MINI COUNTRYMAN

Al­though larger and with lots of up­grades, the Countryman is still very much a Mini. In its JCW In­spired avatar, it looks sporty as well. If only it was a lit­tle cra­zier

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MINI WENT MAXI WHEN IT in­tro­duced the Countryman in 2010. It was snug, not too pretty, a bit shiv­ery over the bumps, and not quite the play­ful frolic that Mini’s other cars were. So when the new gen­er­a­tion Countryman that you see here ar­rived, I went in ex­pect­ing noth­ing spec­tac­u­lar. Com­ing with this John Cooper Works In­spired kit, I had high hopes from the drive but you see, in In­dia, we get only the body kit along with sub­tle changes and not the re­tuned en­gine that makes over 40 horses more. Get the ‘In­spired’ moniker now?

The body kit brings with it a few cos­metic changes though. There are some styling up­dates from the out­go­ing Countryman, most no­tably a larger grille. The new Countryman is longer by 200mm and wider by 30mm. The head­lights have be­come LED pow­ered and the vis­ual ag­gres­sion goes up a notch in gen­eral. It looks more im­pos­ing and pur­pose­ful now, and yet the Countryman fails to cut the pret­ti­est sil­hou­ette. The re­design does how­ever re­fresh the Mini’s styling, with the new car ap­pear­ing less bug-eyed than its pre­de­ces­sor. The change suits the JCW In­spired Countryman in par­tic­u­lar, its more ag­gres­sive look fit­ting well with its per­for­mance ori­en­tated char­ac­ter. The three let­ters pay trib­ute to the late great John Cooper, the For­mula One and rally car de­signer and builder.

Al­though Mini calls the Countryman a

nat­u­ral ath­lete, at just un­der 1600 ki­los, it is the heav­i­est and most ex­pen­sive Mini you can buy. With 189bhp and 280Nm on tap from its two litre tur­bocharged four-cylin­der petrol en­gine, it ain’t the most pow­er­ful too.

But sheer horse­power doesn’t de­fine this car. The JCW ver­sions of ev­ery Mini have been char­ac­terised by sharp re­flexes and sporty sus­pen­sions that ham­mer away at the softer el­e­ments of your spine. A sus­pen­sion hard­ened to sat­isfy your cor­ner carv­ing crav­ings on the road, while not re­ally pri­ori­tis­ing in favour of com­fort. And yet even though the ride is stiff, it’s not un­bear­able. The springs and shocks are mostly car­ried over from the reg­u­lar Countryman but with a slight height re­duc­tion. It’s tuned to give way to speed bumps and pot­holes, soft­en­ing the im­pact shock to a min­i­mum and al­low­ing you to just about live with the JCW which runs on 18-inch wheels and run flat tyres, an inch big­ger than the reg­u­lar model.

Since we don’t get the slightly beefed up en­gine, there are very few tech­ni­cal as­pects that dis­tin­guish the JCW In­spired from the reg­u­lar model, which isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. Even though it is front-wheel driven, you can barely feel the JCW los­ing traction. It goes about its busi­ness with zero drama, even when you’re push­ing it hard around bends. The char­ac­ter­is­tic Mini wide-track lay­out is im­proved upon with a tightly wound stan­dard

Even though it is front-wheel driven, you can barely feel the Mini los­ing traction

sport sus­pen­sion with dy­namic damper con­trol, vari­able steer­ing, dy­namic sta­bil­ity and traction con­trol sys­tems.

But it doesn’t ac­cel­er­ate out of the cor­ners the way you would ex­pect a Mini to. Don’t get me wrong. It’s re­spon­sive enough and that low-end torque suits the char­ac­ter of this car very well, the eight-speed sport au­to­matic trans­mis­sion with pad­dle shifters keep­ing things mov­ing along nicely.But not en­thu­si­as­ti­cally I’m afraid, es­pe­cially in Com­fort mode. The no­tice­ably more ag­gres­sive Sport mode does liven things up, but while ac­cel­er­a­tion is brisk it is miss­ing a bit of sharp­ness. It’s all a bit too re­laxed and the num­bers prove it too with 100kmph com­ing up at a leisurely 7.5 se­conds. The ex­haust note isn’t par­tic­u­larly sporty ei­ther. Al­though there is no doubt that this car is a lot of fun, it’s just that you ex­pect a lit­tle more wild­ness and lu­nacy from some­thing that comes with a JCW moniker. Oops. JCW In­spired. Why wouldn’t you bring the full-blown JCW, BMW In­dia?

On the in­side, the up­grades de­liver a very nice fin­ish, in­clud­ing charm­ing touches and de­tail­ing all over the car, with top qual­ity ma­te­ri­als used ev­ery­where. One thing that isn’t sig­nif­i­cantly up­dated in the re­design is the in­stru­ment clus­ter. This is a del­i­cate sub­ject be­cause Mini purists de­mand that it re­tains a cer­tain look, but it’s time to con­sider in­te­grat­ing more dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion here to help make read­ing the speed eas­ier. If you opt for the head-up dis­play, it’s the flip-up kind that I find more dif­fi­cult to read quickly than the sort that projects di­rectly onto the wind­shield.

If you’re shop­ping for the Countryman, you’re prob­a­bly con­cerned about find­ing a stylish cross­over with a good amount of stor­age space, which is one area where this car de­liv­ers well. Seat­ing space in the back is just about okay, even for adults and the re­clin­ing seat­backs cer­tainly help. Bot­tom line, it still looks like and feels like a Mini. The Countryman re­tains a fa­mil­iar Mini aes­thetic com­mon to the brand. From the mo­tor­cy­cle-style in­stru­ment clus­ter, to the retro switches in the cen­tre stack, to the ring around the nav screen that changes colour with the drive mode se­lec­tor, this car is brim­ming with unique Mini flair.

De­spite its in­creased size and over­all SUV like pro­file and pro­por­tions, the JCW Countryman is still fun to drive, brim­ming with char­ac­ter and now more prac­ti­cal. It is also a lot more re­fined as well. It could have done with a bit more pep, al­though as a ri­val for more con­ven­tional ‘proper’ SUVs though. Maybe the JCW kit will do the trick, if and when it comes to In­dia. How­ever, the Countryman makes a far more com­pelling case for it­self while stand­ing out in a crowd, thanks to its unique styling. ⌧

Top: No JCW badg­ing on the car. Re­mem­ber, it’s JCW In­spired. Above: Dash­board lay­out is typ­i­cal of a Mini with a mo­tor­cy­cle like clus­ter and oo­dles of char­ac­ter

Top: The JCW vari­ant gets a dif­fer­ently tuned en­gine that makes 231bhp. Un­for­tu­nately, it isn’t sold in In­dia. Above: Fit and fin­ish is top notch and stands true to Mini’s stan­dards

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