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2018 MINI John Cooper Works Countryman Review




The MINI John Cooper Works Countryman is the biggest, heaviest, priciest and most potent MINI money can buy today. It’s quite literally the opposite of mini. But there’s a reason for its existence.

After capturing the boom of the SUV market with the Countryman, JCW, MINI’s performance division, is now digging deep into enthusiasts’ hearts with this go fast version. Unless your pocket is deep enough for Mercedes AMGs, Audi RS’, BMW Ms and Porsches, the JCW Countryman is arguably the best method to quell your domesticated status often linked to driving an SUV.

Priced from $57,900 plus on-road costs in Australia, the JCW Countryman tops the five-tier range with standard-equipped all-wheel drive, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, adaptive sports-tuned suspension and Brembo brakes.

Of course, there’s the usual array of JCW exclusive aero bits and highlights including the more aggressive front bumper with larger side air intakes, red accented front grille surround, rear diffuser with red highlights and 19-inch JCW Course Spoke lightweight alloy wheels.

Further hinting at its performance credentials is the piano black finish to the roof rails and side sill mouldings, while unique JCW side scuttles and chrome finished dual exhaust pipes add further differentiation.

Sporty touches continue inside the JCW Countryman, with front passengers welcomed into Dinamica/Leather-trimmed JCW branded sports seats as the driver grips a nice and thick three-spoke sports leather steering wheel. There are also Anthracite roof headliner and JCW-specific door sills, gear shift lever, instrumentation, and stainless steel sports pedals.

Other JCW specific features include a 12-speaker Harman/Kardon HiFi system, MINI Navigation System Professional and head-up display with engine revs, gear indicator and shift point display.

Like any MINI, the range-topping Countryman allows endless personalisation with a myriad of customisation options including different exterior colour combinations, graphics, interior trim and alloy wheel designs.

Despite the performance badge, the JCW Countryman is still first and foremost an SUV, and a very good one at that. The interior is spacious for a compact crossover, with generous head and legroom for all occupants. Three adults can sit across the rear bench with no issues, or for those with young families a car seat for the kids can go in the back seat without having to move the front pews forward.

At the back there are 450 litres of cargo space plus a very usable sub-compartment under the flat boot floor for keeping bits and pieces. The cover for the sub-boot can also be flipped outward and turned into a bench seat with the cushion underside providing comfort.

Even more clever, the 40/20/40 split folding rear seats can slide forward to trade rear seat legroom with more boot space, fold them flat and you get a voluminous 1390 litres of cargo room. The 3-way split folding rear seats further add versatility by allowing the middle seat back to tumble to make space for long items such as a surfboard while still having 2 passengers in the outboard seats.

Interior presentation is suitably retro and premium with quality soft touch surfaces adorning the dashboard and upper door trims. At night the interior mood lighting in the door handles and along the door pockets with changeable colours further lifts cabin ambience.

Its infotainment system remains one of the best in the business with quick processing and a concise interface through an ultra high clarity 8.8-inch widescreeen.

Compared to the more business-themed interior of its rivals, the Countryman’s cabin is more youthful and funky, but not any lower quality. In fact, it’s built to an extremely high standard that has all the credentials of a BMW product (MINI is owned by BMW).

The Teutonic connection is even more evident under the bonnet as it gets a BMW-sourced 2.0-litre turbo four pot that develops 170kW at 6,000 rpm accompanied with 350Nm of torque on tap from 1,450 to 4,500 rpm. Significantly more powerful than the 2.0L turbo in the one-grade down S Countryman, the JCW mill gets unique pistons, a larger charge-air cooler and an extra radiator – the reason for the larger air intakes in the lower front bumper and deletion of the foglight units.

While no sports car pace and urgency, the turbo four delivers strong and linear performance across the rev range with bags of mid-range punch making overtaking and hill climbing a breeze. Zero to 100km/h is dispatched in a respectable 6.5 seconds when paired with the automatic, but it sounds quicker than it goes thanks to the properly sporty and meaty exhaust note with that familiar deep and solid BMW soundtrack spicing up the aural experience further.

The eight-speed auto box is also impressive in the way it dishes out smooth and quick gear changes. It’s not as snappy as a dual clutch but close. While you can use the wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual operation, so good is the shifting algorithm when left to its own devices there’s actually no need to use the paddles.

Just as well sorted are the suspension and chassis which endow the compact crossover with neutral, confidence inspiring handling that feels more hot hatch than SUV. Despite its higher ride height, it stays flat through corners with very little understeer thanks to the wonderfully locked down front end. All-wheel drive grip further adds assurance through wet conditions. Having said that, there’s no escaping its weight though (some 1.5 tonne) as it just isn’t as zippy and chuckable as smaller MINIs.

Less competent are the steering which feels numb and artificially heavy, and the brakes which are spongy and inconsistent in feel, making smooth braking a delicate process.

You can take the JCW Countryman off road as the all-wheel drive system manages traction extremely well on sandy, rocky or slippery surfaces, delivering amazing grip with almost no slippage.

Back on the black top, the MINI impresses with a stable but firm ride. On less smooth country B roads, with the drive mode in the softest setting, the ride still leans on the busy side for an SUV but it’s not uncomfortable. Road noise on coarse roads is also higher than desired due to the run flat tyres.

Combined fuel consumption is rated at 7.8L/100km for the manual and 7.4L/100km for the automatic though in the real world with mixed driving our tester (auto) returns a reading of 9.8L/100km. Not exactly thrifty but still respectable for a performance SUV.

Verdict

Design and Comfort: 8.0/10

Performance and Handling: 8.0/10

Economy: 7.5/10

Quality: 8.5/10

Features and Equipment: 8.0/10

Our Score: 4/5

Performance and practicality don’t often mix well, but in the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman they come together with remarkable balance. No doubt it’s more biggie than mini, but by being such it offers good cabin space for a small family, while still packs enough poke and athleticism to keep the enthusiast in the household happy.

Pros:

  • Practical and spacious
  • High quality interior
  • Standout design
  • Solid performance

Cons:

  • Wooden brakes
  • Not quite mini
  • Busy ride

2018 MINI JCW Countryman Pricing and Specification

Pricing (Excluding on-road costs): $57,900
Warranty: 3-year / unlimited km
Country of Origin: Great Britain. Manufactured in Netherlands
Service Intervals: 12 months/15,000km
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol:

170kW @ 6000rpm, 350Nm @ 1450-4500rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
Power-to-weight Ratio (W/kg): 111.5
0-100km/h (s): 6.5
Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km): Claimed: 7.8; Tested: 9.8
RON Rating: 95
Fuel Capacity (L): 51
Safety: 6 airbags, ABS, BA, EBD, ESC, reverse and front facing camera, rear parking sensors, ISOFIX
Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) mm: 4,299/1,822/1,557/2,670
Kerb Weight (kg): 1,540
Towing Capacity (kg): Braked: 1800; Unbraked: 750
Entertainment: 8.8-inch touchscreen, AM/FM, DAB+, Bluetooth, USB, AUX, iPod, navigation, 12-speaker Harman/Kardon HiFi system

Competitors:

Audi Q2 2.0 TFSI AWD, Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 Sport, BMW X1 xDrive25i, Jaguar E-Pace, Volvo XC40

 

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