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Fast Forward – Mini Countryman JCW review

It was not too long ago that Matthew and I were invited for the launch of the new Mini models. It was a great way to get acquainted with the brand’s new design identity and the goals for the new offerings. So now, some months later, we get the first of those models to review, and back to back – we were lucky to each get a Countryman. In C Classic and JCW specs, we got the opportunity to try out the new lineup just in time for the embargo to drop. Matt was feeling generous and let me have the range topping example, so I drove off before he could change his mind. 

So what’s new with the Countryman, you might ask? For starters, there’s the exterior design. This new shape has grown in every dimension, and goes deep into Mini’s new design language to offer very modern looking lines that are Mini-malist and purposeful. In my subjective opinion, it is a much more successful design, and in Matt’s upcoming review of the C Classic you will see how it looks in a lighter colour and a less sporty outfit (I’ll give a sneak peek here).

The JCW then builds on top of that platform by adding the sporty flare we’ve come to expect, including more involving front and back bumpers, with air intakes and outlets that complement the look of the four real exhaust pipes. A staple in Mini world, customisation is big here, with our press model sporting the classic JCW combo of a dark body colour with a red roof and mirrors. The wheel design is very inspired as well, with a flag motif that is wrapped in 20 inch Pirelli P Zero tyres (yep, you read that right) and barely hiding the dual piece brake rotors and the big, red brake calipers. 

The same sporty promise is delivered inside through JCW-specific sports seats (with a massage function, no less!), black headliner and a perforated steering wheel with a dedicated badge.

But the list of what comes standard in every Countryman does not disappoint, either. There is a touch of recycled fabric making its way around the cabin, which adds some interesting textures and helps dampen sounds. The centre console is simple and unobstructed, offering smart and usable storage solutions that include a branded pop-up box.

The now expected suite of fighter-jet styled switches is still present on the centre of the dash, albeit with different functions this time around: the one in the middle offers some positive feedback as you turn it to power the car on or off, and then there are the gear selector to one side and the Experiences selector to the other – more on this soon. 

The other highlight? The space. There’s loads of it, everywhere you need. Front occupants have been catered for in Minis for quite a few years, but now the back seats are properly usable, including a sliding and split-folding unit, and the boot offers 460 litres in a very friendly setup that includes a “false floor”;

In big Mini fashion, the interior experience is dominated by the round screen on the centre of the dashboard. Now using AMOLED technology, the definition and black levels of the display are at an all time high, so even at 240mm of diameter it never feels too bright or intrusive. An “old school” projector heads-up-display in front of the driver shows key information such as speed, revs, and assistance configurations, but mostly everything else requires you to look 45 degrees to the left.

Operation is still very familiar to older gens, including the intermittent lag when flicking through screens, but there is much more to do now. Gone is the rotary selector, so your options are to either use the touch screen or try your luck with voice commands.

I am still against having to resort to voice for trivial tasks (I’m a nerd that refuses to smartify his house), mostly because I feel implementations of this are usually a half-baked solution for a problem that didn’t exist. But the Countryman took a step in the right direction: tapping on the microphone button on the wheel brought up Spike, which had a success rate close to 100% for my requests, while holding it brought up Siri because of my wireless CarPlay connection.

Flicking through that Experiences selector I mentioned earlier is how you can customise further your Mini experience. The car powers on in Core mode, and while the C Classic had many more Experiences you could explore, our JCW clearly wanted me to go Jekyll and Hyde by only offering two other modes: Green, which will water down all inputs to maximise your range, and one that is likely to get a lot of use – Go-kart. It is followed by an excited shout upon activation, and lets in comical levels of simulated engine noise, including the infamous pops and bangs. But it also sharps inputs and responses up a notch, asking to be driven, and so we shall oblige. 

Given all the work that has been put in making the Countryman more refined, it becomes a specialist in sneaky speed. The consistent buildup of power and the impressive gearbox performance will deliver more speed than your initial expectation from the noise and time, leading to a 5.2s sprint to 100km/h. This is not a slow car by any stretch of the imagination. 

This amazing drivetrain calibration is something the BMW group takes very seriously, and this is no exception. By moving the gearbox from D to S mode and using the paddles, you access the manual mode, where the gearbox will let you ride the limiter and will not upshift. Speaking of paddles, hold down the left one for a bit and you will get a Boost mode, with amped up power delivery for 10 seconds, good for that motorway pass or a quick demo of the JCW’s power to someone driving beside you (this last one is just alleged).

When things get a bit windy, I felt steering feedback a bit lacking, but this is in unison with the rest of the industry. When driving the C Classic, I experienced safe levels of intended understeer, but the JCW’s high threshold of mechanical grip provided by the All4 system and the amazing tyres were very confidence inspiring. It’s proper fun! 

Once you’re ready to try and get back closer to the claimed combined consumption figures of 8.3l/100km, Green mode and the spotless performance of the driving assistance packages will be your friends. The adaptive cruise control even has a setting that will keep the car from undertaking others on the motorway, something I wish every fellow driver had installed on their hard drives as well (lane etiquette being a pre-requisite for that, of course). 

The new generation of the Mini Countryman is a substantial leap forward on all fronts. I always had the impression the Countryman was stuck in a weird limbo within the lineup, being too lumpy compared to a Cooper, while still not being big enough to be considered a full-fledged SUV. This is no longer the case.

It is now better looking, way better appointed inside, has all the tech you could wish for, and brings all the Mini-ness customers will be looking for. In JCW guise, I found myself driving around for no particular reason, and shouting in excitement (almost) as loudly as the jingle for when you put it in Go-kart mode. 

Thanks, Mini, for the opportunity, and we’re looking forward to try out the other models soon! 

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