Mini Countryman John Cooper Works Steptronic
Mini’s much-improved new Countryman gets the John Cooper Works treatment
WITH this derivative, Mini joins a select vehicle niche, namely the hot compact crossover that until now has been the sole domain of Audi’s rapid RS Q3 and the Mercedes-amg GLA45.
Mini’s second-generation Countryman is now a proper little SUV, with its dimensions and interior space having increased to a point where it’s successfully morphed into a pukka crossover that impressed in our initial drive (March 2017) and test (July 2017).
The Countryman gets the expected makeover that includes more aggressive bumpers, red grille highlights, a rear diffuser and 18-inch JCW alloy wheels (the 19-inch ones on our launch car pictured above are an option).
Inside, it’s the leather/alcantara Jcw-branded sports seats that are the main highlight.
So, to the performance, then, and the key question of how much more it offers than the Cooper S derivative. The engine is a familiar one – it’s shared with the JCW hatch – and again the 2,0-litre turbo’s power been upped to 170 kw by increasing boost to 2,2 bar and fitting a larger intercooler. Our car was equipped with an eight-speed Steptronic transmission with paddle shifters, but a six-speed manual is also available.
There are three driving modes – green, comfort and sport – and, given the JCW badging on the hatch, it is in the latter setting that I spent most of my driving time. The speed-adjusted servotronic steering, although a touch on the light side, allows for sharp turn-in, the firmer JCW Sport suspension with adaptive damper control allows flatter cornering and the Brembo-developed four-piston brake callipers scrub off speed with single-minded purpose. It doesn’t, however, feel all that much quicker than the already nippy Cooper S derivative we tested; certainly not R100k quicker. Along with the Countryman’s increase in size has come an increase in heft and, at close to 1 700 kg, it’s going to take more than an extra 29 kw to make a major difference in pace.
There’s great traction thanks to the all-wheel-drive system, which was something our test route highlighted with a segment that included the scenic 68 km gravel Prince Alfred’s Pass between Knysna and Uniondale. Despite the low-profile tyres, the Countryman was impressive, never losing its grip on the loose and often bumpy surface. Mini’s ALL4 system is an on-demand allwheel-drive setup that defaults power to the front wheels, but transmits torque to the rear in a split second whenever required.
While quick and a unique offering in its segment, the price tag does make this JCW derivative the domain of the Mini brand fan. The standard front-wheel-drive 141 kw Countryman Cooper S is quick enough and considerably cheaper.