Mini – a name that itself brings to mind a limitation that the brand has been fighting against for years.
While its products fit the definition of small, they do it with outspoken personality, style, and performance; in short, anything but “mini.” For 2020, this reaches a new level with the John Cooper Works versions of the Countryman. Formerly the outcast of the Mini lineup – alongside the Clubman – for being more cumbersome compared to traditional Mini models, that’s no longer the case. With an upgraded engine cranking out 301 hp, the JCW Countryman All4 is a seriously impressive performance machine.
It’s only natural for Mini to offer the kind of output the JCW Countryman generates as an answer to the hot hatches and other performance-oriented vehicles with inflated power figures on the market these days. The turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder also makes 331 lb-ft of torque, allowing a sprint to 100 km/h in about five seconds.
The new Countryman boasts increases of exactly 73 hp and lb-ft of torque over the last model, achieved through a bigger turbo, a new air intake, upgraded fuel injectors, and a completely new cooling system. Of course, the Mini also sounds extremely silly. A new sport exhaust system was tuned to sound slightly more reserved at low speeds, but loud and rally-like at higher speeds.
No one will accuse the new JCW of being slow, but the punchiness of the motor is somewhat limited. Peak power lasts from just 5,000 rpm and 6,250 rpm, resulting in the occasional desire for more, but there are plenty of ways the Mini makes up for it. Ultimately, the Countryman All4 in John Cooper Works guise feels just as enjoyable to drive as a smaller Mini model with the same treatment.
Driving Feel: 8/10
While the horsepower is the biggest change to the 2020 John Cooper Works Countryman All4, it’s not the only thing worth highlighting. For example, there’s the new eight-speed automatic transmission, which is quick and responsive. There are some paddle shifters, but they’re a bit too close to the centre of the steering wheel, making them awkward to use while hustling on the track or winding back roads.
That’s a shame, because the JCW Countryman is quite tossable and playful, responding nicely to direction changes. Sometimes it can lean a bit, and the weight transfer will lead to some understeer if driven carelessly, but there’s a lot of technology to mitigate the feeling of being slowed down. For example, it features a mechanical locking differential to maximize traction, and the all-wheel drive system is quick at routing power to where it’s needed.
On a mundane drive through town, though, it sends power to the front wheels only in order to reduce fuel consumption. Handling is typical for a Mini Countryman, which is to say the steering is sharp, the suspension is firm, and the body roll is minimal. It’s not as taut and agile as a Mini 3-Door, but the power and grip make up for it.
There are optional adaptive dampers, allowing the vehicle to have a greater spectrum between its firm sporty settings and softer comfort settings. The brakes in this JCW Countryman are strong and fade-resistant, helping to slow the all-wheel-drive speed machine quickly and easily.
It’s hard to mistake the John Cooper Works version of the Countryman for a more mundane one. The cooling demands of the engine and brakes require larger openings at the front of the vehicle, and the air inlets and vents are sure to stand out. The vehicle comes standard with 18-inch wheels, but upgraded 19-inch alloys are available. Around back is a roof spoiler and diffuser to add more form and function to the JCW, but buyers can opt for many options and packages to customize their Mini the way they want.
Mini hasn’t changed much inside. As such, there’s some unique switchgear, as Mini opts for toggles instead of buttons. There’s also a playful colourful ring around the infotainment system that changes colours for practically any reason at all. For example, when changing the HVAC settings, it’ll slide from red to blue to represent the temperature choice. The seats are exclusive for JCW models, yet they could use a bit more side bolstering.
User Friendliness: 7.5/10
Ergonomically, the Mini Countryman is a good bet, with lots of visibility, and plenty of controls within reach. I touched on the paddle shifters and toggle switches, which come with their own criticism and praise. The infotainment system is controlled by a small dial that is found in between the seats. It’s not the most elegant-looking solution, and the infotainment interface could be a bit more modern and intuitive. Sometimes finding settings or selections aren’t the most obvious. However, the Countryman offers Apple CarPlay support, and there are USB-C ports to help quickly charge devices.
The vehicle comes without frills like power-adjustable seats, but has plenty to offer on the build sheet. Standard equipment includes heated seats, a head-up display, and a panoramic sunroof. Optional extras include power seats, performance tires, a parking assistance system, and some driver assistance features. These features do, however, inflate the price of the Countryman by a considerable margin.
Thanks to the adjustable suspension, the JCW Countryman can switch between comfort or sport settings, and that’s noticeable on the road. The sport setting is very firm; maybe too much for everyday driving, but useful on the track where the responsiveness is needed to accommodate the weight transfer in quick chains of corners. The standard comfort setting is great for public roads.
The seats are just okay, as they could be more supportive, but riders will appreciate the headroom offered inside.
The Countryman is one of the most practical vehicles in the Mini lineup thanks to its size. There’s a good amount of cargo room behind the rear seats (450 L), and folding those seats down offers even more space. One downside is that the rear doors don’t have a very large opening. For families considering the Countryman, the rear seat opening may prove to challenge those loading kids and managing child seats.
There are no new safety features for this year’s Mini Countryman, although the all-wheel drive system should provide confidence on a variety of surfaces. The stronger brakes also mean it should be safer in emergencies, too. Standard LED lights will ensure you don’t get lost or miss your turn when the sun goes down.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
In spite of the extra power, the John Cooper Works Countryman seems to be more fuel-efficient. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) rates this model at 10.0 L/100 km in city driving, 7.8 on the highway, and a combined 9.0. It’s worth pointing out that this Countryman requires premium fuel, so be sure to add that to your fuel budget.
Mini Canada asks a minimum of $43,090 to get into the John Cooper Works Countryman. It’s an extra $1,800 for the Classic trim, which includes many features that should be standard, like the sunroof and heated seats. It’s one of the most expensive Mini models available.
This year’s John Cooper Works Countryman is the most powerful Mini out there – aside from the limited-edition, purpose-built Mini John Cooper Works GP. While the previous Countryman was quick, this one is faster and more powerful, with far fewer limitations and compromises – it’s even better on gas! With this much performance, the JCW Countryman stands out on its own, and that’s a good thing. As seen with other automakers, crossovers typically lack personality, but that just isn’t the case with this fun-to-drive John Cooper Works Countryman.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I4|
|Peak Horsepower||301 hp @ 5,000–6,250 rpm|
|Peak Torque||258 lb-ft @1,750–4,500 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||10.0/7.8/9.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||450 / 1,390 L seats down|
|Model Tested||2020 Mini John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4|
|Price as Tested||$47,825|
$2,390 – Classic Line, $1,800; Light White Paint, $590