by Jay Traugott
Mini's biggest little car gets the track-treatment for the Countryman-topping John Cooper Works ALL4: a subcompact SUV like you've never seen before, with a spacious, up-market interior, a fun-to-drive nature, and a rather high base price, as is expected of the boutique British marque. Although the Mini JCW Countryman doesn't offer the best cargo space or superior gas mileage figures, it has a lot going for it - which means that the nearest competition comes from premium rivals like the Mercedes-Benz GLA and in-house from the BMW X2. More power is coming for 2020, though, so for the current model year, there's much debate as to whether it's even worth pursuing the Countryman JCW at all.
With new sub-trim levels now designated as Classic, Signature, and Iconic, not much else changes for the 2019 model year. Some features and available content has also been re-allocated to the various trims, with prices ranging from $37,900 to $46,400 without options. For 2020, Mini has an overhauled JCW Countryman waiting in the wings, featuring a new engine capable of more than 300 horsepower - the most horsepower in a Mini to date.
The Mini JCW Countryman ALL4 has the distinctive John Cooper Works look that sets it apart from its stablemates: with a panoramic sunroof, standard 18-inch JCW wheels (with 19s optional), black roof rails, a rear spoiler, and the JCW aero kit, which includes blacked-out side skirtings and hood scoop, the look of the vehicle is a throwback to the sporting heritage its name implies. LED headlamps and daytime running lights are also stock fitted.
While sharing most of its dimensions with other Countryman ALL4 variants, the JCW version is somewhat longer than the standard 169.2, with an additional 0.6 inches added for the model-specific front bumper and rear diffuser. The 105.1-inch wheelbase, 71.7-inch width, and 61.3-inch height remain the same. With all the extra track-themed mechanics, the JCW ALL4 weighs a bit more, though, tipping the scales at 3,613 pounds in manual guise, with an additional 40 pounds added on for the automatic variants - this is just under 400 pounds more than the standard ALL4 cars.
A track-themed JCW variant should be decked out in alluring colors that allow it to stand out from the crowd - as such, JCW Countryman cars can be had in Thunder Grey, Moonwalk Grey, Melting Silver, and Island Blue metallics, while the popular Midnight Black and Light White can be optioned on for $500. Mini Yours Lapisluxury Blue looks great on the JCW, too, and is a no-cost option, while Rebel Green and Chili Red are John Cooper Works-exclusive shades; contrasting paint can also be chosen for the roof and mirror caps, if you decide on the iconic Rebel Green. It's worth noting that some of the available colors are exclusive to the Signature and Iconic sub trim, with only the top-end variants having free access to the entire palette: for comparison, the base sub-trim comes standard in Moonwalk Grey but can be optioned on with Midnight Black, Chili Red or Light White only.
As the track-oriented variant of the Countryman ALL4, the JCW is expected to perform. Literally. And with a twin power turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder direct-injection engine under the hood, there's some debate about how well it actually does this. Theoretically, its set up to do well, making 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque - which is just under 40 ponies more than the basic Cooper Countryman S - and featuring standard all-wheel-drive and a six-speed manual transmission, it seems the only drawback could be its size. Yet in this instance, size doesn't matter, and the Countryman JCW defies the standard logic. Making the 0-60 sprint in 6.2 seconds and powering on to 145 mph top speed, the Countryman JCW isn't at the forefront of the segment, but it certainly doesn't lag behind either - for the Countryman range, it's the best you can get; being the fastest, most responsive, and well-tuned option for a little on-road excitement for the subcompact SUV lineup. It's only the Mini JCW Hardtop that can beat these numbers, managing the dash to 60 mph in just under six seconds.
The standard powertrain, a 2.0-liter four-pot that kicks out 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox off the factory floor but can be specced with an eight-speed auto instead. We loved the feel of the manual, though, and enjoyed the immediate surge of power off the line when flooring the accelerator. The auto 'box is good too, with slick, quick shifts and minimal gear-hunting, but it's definitely suited more to those who want effortless, happy-go-lucky driving. There's nothing quite as exciting as the hands-on thrill of deciding when you're close enough to the red line to shift up, so we'd opt for the six-speed stick shift. With ample power, either gearbox ensures overtaking, even at highway speeds, is a no-fuss exercise, and whether in traffic in the city, or powering down the freeway, the Countryman JCW is more than capable of merging, flowing, or flying ahead.
