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.
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.
See trim levels and configurations:
|John Cooper Works ALL4||
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
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.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
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.
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.
|Mini John Cooper Works Countryman||301 hp||23/30 mpg||$41,500|
|BMW X2||241 hp||24/32 mpg||$36,600|
|Mini Cooper Countryman||136 hp||23/30 mpg||$29,100|
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.
The most popular competitors of 2019 Mini John Cooper Works Countryman: