the car's twin exhausts popping and crackling when in Sport mode. But the steep asking price does its best to put us off.
Model: Mini John Cooper Works All4 Countryman
Price: £34,625 (as tested)
Engine: 1.6-litre, turbo petrol
Power: 216bhp, 300Nm
Max speed: 140mph
MPG (comb'd): 38.2