Thanks to the combination of a capable powertrain and Mini's ALL4 all-wheel drivetrain, the JCW Countryman has the basics done right for superb grip and handling. By virtue of being a crossover, the Countryman's center of gravity is not as low as other Mini cars; however, with its 6.5-inch ground clearance, it still sits closer to the tarmac than rivals like the BMW X2 at 7.2 inches, which in this case, gives it a slight edge in terms of handling. Add to that a tight sport-tuned suspension, performance-focused brakes, and wheels set at the outermost corners for added balance, and you have a rather brilliant end result: handling is a dream. The steering is well-weighted - although some may say it's overly heavy at slower speeds - and the JCW Countryman will do exactly what you ask of it, acquiescent and enthusiastic to driver inputs, you can choose to cruise or feed it speed, and both will be a great deal of fun. Default Mid mode is quite standard, with Sport offering even more zip, while Eco tames the engine a little for better fuel economy.
Overall, there is some road translation to the cabin when hitting rough patches - it's a Mini trait - but it's expected and not overwhelming, and doesn't detract from the generally great drive. But it no longer feels like a compact nimble Mini of old, and despite the fact that the engine is potent, we can't help but feel that a little more power would go a long way to accessing the chassis's true potential.
The JCW Countryman, fitted with the automatic transmission, delivers average fuel economy stats, with EPA ratings of 22/30/25 mpg city/highway/combined. The more thrilling manual fares only slightly worse, with 21/30/24 mpg estimates. The BMW X2 M35i, sharing a platform with the Mini, and with a similar 2.0-liter powertrain that kicks out almost 75 hp more, manages 23/29/25 mpg too, while the Golf GTI fares better at 25/31/27 mpg. With a 16.1-gallon gas tank, the Mini JCW Countryman has a range of around 400-odd miles per full tank of gas and requires premium in order to keep the turbocharged engine performing at its best.
Designers striving to meet the compact-SUV vibe with the smaller dimensions of the Mini have done a relatively good job here - the Countryman is the roomiest of the Mini range to start with, so there's more space here than in any other derivative. Still, the challenge has left a few less-ergonomic footprints in the cabin, with hard-to-reach seat adjustments and big seat bolsters that can impede ingress and egress a little. Seating appointments are in standard black Dinamica cloth but can be upgraded to leatherette or cross punch leather in the upper sub-trims. Heated front seats are also standard on the Signature and Iconic, too, while a head-up display can be optioned on across the range.
Seating for five is available in the JCW Countryman, with excellent head- and leg-room up front, and average roominess in the back seat. While the driver and front passenger have around 40 inches of space for both head and legroom, the panoramic roof eats into the available headspace at the back, leaving 37.5 inches for rear passengers, while they also only get 37.6 inches of legroom. This isn't terrible but it means that taller passengers (and a third in the middle) won't be very comfortable on more than a five-minute dash. Visibility is superb, given the large windows all around, and although there is a rearview camera, it's not really needed unless you have rear-seat passengers obstructing your view. The seats are comfortable JCW Sports items and are very supportive but at the expense of ease of ingress. The driver's position is optimal with controls within easy reach.
Standard fare on the base John Cooper Work Countryman is Carbon Black Dinamica cloth, which can be upgraded to SensaTec leatherette in the same color, or in Black Pearl. Carbon Black leather and Cross Punch leather are also options, while Lounge leather in Satellite Grey, Chesterfield leather in British Oak, or Mini Yours leather in Carbon Black are premium options available from the Signature Trim upwards. Various interior trims and accents can also be optioned with Piano Black as standard, and Stone Hill Grey, Chestnut and Hazy Grey all on the options list.
Oddly enough - considering the Countryman is the more spacious of the Minis - cargo space is quite average for the segment. With 17.6 cubic feet behind the back seats, or 47.6 cubes with those seats stowed away, this is much less impressive than both the Golf GTI and the BMW X2 (which both offer upwards of 21 cubic feet). The Hyundai Kona Limited, comparatively, allows for up to 19.2 cubic feet behind the back row, although with seats folded flat, has only 45.8 cubes for cargo space. In comparison to the JCW Hardtop's 8.7 cubes, however, the Countryman is miles ahead. It's still a practical vehicle, though, with an easy liftover and a low floor that means loading items into the back won't obstruct your view out the back.
