The Mini Countryman has long caused debate about whether it’s really a ‘Mini’. Purists say it’s too large, and being an SUV means it’ll never truly offer that ‘go-kart feel’ the brand is known for.
Sure, it’s definitely not the mini-est of Minis, but the Countryman does bring the brand’s iconic style and sporty DNA to the compact premium crossover segment, none more so than the hot John Cooper Works version, or ‘JCW’ for short.
Mini’s SUV recently underwent a mid-life refresh, so here on test we have the latest and greatest 2021 Mini JCW Countryman to see whether it really does put the ‘sport’ in ‘sports utility vehicle’.
There are effectively three versions of the JCW Countryman on offer in Australia, with prices starting at $61,915 plus on-road costs for the Pure.
Move up to the Classic and the extra features and options bump the starting price to $67,818 plus on-roads, while the decked-out JCW Countryman Signature we have on test is $71,013 before on-road costs.
In terms of drive-away pricing, the vehicle you see here is listed on the Mini Australia website as, wait for it, $79,718 drive-away.
Rivals include the new Audi SQ2 (coming in May), priced from $64,400, the mechanically-related BMW X2 M35i ($68,900 for the Pure, $73,900 for the full version), and the Mercedes-AMG GLA35 ($83,700). All prices here exclude on-road costs.
As you can see, the prices for these premium hot crossovers is quite a premium over the equivalent hatchback for performance no better than a $60,000 Volkswagen Golf R. Not that buyers of these are necessarily cross-shopping.
Standard equipment levels largely depend on the package you choose (i.e. Pure, Classic or Signature), though the fundamentals are largely the same.
All versions get the same 225kW/450Nm 2.0-litre turbo, all-wheel drive, and an eight-speed sports automatic with paddles.
The Pure gets:
- 18-inch ‘Grip Spoke’ alloy wheels
- Leather/Dinamica sports seats
- JCW leather steering wheel
- JCW Piano Black interior
- Anthracite headliner
- Seat heating for driver and front passenger
- MINI Navigation system 8.8-inch touch display
- Apple CarPlay (wireless)
- Roof rails in Piano Black
- Sport suspension
- Sun protection glazing
Opting for the Classic brings the following additional equipment:
- 19-inch ‘Cup Spoke’ alloy wheels
- Leather ‘Cross Punch’ seats in Carbon Black
- Electric seat adjustment
- Comfort access
- Head-up display
- Harman Kardon premium audio system
- Sports stripes
- Adaptive suspension
Finally, the Signature trim as-tested is fully loaded with:
- Leather ‘Chester’ Indigo Blue / Satellite Grey / Malt Brown / Mini Yours Leather Lounge (Black)
- Mini Yours Nappa leather steering wheel
- Mini Yours Shaded Silver Illuminated Trim or Piano Black Illuminated Trim
- Adaptive headlights
- Panoramic sunroof
In addition to the above, the Classic and Signature versions of the JCW Countryman also get more exterior paint choices than the Pure (9 v 5).
Notable exclusions include lane-departure warning or lane-keep assist, along with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
The Countryman wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating with 2017 datestamp – though this only applies to Cooper D diesel variants that are no longer sold in Australia.
That rating was based on an adult occupant protection score of 90 per cent, a child occupant protection score of 80 per cent, a vulnerable road user protection score of 64 per cent and a safety assist score of 51 per cent.
All 2021 Countryman models come standard with city-speed autonomous emergency braking with forward-collision warning, as well as traffic sign recognition, anti-lock brakes and six airbags.
Lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert remain off the menu for the time being, though Mini Australia has confirmed it’s working to introduce a lane assistant by the end of 2021.
While the updated Countryman is easily distinguished from the outside courtesy of the swish new Union Jack tail lights and revised front fascia, the cabin offers much of the same with some slight revisions
Ahead of the driver is a new instrument cluster that was first seen in the Mini Cooper SE Hatch (aka the Mini Electric), incorporating a 5.0-inch digital centre display flanked by a revised tachometer and fuel gauge.
The controls surrounding the 8.8-inch Mini Navigation touchscreen are now touch-capacitive rather than physical buttons. While they look cleaner and better integrated, they’re a magnet for fingerprints thanks to the gloss black finish and on the move you need to look twice to make sure you’re pressing the right spot.
In Signature guise the JCW Countryman scores lovely leather-trimmed seats available in four colours. Our test car had the black interior, but you can also get grey, brown and even dark blue.
The front seats are pretty comfortable, offering good support under your thighs and a nice amount of bolstering to keep you hugged in corners. There’s an extendable base cushion for long-legged folks too, like myself.
I’m a big fan of the Mini sports steering wheel, and the nappa-trimmed rim in the Signature specification is just lovely to hold. It’s nice and thick, while the multifunction switchgear is logical and easy to use – thank god the touch-capacitive controls weren’t rolled out here.
There’s a decent amount of space up front thanks to the tall roofline, even with the panoramic roof seen here, and storage is alright but not standout.
Cubbies for your wallet and keys can be found ahead of the shifter and cupholders, in the shallow door bins, or under the adjustable front-centre armrest.
However, the cup holders are pretty skinny, and the dedicated phone holder in the armrest with wireless charger is too small to accommodate a tall device like my iPhone 12 Pro Max.
We can vouch for the quality of the 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system, which offers crisp and clear audio, and the wireless Apple CarPlay integration worked seamlessly. The inbuilt infotainment and navigation interface is pretty darn good too, and simple to use.
