The hot crossover market is currently quite limited. Yes, the base models themselves are hot property, but drivers seem happy with keeping them as practical runarounds, rather than exciting daily drivers.
Mini has been trying to buck this trend for a few years with its Countryman John Cooper Works (JCW) – taking all the know-how of its JCW programme and adding it to the firm’s largest model. By combining the attributes of practicality and sportiness, can this be a remedy for petrol-heads who need a bit more space in their lives?
This new version of the Countryman JCW uses the latest version of the TwinPower Turbo engine setup that was offered before, with a few model-specific tweaks being made to suit this car even more. A new suspension set-up has also been added, while a sports braking system that’s also been tooled to suit this car has been fitted.
The standard equipment has also been upgraded to include driving modes, the navigation pack alongside a 6.5-inch touchscreen and parking assistance, as well as other quality extras.
The Countryman JCW utilises a potent 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that develops 301bhp and 450Nm of torque – a substantial leap over the previous model. With the help of an eight-speed automatic transmission and the All4 all-wheel drive system, this Countryman can get from 0-60mph in just 4.9 seconds before topping out at 155mph.
That set-up sounds punchy, and when you put your foot down, the JCW delivers. The throttle response, especially in the sport mode, is excellent.
Although efficiency isn’t the largest concern for those wanting a John Cooper Works model, the Countryman returns decent figures of between 38.7-40.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 188g/km.
Despite sitting higher up than other Mini models, the Countryman JCW manages to offer an exciting driving experience without being unwieldy. Mini has been great at setting up sporty versions of its models for some time, and this is no different.
With the JCW set-up, body roll is very limited, and the Countryman feels composed thanks to its sports chassis that helps keep everything in check. Add to that the sports braking system, and the Countryman JCW feels like a potent crossover that any keen driver would like to get behind the wheel of.
Let’s be fair, the Countryman is basically a photocopied Mini Hatch that’s now about 20% larger. But the retro touches that are used across the Mini line-up work well here, including the large headlights and familiar grille.
The JCW treatment adds extra sportiness to the sometimes dull standard Countryman, with racing stripes off-setting the base colour. The optional 19-inch alloy wheels are also a nice addition, but can compromise comfort over cracks and bumps in the road.
Larger than all other Minis, you do get more space inside. Head and legroom for adults are good throughout, meaning if you’re after this as a family option it will do a great job indeed. You’re greeted with the circular hub that is at the centre of dashboard. It houses the touchscreen infotainment set-up, which can also be controlled by the dial next to the automatic gear lever.
There are a few sporty touches here and there, including the JCW steel pedals and dual-material Recaro sport seats that keep you in check when going round a corner a bit quicker than normal.
For storage, the JCW copes well and offers 450 litres of boot space, with little spots dotted around the cabin for smaller items. If all the rear space is needed, the folding rear seats can drop to reveal a 1,390-litre load space.
With the JCW, Mini bases it on the Countryman Sport before adding all the more dynamic bits and bobs. Standard kit includes sports suspension, the John Cooper Works body kit, sports exhaust and performance braking system, LED headlights, a Torsen mechanical differential and Mini Driving Modes.
Inside, you also get the aforementioned Recaro seats, a sports leather steering wheel, steel pedals, cruise control with brake function and two of Mini’s comfort-focused option packs. That brings the cost of the JCW to £35,550.
The Countryman JCW may not be the most obvious family model around, but it manages to make a typical crossover much more exciting than you might expect.