For small items, storage in the door pockets, a small tray near the gear shifter, and an armrest bin for front passengers will have to be sufficient. At least the large cutouts in the doors hold water bottles, too.
As a range-topper for the Countryman lineup, the JCW is expected to be well-specced. For the most part, it is adequately fitted, although the Classic sub trim is a little sparse. Both the Signature and Iconic variants have emergency automatic braking and forward collision warning, as well as heated front seats. All models get a panoramic sunroof, sports seats, a leather JCW steering wheel, rear park distance control and a rearview camera. The top-end Iconic sub trim also has power exterior mirrors with auto-dimming function by means of the Premium Package (which also includes LED lighting, chrome exterior trim, and powered front seats), which can be optioned on to the Signature trim, but is not available to the Classic at all. Dynamic cruise control, ambient lighting, and rain-sensing headlights with cornering lights are stock across the lineup.
In the base Classic model, only the barest of essentials are provided for. A 6.5-inch display, set in a circular cluster, may look capable but isn't the best in terms of being user-friendly. Controlling menus and selections by means of a rotary knob is also less ideal than having a touchscreen setup, but at least this becomes standard from the Signature trim upwards. The base sound system has six speakers, which is enhanced on the Iconic to a 12-speaker Harman Kardon unit, which the Signature trim can have optionally. This top-end trim also adds a bigger 8.8-inch screen, as well as navigation, Apple CarPlay and wireless charging. Android Auto is notably absent. Bluetooth connectivity, two USB ports, and voice control are stock across the range.
While the JCW version of the Countryman hasn't been rated separately by J.D. Power, the standard Countryman was given 85 out of 100 by the authority. It was also subject to two recalls, one for a crankshaft sensor error and one for a missing fuel pump protection plate.
For peace of mind, Mini provides new owners with a four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty, and coverage for the powertrain for the same time period. A 12-year warranty for rust-through protection is added as well.
No safety ratings are available for the JCW Countryman from the NHTSA, but the IIHS put the Countryman through its paces and awarded it top ratings of Good for five crashworthiness categories, with Superior rankings given to the optional front crash protection systems.
When it comes to safety; the driver and front passenger are provided with front and side airbags, while rear passengers get head and side airbag protection too. Traction control, daytime running lights, and electronic stability control are mentioned purely because that - together with a rearview camera and rear park distance control - are the only standard features on the basic Classic trim. Forward collision warning with emergency automatic braking is only fitted to the Signature and Iconic trims, and cannot even be optioned on to the Classic. A Driver Assistance Package, which features park assist, a head-up display, and adaptive cruise control, can be specced onto the top two trims at $1,250.
There's many reasons for looking at a subcompact SUV - but not so many for looking at a sport-version of the same. So why consider the Mini John Cooper Works Countryman? Well, for starters, it's pretty damn cool. It looks badass, has some street cred to give weight to its reputation, and drives like a dream. There's such great engagement and fun when seated behind the wheel that we're willing to forgive the almost ridiculous price factor. It's a tad illogical, really, but logic isn't the only reason for wanting to buy a car nowadays. The negatives are hard to miss: restricted rear seats, rather average cargo space for a crossover, and the slight disappointment of wanting just a bit more power. But, if you want to just get from point A to B, go browse a Nissan catalog somewhere with a cup of lukewarm tea. If you want to feel the adrenaline in your veins, grab a gin and tonic, and let's discuss which Mini you're getting - it's worth remembering that 2020 promises a revamped JCW Countryman with upwards of 300 hp to play with, though, and we'd wait till it launches.
Excluding a destination fee of $850, as well as all licensing, registration, and taxes, a new Mini John Cooper Works Countryman will set you back at least $37,900 for the entry-level Classic edition. An MSRP of $41,400 can be expected for the Signature version, while the top-spec Iconic costs $46,400.
The John Cooper Works Countryman is the top-of-the-range sport-oriented Countryman, which is available in three sub-trims, namely Classic, Signature and Iconic. The same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is present in each, making 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, with either a six-speed manual or eight-speed auto available across the lineup. All-wheel-drive is standard.
