MINI COUN­TRY­MAN JCW

Power to the Bush

Driven - - Contents - Re­port by BERNIE HELLBERG | Images © MINI SOUTH AFRICA

John Cooper Works, or JCW, has spent the last 17 years tun­ing MINI prod­ucts, the last nine of which as a wholly owned sub­sidiary of the brand. Their lat­est of­fer­ing: the MINI Coun­try­man JCW and Club­man JCW, it­er­a­tions of the Coun­try­man and Club­man S’ with more power, tweaked sus­pen­sion, and eye-catch­ing brand­ing.

A HIS­TORY OF PER­FOR­MANCE

The first JCW tun­ing kit ap­peared on the orig­i­nal (new) MINI Cooper S in 2000, which brought a power up­grade of 8.4 kW to the then most pow­er­ful MINI. Today, MINI uses a tweaked ver­sion of the 2.0-litre, 4-cylin­der turbo en­gine fit­ted to the Coun­try­man and Club­man S, although power out­put is tweaked to 170 kW and 350 Nm, no less than 29 kW more than the ‘stan­dard’ S.

And while the S in both body styles fol­lows a front-wheel-drive con­fig­u­ra­tion, the JCWs in­tro­duce part-time all-wheel-drive to the mix, as well as an 8-speed au­to­matic gear­box. The re­sult, says MINI, is that the Club­man will power to the 100 km/h mark in just 6.3 sec­onds, while the beefier Coun­try­man JCW needs 6.5 sec­onds to achieve the same re­sult. Off pa­per, how­ever, the re­sult is as­tound­ing, and ac­cel­er­a­tion in both ver­sions feels vastly more pro­nounced than the stats sug­gest.

The added grip brought to bear by the All4 sys­tem, a big­ger turbo, mod­ded pis­ton set-up and an ever-larger air cooler, all help to cat­a­pult the JCWs from nought to fun in the blink of an eye.

Be­fore you ask, yes there is a six-speed man­ual op­tion avail­able on both cars. At launch, how­ever, we drove the auto ver­sions only, and truth be told it’s an ex­cel­lent gear­box that ef­fort­lessly fore­goes self-shift­ing in favour of quick-think­ing – and quick re­spond­ing – shifts both up and down the range. In man­ual (and Sport) mode, ex­pect the ex­haust to de­liver the en­ter­tain­ment as it bangs and pops on its way down the gears.

A SNUG FIT

So, are MI­NIs es­sen­tially large small cars, or small large ones? It’s hard to tell from an in­te­rior point of view. While com­pact, nei­ther the Club­man nor the Coun­try­man feels how­so­ever cramped, the lat­ter even less so.

While they’re as busy ever on the in­side, forc­ing you to spend some time get­ting ac­quainted, the gen­eral lay­out isn’t er­gonom­i­cally over­whelm­ing. Up­graded with JWC-spe­cific mo­tifs on the door­sills, steer­ing wheel and seats dif­fer­en­ti­ate the John Cooper cars from the stan­dard S de­riv­a­tives.

On the au­to­matic Coun­try­man and Club­man that we sam­pled at launch, it was al­ways easy to reach the drive mode se­lec­tion ring when switch­ing be­tween Eco, Nor­mal, and Sport modes, but I can imag­ine that it would be less so in the six-speed cars, with the gear lever com­ing in the way. Apart from that mi­nor in­con­ve­nience, nei­ther car war­rants ma­jor cri­tique for in­te­rior de­sign and er­gonomic ex­e­cu­tion.

ON ALL FOURS

Be­sides fet­tling the power and sus­pen­sion on the Coun­try­man and Club­man, MINI has added the front-bi­ased All4 all-wheel-drive sys­tem to JCWs. While they’re not 4x4s, the Coun­try­man per­formed ex­cep­tion­ally well on the wet and muddy back roads be­tween Knysna and Ge­orge, that formed part of our launch route.

I wouldn’t take se­ri­ous off-road­ers on some of the routes that the Coun­try­man con­quered with ease, un­der­scor­ing ex­actly

AND WHILE THE S IN BOTH BODY STYLES FOL­LOWS A FRON­TWHEEL-DRIVE CON­FIG­U­RA­TION,

THE JCWS IN­TRO­DUCE PART­TIME ALL-WHEELDRIVE TO THE MIX,

AS WELL AS AN 8-SPEED AU­TO­MATIC

GEAR­BOX.

how so­phis­ti­cated the MINI’s All4 sys­tem is. Sure enough, the big MINI would lose a spot of trac­tion ev­ery so of­ten, but all-wheel en­gage­ment is swift, and cor­rec­tion im­me­di­ate.

The Club­man is not in­tended for of­froad­ing and has sig­nif­i­cantly sportier in­ten­tions than the Coun­try­man. It’s aimed at a dif­fer­ent (read ur­ban) tar­get au­di­ence too, where the Coun­try­man is likely to at­tract more ad­ven­tur­ous types, even if it is only on pa­per.

Sit­ting even closer to the ground than the Coun­try­man, Club­man leaves only 141 mm be­tween you and the road (Coun­try­man sits at 165 mm), so there’s no scope for go­ing bundu bash­ing.

The Club­man’s 18” run-flat tyres (alas) and ex­tended wheel­base make it look rather long. This shape, although at­trac­tive, doesn’t add to the car’s prac­ti­cal­ity. The wagon-style rear doors are equally un­usual but get in the way when ma­noeu­vring that long body in and out of tight spots.

LAST WORD

The MINI Club­man JCW makes a lot of sense when viewed as a marginally more prac­ti­cal hot hatch than, say, the Golf GTI or Re­nault Me­gane R.S. With street cred ga­lore and a unique per­son­al­ity that can’t be matched by the cur­rent crop of com­peti­tors, it will slot into your ac­tive life­style rather nicely.

Some­where be­tween the Mercedes GLA45 and the new tur­bocharged Hyundai Tucson is a tiny niche where the MINI Coun­try­man JCW should pop into per­fectly. It’s not as prac­ti­cal as some of its sim­i­larly priced com­pa­tri­ots but, like the Club­man, the JCW moniker will be enough to con­vince buy­ers in the pre­mium cross­over seg­ment to get in on the MINI ac­tion.

Like all MI­NIs, the Coun­try­man JCW and Club­man JCW are sold with a 3-year/un­lim­ited km warranty, while a 5-year/100,000 km main­te­nance plan is also in­cluded.

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