It finally happened. After more than 10 years with a blemish-free driving record, a letter arrived in the mail to relieve me of a good amount of money and an equally good amount of points. Yes, ladies and gents, I’ve been caught speeding. But, at least it wasn’t the worst car to get caught in right?
The car aforementioned (in case you haven’t already read the title), is the latest and most powerful iteration of the Mini Countryman. It is in essence, the biggest Mini you can have in more ways than one. Let’s start with the most obvious bit, the size.
Built on BMW’s Untere Klasse 2 (UKL2) platform which also underpins all of BMW’s front-wheel-drive models, including the X1 and X2. Our JCW Countryman measures in with a length of 4,313mm, a width of 1,821mm and an overall height of 1,557mm. In simple terms, the 2020 Countryman is only about 12 shorter in length and about 11cm shorter in height when placed next to an equally wide BMW X1.
It’s slightly large dimensions are n interesting point too, because just seeing it on its own, you wouldn’t guess that this rather large Mini is as big as its competition. Thanks mostly to the designers who have cleverly managed to nip and tuck the Countryman’s body into a distinctive body-hugging cross runners dress.
In John Cooper Works trim, the Countryman is every bit as stylish (if not more) as the rest of the Mini range of automobiles, even with its slightly frowny face. Our test car once again came in the best colour combination you can have on a JCW, Rebel Green with contrasting red accents on the roof, bonnet, side mirrors and along the sides. Oh yes, on the car’s sad-looking grille too. A strange styling decision as nothing is upsetting about the Countryman’s aesthetic at all.
Coupled with the JCW’s lowered ride height and 19″ wheels enveloping its big brake system, this is the best looking Countryman ever made, and in my opinion, one of the most attractive vehicles in its class. Don’t tell the folks over at BMW I said that.
There was one missed opportunity with the 2020 freshening up of the exterior though, the Countryman misses out on the Union-Jack tail-lights which are now featured on all other current Minis on sale.
The Countryman’s rather substantial external dimensions (for a Mini) would have been for nought if space inside the car didn’t match up and so, we’re happy to report that there’s plenty of room on the adjustable rear seats for 2 adults to get comfortable in, and if they don’t mind socialising, 3 can go in snugly. This, of course, means a good amount of space for little humans or a pack of fur-kids. With the Countryman’s tall height, head-room was also never an issue.
Those familiar with all things Mini will not feel out of place in the driver’s seat as Mini have kept their characterful interior design intact, albeit a little more upright and upsized. Instruments are clear and while some might bemoan the fact that most of the controls are still somewhat analogue, these are things we are sure to miss once the digital screens start arriving. The infotainment system might feel a little dated (Apple car play only for now) but we should enjoy the car’s very lovely and tactile toggle switches while we still can!
Just as lovely and tactile are the JCW seats that do a great job of holding you in place and looking great at the same time. I’d try to opt-out of the Alcantara if that was an option though. Keeping fur off is near impossible!
Over in the cargo area though, things a little less impressive, remember that bit earlier about the Countryman being slightly shorter than a BMW X1? Well, that bit has now come back to haunt us as it means our 450 litres of cargo space is a good 55 litres less than the X1. It does come close to the X2’s 470 litres though. While this does mean fewer trips to Ikea, the Countryman’s boot is still able to easily take on weekly trips to the shops with ease, even with a pram stowed away.
An interesting and thoughtful design detail can also be found under the boot’s floor, hiding a Mini-branded padded cover to protect the rather expensive JCW rear bumper when loading cargo after a trip to the market. I’m guessing it’ll make a decent seat for tailgate parties too.
So now that we’ve covered a couple of “bigs” on this Mini, there remains one last “big” to ascertain. For all its practicalities, is the JCW Countryman big on character as well? To answer that all-important question, it’s time to get behind the lovely red-stitched steering wheel.
With 302 horses and 450Nm of torque produced from the JCW’s turbocharged 2.0-litre inline-four, this is the most powerful Mini yet and while it might be a big bruiser of a Mini, the century sprint comes up in a rather quick 5.1 seconds. Keen to find out? Launch control is readily available. There is sometimes a slight delay before full power is despatched from the engine though, something that happens more often on non-sport drivetrain settings. Once on the move though, power comes in with every minute prod of the right foot.
But while power and acceleration figures look good on paper, there is only one way to enjoy a Mini. On curvy, windy roads.
There is no going away from the fact that this is not a small hot hatch, the car’s size is made apparent the moment you first throw it into a slightly tight bend, there is considerable weight to manage but it doesn’t take long to get comfortable and once settled in, this SUV can deliver smiles like few others.
The JCW Countryman is quite simply, fun to drive. It is punchy when you need it to be and coupled with the All4 all-wheel-drive system, can deliver all 450nm of outgoing force with ease when exiting corners. It even sounds rather fruity in Sports mode too, with a lovely growl. The only thing missing from the acoustics are the exuberant pops and crackles ever so prevalent on its smaller JCW siblings. So, does the JCW Countryman still have that special Mini character? You bet it does, it does quite a lot.
So, big on size, big on power, big on character, is the JCW Countryman the most complete Mini yet? Well, that depends on how you look at it. While it aces the all-round ability that its smaller hatchback siblings lacked, there is one other “big” that is worth mentioning. It’s price. At S$217,888 (as of April 2020), the JCW Countryman is also the most expensive Mini on sale today, which might turn some buyers off. But here’s something worth pondering about, it’s almost S$50,000 less than the car it shares its power and drivetrain with, the BMW X2 M35i. I know which I’d go for, even if it did give me my first speeding ticket in over 10 years.