The Classic sub trim is available in one of four exterior colors, and has 18-inch JCW Grip spoke wheels as standard. It features a rearview camera, rear park distance control, a leather steering wheels, sports seats clad in Dinamica cloth, and a panoramic sunroof. A 6.5-inch display and six-speakers comprise the standard infotainment setup. Mid-range is the Signature trim, which builds on available features by adding heated front seats, and the option to spec these items in leatherette or leather. Dynamic damper control and forward collision warning become standard fit here, as well as emergency automatic braking. The fully-loaded Iconic trim includes a bit more in terms of luxury features, with power exterior mirrors, a premium 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, navigation, Apple Carplay and wireless charging feature as standard. Access to a driver assistance package and Convenience package is also granted in either of the top two sub-tiers.
|John Cooper Works ALL4||
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Various standalone options can be added onto your Mini, while the Premium Package is only available to Signature and Iconic sub-trims - for $2,000. This will add power-folding exterior mirrors, chrome exterior accents, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power front seats, full LED lighting, and a premium Harman Kardon sound system.
A Touchscreen Navigation package, for $1,700, will add Apple CarPlay connectivity, wireless charging, enhanced Bluetooth, and satellite navigation to the Signature tier. At $1,250, a Convenience Package can be added to the top sub-trims to add an upgraded alarm system, a power tailgate with a picnic cushion, a rear center armrest and a storage package.
The very necessary Driver Assistance package, which comprises park assist, a head-up display, and adaptive cruise control can also be specced on to the Signature and Iconic models for $1,250.
With the price of the John Cooper Works Countryman being one of the most contentious attributes in the traditionally affordable subcompact segment, it's a bit of either/or at this point. Either buy the entry-level Classic sub trim so you have a Mini at the very least while trying to help your budget recover, or splurge on the top-spec Iconic because you're this far into it anyway. Admittedly, the most logical choice would be the mid-level Signature, which has an MSRP of $41,400 and can be specced with all the goodies that the Iconic comes with (or is eligible for). Adding the Navigation, Convenience, and Driver Assist packages to the Signature will still cost you less than opting for the fully-loaded Iconic, so it makes sense to aim for the middle of the range.
With few direct rivals to compare to, the BMW X2 is a good comparison point, as both vehicles share the same underpinnings; the X2 28i sports the same powertrain as the JCW here, and offers the same outputs as the Mini does - the M35i variant has been tweaked to put out 302 hp and 322 lb-ft over the Mini's 228 hp and 258 lb-ft, and surprisingly offers better city and combined fuel economy stats, too. It's a heavier machine though, but with the benefits of higher ground clearance and more cargo space, it seems like a no-brainer at the outset. We encourage thorough perusal though, as the X2 M35i costs almost $10k more, although the xDrive28i can be had for around $38,400, which is closer in price to the base Mini JCW Countryman. Neither are really any roomier inside than the Mini is, and while the legendary German marque has its pedigree and status benefits to throw around, it's not necessarily a whitewash in comparison to the Mini. In fact, next year the Countryman JCW will receive the M35i's motor. We're inclined to give the Mini the benefit of the doubt here, if for no other reason than affordability.
So, you want to drive a Mini - why blow out your budget on the JCW Countryman when the Cooper S Countryman, at around $7k cheaper, is a worthy consideration too? The Cooper S Countryman features the same 2.0-liter inline-four engine that the JCW does, but it hasn't been tweaked to put out quite as much as the JCW Countryman can - making only 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. The Cooper S Countryman can be configured as a front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, while the JCW has Mini's ALL4 (AWD) drivetrain as standard, but both AWD versions offer the engagement of an available six-speed manual transmission. The Cooper S Countryman is almost a full second slower to hit the 60 mph mark than the JCW, though, taking more than seven seconds to get there, while the JCW Countryman does the same in 6.2 seconds. The Cooper S Countryman offers all the same features in the same sub trim derivatives, at much cheaper prices - albeit minus the JCW styling and status. If you are hard-pressed to flaunt the John Cooper Works name, you'll fork over the extra cash. Otherwise, you'll be just as happy with the Cooper S Countryman.