When MINI Cooper came out with its Mini Countryman in 2010, it looked like what it was – a 4x4 crossover for people who like MINIs, but occasionally need to drive through a field or live on steep, icy hills. This year, MINI’s John Cooper Works sub-brand comes out with its version of the Countryman that takes the bucolic MINI and gives it a heavy dose of racetrack style and technology.
The MINI John Cooper Works Countryman is JCW’s first 4x4 and its first five-door MINI. It’s also the first to use the MINI ALL4 all-wheel drive system, which utilizes an electromagnetic center differential to distribute power between the front and rear axles. Backed up by MacPherson strut suspension and Dynamic Traction Control, this allows for greater traction in adverse conditions while maintaining the Countryman’s “go-kart” handling. Car makers like Alfa Romeo might not care to have their creations compared to go-karts, but MINI John Cooper Works goes out of its way to make the comparison.
MINI John Cooper Works bills the Countryman as the “performance model” of the range and has tried to give the car a distinct racing feel. Its four-cylinder 1.6-liter engine has a twin-scroll turbocharger, direct injection and fully variable valve management based on the BMW Group’s VALVETRONIC technology, and puts out a respectable 218 bhp (160 Kw) and 207 foot-pounds (280 Nm) of torque. The makers like to call the Countryman’s 0 to 100 kph (62 mph) in 7.0 seconds “intoxicating,” but it’s probably not causing Aston Martin to lose any sleep.
The Countryman comes with a standard six-speed manual gearbox, but there’s a six-speed automatic version available with flappy paddle shifts. Top speed is 225 kph (140 mph) for the manual and 223 km/h (139 mph) for the automatic.
Despite all the racing mods, the mileage is not bad at 7.4 liters per 100 km, or 38.2 mpg (automatic: 7.9 liters per 100 km/35.8 mpg). This is probably due in part to the use of the BMW Group’s MINIMALIST technology package. This is basically a bit of an electronic nanny to make sure you eat your greens. It includes Brake Energy Regeneration to reclaim energy while coasting or braking, electric power steering that only kicks in when needed, a Gear Shift Indicator to tell you when’s the best time to change gears, plus the manual version has an Auto Start-Stop feature that turns the engine off if the car stops at a light.
Then there are the toys like the Sport Button. Pressing this tweaks the engine so that gear changes in automatic mode are faster, but its more important function is to make the exhaust growl so you’re reminded that this is supposed to be a performance car. However, the performance angle isn’t restricted to sound effects, as there is also sports suspension, strengthened anti-roll bars, and souped-up brakes with red calipers.
The racing motif extends to the bodywork and interior as well. The outside has an aerodynamic kit to optimize airflow, which no doubt helps while going flat out, but the low wheel clearance and aprons mean that this is definitely a 4x4 for the road and the odd gravel track rather than bouncing through mud holes – not that the Countryman is an urban car only, as its recent inclusion in the World Rally Championship was intended to prove.
The interior is very aggressive for a MINI with all sorts of protuberances meant to suggest a racing cockpit, and a speedometer/sat nav display that looks like something out of Dan Dare. This being a five-door, there’s a large tailgate providing access to the boot, and it seats up to five passengers depending on the seat option.