What is it?
A prototype version of the forthcoming Mini Countryman John Cooper Works, a car we’ll get to see in final production form at the Geneva motor show in March.
There’s no official word on how much power has been liberated from the turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine, but insiders have suggested a figure of 215bhp is likely, some 38bhp more than the Cooper S the JCW is based one.
The car we got a brief drive in on some wintery roads in the Austrian Alps was 85 per cent representative of the car that will reach the UK next autumn as the fastest, most powerful and most expensive model in Mini’s baby SUV line-up.
What’s it like?
Considering this isn’t quite the finished article, it’s a remarkably impressive machine. JCW Minis have always been noted for having more power than the chassis can actually handle and torque steering their way beyond reasonable usability, but there are no such problems with this Countryman JCW as power is sent to all four wheels.
There’s therefore a level of traction not normally associated with JCW models, and a nice even spacing of the gears and a linear power delivery make it an easy – and enjoyable – experience to build up some decent pace in. And when you have to lift off you’re met with the familiar JCW-style cracks and pops coming from the exhaust.
Pressing the Sport button enhances things further: the throttle response becomes keener and greater response is also afforded through the steering wheel.
Mini has stuck with the sports suspension from the Cooper S for the JCW, albeit with revised spring and damper rates and a 10mm drop in ride height to 139mm. Thicker anti-roll bars are fitted front and back, too – 22mm at the front and 17mm at the rear, both 1mm thicker than on the Cooper S.
The Countryman has never been a big roller in corners despite its chunky proportions, and it’s the same to report with the JCW. It feels poised and keenly changed direction on the winding Alpine roads we tested it on.
The ride quality was another highlight of the car, feeling not too firm but with enough feedback for you to realise it’s a keener Countryman than its siblings. Certainly, there is not the usual firmness to the set-up than seen in other Mini JCWs. While early signs of the ride quality are impressive, our car was fitted with steel rims equipped with winter tyres – UK models will get 17in alloys and summer rubber as standard.
Should I buy one?
The controversial looks of the Countryman may never win over some, but certainly in this JCW model an extra level of enthusiast appeal to the big Mini has been added.
Even after this early drive, it’s clear to see the Countryman has potential in JCW guise. You feel a command of the road driving this Countryman that you don’t experience in the rest of the range, and the suspension changes have resulted in a much more composed dynamic machine. We await a fuller drive with interest.