MINI COUNTRYMAN JCW
Power to the Bush
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
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.
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.