Maximum MINI with verve: the 2018 John Cooper Works MINI Countryman ALL4

As I promised in an earlier review, I took a MINI Countryman, the biggest Mini of the bunch, out for a spin in John Cooper Works trim.

As I said when I reviewed the Countryman ALL4, the crossover personality battles MINI design.

Seeing the Countryman next to other crossovers drives the size point forcefully home. And yet, the midnight black metallic paint capped by a red roof on my tester ensured I would not confuse the Countryman with other crossovers.

One of many John Cooper Works badges dotting the Countryman. image courtesy Mini.

Front seats, rear seats, it doesn’t matter – my 6’5” self fits in the Countryman without having to contort myself. (A needless aside: a certain BMW employee told me my name reminded her of the Fiat 500 character in the animated feature film Cars. We both laughed.)

Yet no matter where I am in the vehicle, I get to enjoy design touches dating back to Minis of old.

  • Circular or rounded details everywhere, especially the door handles, the centre screen, the climate controls, the simple instrument cluster, the base of the gear lever, the ovoid pedals, even the infotainment system controller borrowed from corporate cousin BMW.
  • Metal-look switches separated by metal loops for various features.
  • The still bug-eyed headlights accenting that distinctive curvy body.
  • The 19” JCW wheels featuring five “U-shaped spokes. (OK, these might be a modern touch. But they do look cool.)

    image courtesy Mini

As before, the rear hatch easily accommodates a hockey bag without my having to fold the rear seats. The rear seats recline a little. Putting one seat back made it easy to slide my sticks over that seat.

In-cabin technology

The optional wired navigation package on my tester brings on-board navigation, wireless charging and other goodies, topped off by a gorgeous 8.8” touchscreen driven by the top-notch (and Mini-adapted) BMW infotainment system and user-friendly control cluster.

Apple CarPlay and all other audio came through the optional Harman Kardon sound system.

The instrument cluster is on the basic end of the scale. It’s so small that the designers make it move when you adjust the steering wheel up or down.

Mini offers an optional heads-up display (HUD). It features a specific John Cooper Works mode where it is also possible to display the currently selected gear and a multi- coloured engine speed scale.

I had two quibbles here.

  • The display relies on a screen that rises from the dash behind the instrument cluster. I question whether the car needs these moving parts, especially since Mini’s parent BMW’s vehicles use the windscreen as the display for the HUD.
  • Under varying lighting conditions, the display appears more or less clear. More specifically, the display appears dim when in bright sunlight, and I’m wearing polarized sunglasses. Again, this is a surprise because of the clarity I’ve enjoyed from multiple BMW HUDs under (to my recollection) any lighting conditions.

Mini, please talk to your corporate cousins for an upgrade to the HUD.

The driving

Just like the regular Countryman, the JCW features a fuel-saving engine start-stop feature and a drive mode switch (Normal, Sport, and Green – you might notice some lag if you drive in Green mode, but step on the pedal hard enough and the Mini goes “non-green” while your foot is down. ).

Unlike the regular Countryman, the John Cooper Works has a 2-litre, 4-cylinder TwinPower Turbo-goosed engine that delivers 228 horsepower, a sizeable step up from the 136 hp in the model I previously tested. 258 lb-ft of torque takes you off the start line more quickly than the 162 of said previous tester. Mini claims a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 6.5 seconds. I wouldn’t say I confirmed this on my favourite highway on-ramp, but… um… I’m inclined to believe it.

The 8-speed transmission (6 on the manual version) keeps things moving. You can take over the gearbox using paddle shifters. Mini also offers a manual transmission on the Countryman, a tradition I hope it never ends. I have driven a six-speed Clubman, and my notes from that week tell me it was plenty of fun.

Stopping power comes from Brembo high-performance brakes.
Dynamic stability control helps keep things from going sideways, literally or otherwise.

The wheels at the corners are an important part of the looks. They are also an important part of the handling. While it’s stable for such a big vehicle (a Mini in name only), what surprised me was the tight turning radius when executing u-turns.

Fuel economy

BMW publishes city, highway and combined fuel consumption numbers of 10.3, 7.9 and 9.2 respectively (all numbers L/100km).

The Countryman prefers 91 octane (though it will accept 89) in its 61L tank.

Pricing

The 2018 John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4 starts at $38,890 MSRP. That’s a $9,000 premium over the non-JCW Countryman ALL4.

My tester, with optional equipment and not including freight and PDI, sells for $48,730 MSRP. Optional equipment included:

  • Essentials Package
  • Wired Navigation Package
  • JCW Style Package
  • Various stand-alone options

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