Test Drive: 2018 Mini John Cooper Works Countryman All4

Just for fun, let’s put Mini into the Marvel universe for a minute.

Could this Hulk stand to get a little angrier, though? Perhaps.

If the Mini Cooper three-door is the small and mighty Ant-Man, and the Clubman is lithe and nimble do-gooder Spider-Man, then the Mini John Cooper Works Countryman could fairly be compared to the Incredible Hulk.

The Countryman is already the biggest member of the Mini family, and stuffing it full of JCW goodness is akin to watching Bruce Banner transform like he’s overdosed on steroids.

Could this Hulk stand to get a little angrier, though? Perhaps. Although the new generation that launched early last year came with heaps of upgrades, this top-of-the-line version feels like there’s room to unlock even more potential.

Handling is important, but so is power

The 2018 Mini JCW Countryman’s power output is up 39 hp from the previous generation, topping out at 228 hp. That power is supported by 258 lb-ft of torque that’s available between 1,450 and 4,500 rpm. Its 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is tricked out with BMW’s latest technological bells and whistles like a turbocharging system integrated into the cast steel manifold, direct injection, fully variable valve control, and variable camshaft control.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s plenty energetic and responsive. That low-end torque suits the character of this car very well, and the Aisin eight-speed sport automatic transmission with paddle shifters keeps things shuffling along nicely, if maybe not especially enthusiastically, in comfort mode, the noticeably more aggressive sport mode, and conservative eco mode. (There’s a six-speed manual transmission available that might be an even better fit for those still interested in rowing their own gears.)

It just feels like, since there’s a JCW badge on it, there could be a smidge more insanity tucked in there. The exhaust note isn’t especially raucous, and acceleration is stout but not neck-snapping sharp at a 0–100 km/h rating of 6.5 seconds. This car is a lot of fun as it is, but if it had just a little bit more in reserve, it would be made of pure awesome.

Its handling, on the other hand, is already there. The characteristic Mini wide-track layout is improved upon with a tightly wound standard sport suspension with optional dynamic damper control, variable steering, dynamic stability and traction control systems, and custom Brembo four-piston fixed-caliper disc front brakes. This was put to the ultimate test when I was rolling happily along at highway speed and an unidentified metal object started rolling toward me. I reacted – bam! right, and bam! left back into the lane – and was stable, recovered, and on my way again in the blink of an eye. Spectacular.

Natural Resources Canada says that you should expect to get 10.6 L/100 km in city driving, 7.8 on the highway, and 9.3 combined with a JCW Countryman with the automatic transmission. In my week of a near-even split between cruisy highway driving and spirited experimentation, I averaged a very fair 9.6.

An un-mini Mini brings design challenges

The second generation is 20 cm longer, 3 cm wider, and 7.5 cm longer in the wheelbase than the previous model, making it the largest Mini in history. This, undoubtedly, has presented some design challenges. While it’s subtly sleeker in its newest iteration, I would have like to see it ditch the broken-yet-floating roofline, which to my eye looks incongruous. That said, the ability to order it in red is a nice touch, a treatment that also adds colour to the side mirrors and the new side air vents.

On the inside, the upgraded leather package delivers a very nice finish, including charming touches like Union Jack detailing on the coat hooks and the backs of the front headrests. You can really take this over the top if you like: moon roof, interior mirror, side mirror, and side vent Union Jack decals are available as well. (And we’ll continue to happily turn a blind eye to the fact that Mini’s parent company has been German for nearly 20 years now, right? Right. Moving on.)

One thing that isn’t significantly updated in the redesign is the instrument cluster. This is a delicate subject because Mini purists demand that it retains a certain look, but it’s time to consider integrating more digitalization here to help make the speed easier to glean at a glance. If you opt to equip the head-up display this mitigates the issue somewhat, although it’s the flip-up kind that I find more difficult to read quickly than the sort that projects directly onto the windshield.

Useful spaces

If you’re shopping the Countryman then you’re probably concerned about finding a subcompact crossover with a good amount of storage space, which is one area where this car delivers. With 450 litres of storage with the second-row seats up and 1,390 litres when they’re dropped, as well as a 40/20/40 rear-seat split and a relatively flat load floor, this is one of the more versatile cargo storage spaces you’ll find in the segment.

As a seating space, the second row is probably a little tight for the comfort of larger adults – the tilt-adjustable seatbacks would help with that – but it certainly works for kids. One thing to bear in mind with the little ones, though, is that while the large two-panel panoramic sunroof is great when you want to brighten up the cabin, the cover is the mesh kind that still lets through a fair amount of light, which isn’t ideal at times when you’d rather have them quiet and resting.

If you read the list of equipped features, you might say to yourself, what on Earth is the picnic bench? It’s a flexible bench that folds out of the luggage compartment to create seating for two people on the rear bumper. If you think you’d use it, you can order it for an extra $250.

Where are my text messages?

This is where this car loses me. With all the attention on distracted driving these days, it’s important for automakers to find ways to keep people from picking up their phones and fiddling with them while they’re driving. BMW and Mini haven’t embraced Android Auto at all, and Apple CarPlay hasn’t made it into this model, either. When my phone is connected via Bluetooth I can make calls easily enough, but I don’t even get a notification that I’ve received a text message – I have to navigate through several levels of menu to see that the message has arrived and click on it.

With no phone app compatibility, the discussion of whether you’ll need on-board navigation becomes an important one. The Mini system is functionally good and visually very pleasant, but at $1,200, it’s also pretty expensive.

No blind-spot detection

Selection in safety features is a little slim. There’s an optional driving assistant system that adds on active cruise control, collision warning with pedestrian detection, high-beam assist, and road sign detection. Park distance control sensors on the rear are standard, and front parking sensors and a parking assistant feature are optional. Blind-spot detection is arguably not a truly necessary feature in a car this small, but it’s one that a lot of people look for these days. If you’re one of them, you won’t find it here.

Verdict

The test car I drove is truly equipped to the nines – most people won’t need to spend over $50,000 to end up with a car that meets their needs. As much as it has a little more potential in performance and a lot more potential in connectivity, the Mini John Cooper Works Countryman is still one of the most fun and nimble cars in its class while still being easy to live with for families.

2018 Mini John Cooper Works Countryman All4
Engine Displacement: 2.0L
Engine Cylinders: I4
Peak Horsepower: 231 hp
Peak Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,450–4,500 rpm
Fuel Economy: 10.6/7.8/9.3 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 450/1,390 L
2018 Mini John Cooper Works Countryman All4
Base Price $38,890
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,245
Price as Tested $51,075
Optional Equipment $9,840 – Essentials package $1,450; wired navigation package $1,200; JCW style package $550; interior piano black illuminated styling $250; Mini Yours lounge leather $2,250; 19-inch JCW course spoke wheels $800; Harman Kardon sound system $750; head-up display $750; metallic paint $590; dynamic damper control $500; SiriusXM satellite radio $450; picnic bench $250; performance tires $50
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.7
7 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
7 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
7 Features
8 Value