The best Mini JCW model is the one start­ing with ‘C’


This is a car that is go­ing to blow a few minds and of­fend some peo­ple. Af­ter all, the Mini Coun­try­man John Cooper Works (JCW) is sev­eral con­tro­ver­sial things all rolled into one retrotinged pack­age.

First, it is a very large Mini, which up­sets peo­ple who think Minis should be small. Sec­ondly, it is an SUV, which up­sets peo­ple who don’t drive SUVs and think no-one else should ei­ther.

Lastly, it is a sporty SUV, which up­sets me.

It up­sets me be­cause I gen­uinely don’t un­der­stand why any­one would want – or need – a sporty SUV, which by its very def­i­ni­tion can never be as sporty as the hatch, sedan or even wagon equiv­a­lent.

If you want an SUV, you want some­thing roomy, prac­ti­cal and com­fort­able. If you want sporty, don’t buy an SUV.

That said, while the Coun­try­man al­most side­steps this is­sue by be­ing more of a larger, taller Club­man wagon, its lat­est in­car­na­tion has drifted closer to be­ing an SUV than pre­vi­ously and it brings a far more co­he­sive de­sign.

On the in­side, it packs a beau­ti­fully built in­te­rior that is of a high qual­ity through­out.

Even if it is try­ing too hard with the whole retro-cool thing.

The Coun­try­man JCW shares the same en­gine as the rest of the Works range: a tweaked ver­sion of Mini’s 2.0-litre four-cylin­der petrol turbo en­gine that pro­duces 170kW of power and 350Nm of torque.

As it so hap­pened, I also had ac­cess to have the two other mem­bers of the lo­cal JCW range at the same time as I had the Coun­try­man, and it was a rather interesting com­par­i­son.

The JCW hatch is the old­est of the cur­rent range and comes stan­dard with a six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion that sends the power from the 2.0-litre en­gine through the front wheels, al­though our car had an op­tional six-speed au­to­matic.

The JCW Club­man not only shares the en­gine with the oth­ers, but also sits on the same plat­form as the Coun­try­man and shares its AWDsys­tem and stan­dard eight- speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

The hatch and Club­man may look iden­ti­cal from the front doors for­ward, but the Club­man proves to be sig­nif­i­cantly wider when you see them side-by-side.

In all three cars, the 170kW 2.0-litre en­gine is an in­sis­tent per­former, with min­i­mal lag and strong re­sponses across the rev range. It makes a won­der­fully bel­liger­ent noise un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion in Sport mode, and makes all the ap­pro­pri­ate bangs and pops on the over­run.

How­ever, when com­pared to the hatch and Club­man, the ex­tra weight of Coun­try­man does dull its per­for­mance, par­tic­u­larly in terms of off-the-line ac­cel­er­a­tion.

While the hatch might seem to be the ob­vi­ous choice for the en­thu­si­as­tic driver, it was in fact com­pro­mised by the op­tional sixspeed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion fit­ted to our test car.

While it is a per­fectly good trans­mis­sion, a man­ual is al­ways bet­ter in a hot hatch, while the newer eight-speed auto in the other two is a far su­pe­rior shifter.

Where the six-speeder baulks down­shifts on reg­u­lar ba­sis, the eight-speeder has a broader spread of ra­tios to al­low more ag­gres­sive down­shift­ing into corners. It makes a big dif­fer­ence.

With this in mind, it is the Club­man that rep­re­sents the sweet spot in the JCW range; in au­to­matic guise, that is.

The ex­tra ra­tios in the auto, theAWDsys­tem and the longer wheel­base all add up to a more sat­is­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The per­for­mance is all but iden­ti­cal to the hatch, while the ex­tra trac­tion in and out of corners bought about by theAWD sys­tem is wel­come.

The longer wheel­base brings a more con­trolled, less busy ride than the hatch – even on the Club­man’s larger 19-inch al­loys – and the trans­mis­sion is sim­ply su­perb.

So where does that leave the Coun­try­man?

Taken on its own, in its seg­ment, the JCW Coun­try­man stands up well to what lit­tle op­po­si­tion it cur­rently has in the small per­for­mance SUV arena.

Not as pow­er­ful as the likes of the Mercedes GLA 45 AMG, but nowhere near as pricey, its ac­quits it­self well in this weird seg­ment that I don’t un­der­stand the need for.

Put up against the rest of the Coun­try­man range it fal­ters some­what, as it doesn’t re­ally seem to bring much more than a bit more noise, a slight bump in per­for­mance and a big jump in price over the Cooper S.

Plus, I have al­ways held that the en­try three-cylin­der Coun­try­man is the pick of the range, and the JCW hasn’t changed that opin­ion.

Looked at along­side the other mem­bers of the JCW fam­ily, again the Coun­try­man ap­pears to add up to less than the sum of its parts.

Not as sharp or as in­volv­ing as the other two, the Coun­try­man re­ally starts to strug­gle to make a con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ment for it­self when you throw in the Club­man’s AWD­driv­e­train and broadly sim­i­lar prac­ti­cal­ity.

That said, if you re­ally need a small per­for­mance SUV (I still don’t know why you would), the Coun­try­man JCW pro­vides a lot of fast Mini charm, with an ex­cel­lent in­te­rior, an im­pres­sive ride and good dy­namic abil­ity.

The Coun­try­man’s ask­ing price of $71,900 is a good chunk of cash, but it does de­liver a con­vinc­ing pack­age for that money.

The Coun­try­man’s big­gest prob­lem comes when you start look­ing at what you could get for that money in rest of the John Cooper Works range (Club­man JCW $68,900, hatch $54,500).

Hatch (right) and Club­man (cen­tre) look sim­i­lar, but lat­ter is on the same plat­form as the Coun­try­man (left).

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