What is it?
As if you needed telling, given the name on the boot, it’s a fast, performance-oriented Mini Countryman. The John Cooper Works brand could never mean anything else.
Yet, for all the simplicity of its purpose, the Mini Countryman JCW is a tricky one to predict. On one hand, there’s absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t bring something a little different and a lot fun to the hot hatch fraternity.
On the other hand, we can’t help but approach the 215bhp, Mini Countryman John Cooper Works with some trepidation given that we have already criticised the standard Cooper S and SD for a firm ride. One that is harder still rings some alarm bells.
To be precise, the chassis tweaks applied to the JCW includes a 10mm drop in ride height, stiffer anti-roll bars and what the company describes as “extremely firm tuning” for the dampers.
Engine upgrades mean power has increased by 34bhp, and torque by 30lb ft to 207lb ft over the standard Cooper S All4, which shares the JCW’s 1.6-litre turbocharged motor and four-wheel drive system.
What is it like?
In practice, the four-wheel drive system, which splits power equally between axles in normal driving but can send 100 per cent to either end according to available traction if necessary, is one of the great successes in the JCW. It delivers organ-squeezing lateral grip, and it’s impressively resistant to understeer.
This all translates to it being precisely the sort of accessible, chuckable hot hatch that Mini undoubtedly wants it to be, and it also adds an all-season practicality that will be a strong factor in its favour next to the plethora of front-wheel drive competition.
But that’s not enough on its own, because the Countryman must still deliver the thrills that its illustrious badge suggests it should have. And it doesn’t quite manage it.
That ride has a lot to do with it. The JCW does serve up impressive body control for a fairly tall car, and much of the time it rode in an acceptable fashion on the wrinkle-free roads around Frankfurt’s surrounding countryside. But there were also moments where it felt as if there were no suspension at all, with wince-inducing crashing and shuddering arriving over the more sever surface intrusions.
More than that, the speed-sensitive electrically-assisted steering is no inspiration. There is a ‘Sport’ setting, as most hot Mini aficionados will expect, which tweaks engine and throttle response, and fires up an impressive bass pop and crackle from the exhaust on the overrun. It also weights up the steering a touch more, which successfully improves mid-corner steering response, but also makes the already nervous responses just off dead-ahead even more neurotic. Regardless of setting, the steering feels too synthetic to be really rewarding. At least the six-speed manual ‘box (an automatic is available as an option) is slick and satisfying to use.
There are impressive elements to the JCW. The engine is fantastically flexible and accessible on public roads, and serves up useful efficiency to go with it. And in terms of handling the Countryman JCW is satisfyingly rapid and grippy. It’s also substantially cheaper than the VW Golf R, which is arguably its closest rival despite the power deficit in the Mini. Yet it’s also more expensive than the front-drive rivals that will deliver more entertainment and equal practicality if you can live without all-wheel drive.
Should I buy one?
The Mini Countryman JCW is a ‘want one’ car. If it really appeals, then it’s likely that nothing else will do since it fills a niche of its own. But you must live with some slightly uninspiring dynamics and a frankly uncomfortable ride, and without the outright fun that you might hope for. We’d recommend looking to the front-drive rivals if you can.
Mini Countryman JCW
Top speed 140mph;
Engine type 1598cc, 4cyl, petrol, turbocharged
; Installation Front, transverse, 4WD
; Power 215bhp at 6000rpm
; Torque 207lb ft at 1900rpm
; Gearbox 6spd manual
; Fuel tank 47-litres;
Boot 350-1170 litres;
Wheels 18in alloy