Canada is the biggest market for the Mini Countryman – the big Mini boasting four doors, up to five seats, and all-wheel drive. And now the Countryman gets even better with the addition of the John Cooper Works (JCW) model added to the lineup.
Racing pioneer John Cooper, one of the defining men of international motor sports, souped up Minis and raced them, bringing home numerous wins in the 1960s. The JCW nameplate pays tribute to the man and his racing heritage.
The Countryman is the sixth vehicle to don the JCW logo from Mini’s John Cooper Works tuning house. But the Countryman is the first JCW with all-wheel-drive. It’s also the largest and most powerful model in the family. The JCW Countryman has extra power, a tweaked suspension, an aerodynamic kit and, for the first time on a JCW model, an optional six-speed automatic transmission.
The 2013 Mini JCW Countryman gets a newly developed 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine; the latest-generation twin-scroll turbocharged engine features gas direct injection and variable valve management based on BMW’s Valvetronic technology and develops 218 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque (those are the European specs; North American specs haven’t been confirmed yet). The turbocharger also has an over-boost function so it can briefly deliver 221 lb-ft of torque for a short period.
Mated to the engine is a sporty six-speed manual transmission, which is responsive with smooth shifts and nice, short throws. Even though the six-speed automatic wasn’t available for testing, I still prefer a stick in a Mini. The JCW Countryman is fast and fun to drive – able to clock 0 to 100 km/h in seven seconds flat. Plus, it returns a frugal 7.4 litres/100 km in combined highway and city driving. Not bad for an all-wheel-drive ride. But it does require premium gas.
The JCW Countryman is lively, quick and nimble – a sporty car that zips around corners with confidence and precision. It passes slower-moving vehicles easily. On the autobahn, where portions have no speed limit, the JCW reaches 200 km/h without any issues.
For a more dynamic drive and enhanced exhaust note, hit the toggle switch at the bottom of the centre console to engage the Sport button. It tweaks the engine’s responses and vocal characteristics while adjusting the power assistance provided by the steering.
Even with the Sport Button engaged, it’s not a punishing ride. While it retains Mini’s go-kart handling traits, the JCW Countryman has the added security of all-wheel-drive. The AWD system distributes power seamlessly between the front and rear axle using an electromagnetic centre differential. In normal driving conditions, it diverts 50 per cent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels, rising to as much as 100 per cent in extreme conditions, such as on ice and snow-covered roads.
Design-wise, the JCW shares familiar Mini traits, including its minimal overhangs and wheels set sharply in the corners, but it takes the styling one step further. The JCW beefs up its presence with a standard aerodynamic kit that adds a sportier, more muscular look to the front fascia as well as a new rear bumper. The JCW logo graces the radiator grille, tailgate, door sill strips and the side doors.
Standard equipment includes front fog lamps, new 18-inch light-alloy wheels in twin-spoke design, red brake calipers, a sports exhaust system, and sports suspension with firmly tuned springs and dampers, strengthened anti-roll bars and a 10-mm lower ride height.
There are seven exterior paint shades to choose from. Contrast paint finish for the roof and exterior mirror caps can be ordered in white and black as well as a red shade available only on the JCW models. Sport stripes in white, black or red are optional. My tester’s chili red and black pitch-fork emblem on the front hood captures its bad-boy, devil-may-care attitude perfectly.
The cockpit has typical Mini traits, too, with cool retro dash-mounted toggle switches and the familiar gigantic centre speedometer, which is darker in colour on the JCW Countryman. Sports seats, a sports steering wheel and piano black interior trim create a sporty feel inside.
The navigation system is a bit fickle – our system drops out before reaching our final destination, a parking lot at Frankfurt airport, simply saying, you have reached your destination in the middle of a street near the airport. Luckily, the Countryman has a tight turning radius to get out of sticky situations fast.
The JCW Countryman seats five – four seats will likely be available later. My tester’s sports seats are covered in carbon-black cloth trim with red contrast stitching, a design specific to the JCW Countryman. The sports steering wheel also has red contrast stitching and a JCW logo.
The front and rear seats are supportive, but the rear bench seat lacks shoulder room for three passengers – two would be more comfortable. Headroom and legroom is sufficient in the rear as is the trunk space. There’s 350 litres of space – handy for any family hauling sports equipment or grocery bags. But if you drop the second row, it expands to 1,170 litres.
Prices haven’t been released; they’ll come closer to the sale date in early 2013. But keep in mind, Minis are expensive – especially the JCW models, which range in price from $36,900 for the Mini JCW to $42,900 for the JCW Convertible.
2013 Mini John Cooper Works Countryman
Type: Five-passsenger, four-door hatchback
Price: Not available
Engine: 1.6-litre, turbocharged and intercooled, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 218 hp/207 lb-ft (Euro specs)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.4 combined; premium gas
Alternatives: Subaru Impreza WRX STI, VW Golf R, MazdaSpeed3, Audi A3