For the F60-series generation of JCW Countryman, MINI started out with the modular UKL platform that also underpins BMW’s X1 and 2 Series Active Tourer models. It’s a platform that we’ve lauded for its ability to rein in the poke of MINI models in general, but particularly the Cooper S variants.
As a track session at Broadford proved, however, even this well sorted architecture can only do so much to regulate the power and torque of front-wheel drive John Cooper Works models on a wet surface. What any MINI model with the high-performance output of the JCW engine really needs is all-wheel drive. That’s especially the case for a package aimed fair and square at families.
This is where the John Cooper Works Countryman has it all over other JCW models. Its ALL4 system – also shared with the diesel Cooper SD variant – has a ‘hang-on’ clutch pack at the rear to transfer torque when the system detects a loss of traction through the front wheels, the sort of marginal traction we were experiencing on the exit from turns on the Broadford motorcycle track.
Almost alone in this market, the John Cooper Works Countryman offers the packaging, performance and dynamics of a rally car wrapped up and presented in the form of a road-going SUV.
Subaru’s Levorg likely comes closest to the JCW Countryman for that combination of traits – and actually exceeds the MINI for power-to-weight ratio – but the Levorg in STi trim is nearly 400mm longer and sits on a shorter wheelbase and a narrower track. The Levorg also rides 30mm lower.
So the JCW Countryman will take a fair pummelling over lightly rutted and rock-strewn rally roads without grinding its underside in the dirt. The same can’t necessarily be said for the Subaru. Another Subaru, the Forester XT, has the ground clearance, but can’t match Countryman for footprint or power to weight.
Even from the passenger seat, the transition to more torque at the rear can be felt in the JCW Countryman on wet country roads. It’s probably not as subtle as similar systems from other brands, but it gets the job done and the Countryman is all the safer for it. And the ALL4 system eliminates the torque steer that sometimes makes itself felt in the front-wheel drive models.
On what amounted to a gravel rally road not far from Broadford, the JCW Countryman was very much at home, feeling surefooted the entire time. It could be flicked for a bit of oversteer entering a corner, or the car could just be braked and balanced conventionally. Either way the Countryman was stable and composed. On a couple of occasions the MINI scrabbled for grip after I braked too late for corners that snuck up in the foggy conditions – sometimes with the front-end losing grip, sometimes with the tail stepping out.
The Countryman held on track and, with the performance on tap, the Countryman would have left behind almost anything else currently on sale for the same money (see previous remarks concerning the Subaru Levorg STi).
Unlike other sporty SUVs, the JCW Countryman was more capable on dirt with the Dynamic Damper Control set to Sport. DDC is a standard feature that costs $700 for other non-JCW MINI variants. It firms up the suspension, but the Countryman didn’t skate all over the place on the wet, loose gravel – in defiance of my expectations.
The eight-speed automatic transmission came with shift paddles and, while giving away nothing in terms of smooth changing, could generally deliver the right gear when needed for optimal engine braking. At times the road speed was too high for the chosen gear, but the transmission cleverly retained the driver’s input to select the appropriate gear a few seconds later, when the road speed had reduced enough under brakes to save the engine from over-revving.
The chassis and the drivetrain make an ideal match for the JCW engine, which produces abundant torque in the mid range, but doesn’t mind spinning up to the redline either. As with Cooper S variants, the JCW Countryman is chock full of character, whether it’s the sound of the engine, the tactile steering or the strong brakes.
Yet the steering was light enough for most prospective buyers and the brakes – 17-inch Brembos with four-piston calipers at the front – don’t demand the driver stand on the pedal to haul the car down from higher speeds. Ride comfort is firm, but not as firm in the car’s ‘Green’ mode. Even set to Sport the suspension is bearable in most circumstances.
Left in Sport mode and given a bit of a hiding over the drive program, the JCW Countryman was a bit thirsty, hitting a high of 12.8L/100km. Around town and driven more sedately by owners, the car will do much better than that.
Although the weather was blustery the Countryman was reasonably quiet inside at open-road speeds, notwithstanding a little tyre noise and some burble from the exhaust.
Packaging is much the same as the long-term Countryman Cooper S we’ve previously reviewed allied with the engine powering the JCW Clubman, which means there are relatively few surprises.
Ergonomically, the seats are excellent and the driving position is generally good. Instrumentation readability and control placement and operation are polarising. However, that won’t stop drivers from enjoying the experience getting around in the fastest SUV MINI builds.
This new generation of Countryman is roomier in the rear, and there are adjustable vents back there for the kids, so they too can enjoy Mum or Dad playing hoon for a day.
2017 MINI John Cooper Works Countryman pricing and specifications:
Price: $63,150 (as tested, plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel: 7.4L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 168g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star (ANCAP)
Source : https://www.motoring.com.au/mini-john-cooper-works-countryman-2017-review-108515/
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