The Mini Countryman JCW has been spied testing ahead of its expected launch later this year.
Although much of the car is covered in camouflage, the JCW wheels give away the model's identity, as do the visibly more aggressive front air intakes. The JCW-tuned Countryman also appears to sit lower on its wheels than its regular counterpart. Despite the likely introduction of the Countryman later this year, we don't expect to see the JCW variant until 2017.
Mini couldn't confirm any details on when we might see the JCW, or the standard Countryman, but the advanced stage of testing suggests we won't have to wait long to see the regular version, which has been spotted undergoing testing many times.
Already described by parent company BMW as being an "authentic SUV", the new Countryman is expected to look more rugged than the current model, taking some styling cues from the Mini X-Raid racer, which has won the Dakar Rally four times since 2012.
Based on the same UKL1 architecture as the recently launched Clubman - which is said to be a huge step forward not only in terms of refinement, but also in terms of the range of powertrains it can accommodate - the new Countryman is set to be considerably larger and more spacious than the current car.
A stretch of around 150mm will take the Countryman's overall length to just over 4.25m, meaning available boot space should grow from the current 450 litres. It's also almost 80mm wider and the wheelbase has grown by at least 100mm. But the really big difference is the height - the Countryman is expected to be 150mm taller than the Clubman, with a more upright seating position and more spacious interior.
Variable damper control will enable the chassis settings to be adjusted, and a raised ride height should enable moderate off-roading, although we suspect it'll still be too low to be classed as a proper off-roader.
Engine and transmission
Codenamed F60, the new Countryman will also be offered with the same electronically-controlled four-wheel drive system as the BMW X1, although front-wheel drive will be the standard layout. It's expected to be available with the current range of three- and four-cylinder petrol engines, mated to either a six-speed manual or eight-speed auto gearbox.
A plug-in hybrid will join the engine line-up, using an electric motor mounted within the independent Z-axle to drive the rear wheels. Autocar understands a range of twenty to thirty miles will be possible on pure-electric power.
The John Cooper Works model should top the range, most likely using the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine from the regular JCW, which produces 228bhp.
Design and interior
Sources say the new Countryman’s overall styling is much more harmonious and better resolved than that of the original, which suffered proportionally because it was based on the same platform as the original Clubman, itself a stretched version of the three-door hatch.
Like the Clubman, it'll be much more upmarket than its predecessor, with a wider range of luxury options, including a plusher interior with optional leather sports seats and a head-up display.
We expect the new Countryman to start at around £22,500 for the 1.5-litre petrol engined model, climbing to £27,000 for the Cooper SD, when a JCW arrives, a price of around £30,000 seems likely. We'll know more when the car makes its debut later this year, possibly at the Paris motor show in September, with sales commencing a few months later.
It’s thought that the Countryman will be built at BMW’s Oxford facility, rather than at NedCar in the Netherlands, a factory that is under contract to BMW. NedCar, which has previously built Volvos, Mitsubishis and the Smart Forfour, has been building Mini hatchbacks since summer 2014.