The Countryman has always been strong when it comes to rear accommodation, and this latest model retains that core strength.
Space for two adults is plentiful, both in terms of head- and legroom even with a panoramic sunroof. ISOFIX points on the outer seats means the little ones are catered for, and three can fit across at a squeeze.
Rear air vents and a fold-down centre armrest further bolster the amenities, as do the two USB charge points and map pockets in the rear. The door bins with bottle holders are also a nice touch.
Behind the second row, the Countryman offers 450L of cargo volume with all five seats in place. Fold them down, and that expands to 1390L.
As a guide, the SQ2 offers 355L/1000L, the X2 M35i offers 470L/1355L, and the AMG GLA35 offers 435L/1430L.
The JCW Countryman doesn’t feature a full-size or space-saver spare wheel, instead wearing run-flat tyres.
Power comes from a carryover 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, which was upgraded in 2019 to offer 225kW at 6250rpm and 450Nm between 1750 and 4500rpm.
Drive is sent to a front-biased ‘All4’ all-wheel drive system via an eight-speed torque converter automatic with steering-mounted paddle shifters.
Mini claims the 1.6-tonne (kerb) JCW Countryman can dispatch the 0-100 sprint in 5.1 seconds on its way to a top speed of 250km/h. That’s line-ball with the outgoing Mk7.5 Volkswagen Golf R Wagon, though the Mini packages that performance in the more popular SUV body style.
In terms of fuel consumption, Mini claims the JCW Countryman will use 7.5L/100km on the combined cycle, aided by idle stop/start technology. We saw low- to mid-nines during our time with the car.
The fuel tank measures 51 litres and 98 RON premium unleaded is required as a minimum.
This was my first time driving the 225kW JCW Countryman, having driven the 170kW version when this generation first launched some four years ago.
My memory of the earlier iteration was of a funky, fun sporty crossover that was fairly quick but was priced against much more powerful competition.
Now with more bang for your buck, the new JCW Countryman has a bark to match its bite – much more befitting of its positioning.
With all 450Nm on tap from just 1750rpm, there’s a lot of muscle down low and right through the mid-range, with max shove running out at 4500rpm. Power delivery is very linear too, and there’s a nice growl out the back as the revs rise, though there’s no real theatrics on the overrun like previous JCW generations.
It’s so linear, in fact, you may not realise how quickly the extra grunt is shooting you. The JCW is certainly very quick, and feels every bit as fast as its 5.1-second 0-100 claim – best to keep an eye on that big digital speedo.
The eight-speed Aisin-sourced automatic is a sweet shifter and is more than a match for the dual-clutch alternatives in the segment. It shuffles through cogs quickly and decisively and, while we’d prefer metal paddles instead of the cheap-feeling plastic ones, taking control of the gearbox is a fun time.
I took the JCW Countryman up the winding road towards Kinglake in Victoria’s north-east, and it was a stack of fun in the tight bends. In its Sport setting the drivetrain is eager, responsive and powerful, while the keen chassis, strong grip levels and sharp steering make you feel like the vehicle is an extension of you.
Now, it’s not quite as fun as a 3 Door Hatch or a Clubman with the extra weight and higher centre of gravity, but for what it is the JCW Countryman is a very competent hot crossover indeed.
Take it down a few notches and you might find the light starts to dim a little. That taut chassis tune is pretty firm for urban duties, even in its standard setting, and the 19-inch wheels and run-flat tyres pick up just about every road imperfection.
The eight-speed auto can be a little lazy on takeoff – something we’ve noticed with the ZF eight-speeder as well – exacerbated by the idle stop/start system. It can occasionally feel like it’s setting off in second to save fuel, at the expense of off-the-line response.
There’s also quite a lot of road noise from those low-profile run-flat tyres over anything other than freshly-laid smooth bitumen. For a $70,000 vehicle that’s being billed as something of a premium product, it should be better.
Another thing worth mentioning is the lack of features like lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitoring, both of which are notably absent from the Countryman’s safety roster.
For reference, the related BMW X1 and X2 offer lane departure warning, but also lack blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Mini Australia indicated it’s working to have some form of a lane assistant available before the end of the year, but given some rivals like the SQ2 and GLA35 can effectively drive themselves, BMW and Mini should do better.
Overall, it drives well. I just don’t know if it stands out enough compared to competing models with more alluring badges.
The Mini Countryman is covered by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Roadside assistance is included for that period also.
Like parent company BMW, Mini offers condition-based servicing which uses a slew of vehicle sensors to determine when maintenance is required.
This means there’s no set service intervals like you’ll find in most vehicles, and no set pricing.
You can’t deny the Mini JCW Countryman’s charm. It’s a cute design throwback and goes like stink, while also being good fun to drive.
I think it’s one of the best-looking crossovers in the segment, but at this price point, looks can only get you so far.
A premium hot crossover, much like a hot hatch, needs to be a jack of all trades. While the JCW is fun, fast, and pretty practical, it’s lacking in everyday comfort and on the tech front where rivals continue to innovate.
The $62,000 JCW Countryman Pure seems like much better value than the flagship Signature trim we have on test, though the fixed-rate sports suspension will likely be even less forgiving on city streets than the already-firm adaptive setup.
With that said, most rivals are similar if not more money. They also don’t offer the distinctive styling of the Mini, and require a stack of options to meet the Countryman’s specification which can take the difference to tens of thousands.
Mini’s newest attempt at a go-fast SUV is a good thing, just maybe not $70,000 (as tested) worth of a good thing.
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