Meet the new Mini Countryman JCW, its entrance to the Australian market accompanied by the gnashing of teeth from traditional enthusiasts of the brand.
The name Mini might once have described the cars it produced, but now it’s just a brand like any other. After all, your smartphone doesn’t look like a piece of fruit, does it?
And so the Countryman press kit proudly boasts of an extra 17cm in length, 3cm in width and 7.5cm in wheelbase, resulting in a car similar in size to the original Renault Espace MPV.
It’s still not a particularly large car by modern standards and its growth spurt has resulted in plenty of room front and rear, though Mini’s claim of a “voluminous” boot, capable of swallowing 450L or 1390L with the rear seats folded, rings hollow when a VW Tiguan can accept 615L and 1655L respectively.
There’s plenty of kit including a 12-speaker stereo, LED headlights, 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, head-up display and sports seats as well as all the usual active safety gear such as adaptive cruise control, auto emergency braking and the like.
The quirkiness of the interior design is either going to appeal or it isn’t, however the driving position is widely adjustable, if a little high-set in true SUV fashion.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbo four producing 170kW/350Nm attached to an eight-speed auto and all-wheel drive. The latter balloons the kerb weight out to 1555kg, a full 350kg more than the JCW hatch, yet Mini claims a similar 0-100km/h time of 6.5sec. The seat of the pants says this is highly optimistic, but the Countryman is quick enough to entertain.
The engine talks the talk, with blurts on upshifts and pops and crackles on the overrun, but sadly does its best work riding its torque curve between 1500-4500rpm, feeling breathless and unenthusiastic towards redline. All-wheel drive proves its worth on the rain-soaked roads of the launch route with total traction allowing the throttle to be nailed early.
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In fact, the Countryman is arguably the pick of the JCW range to drive. That might not be saying much given the hatch and cabrio are rough-riding, ill-handling little tykes, but while the Countryman favours stability over fun, it can be flowed along a winding road with reasonable pace and accuracy without the jarring jitteriness of its smaller siblings. Strong brakes, too.
At $57,900 the Countryman JCW isn’t cheap, though specced like-for-like is in the same ballpark as its only obvious competitor, the aforementioned Tiguan 162TSI.
Not that it’s hurting sales, mind, with Mini order books currently swollen with customers keen on its unique combination of performance, practicality and individuality. For the MOTOR faithful, we suspect a VW Golf R Wagon would be a better bet.
3 stars out of 5
Likes: Looks funky; cohesive ride/handling
Dislike: Engine lacks spark; price; small boot
2017 Mini Countryman JCW Specs:
Engine: 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 170kW @ 5000-6000rpm
Torque: 350Nm 1450-4500rpm
0-100km/h: 6.5sec (claimed)