The family car just got a double shot of fun. Muddy revs up the JCW Mini Countryman and discovers compact SUVs can be safe, spacious and sporty.
My first car was a Mini and I thought I was fancier than a Sixties sex kitten bombing around in my late teens. It was light green with a white roof, with a John Player Special walnut gear knob. As first cars go, it was better than most of my gal pals’ old bangers. The Mini’s sensible 30mph felt like 90 and despite being a gazillion years old, looked cooler than the driver with her badly applied rainbow eye shadow and fingerless gloves. It was *ahem* the 80s.
So I’m excited to try the thoroughly modern John Cooper Works Mini Countryman ALL4, hoping it will be as exciting to drive but with a bit more tech, practicality and luxury. What can I say, two kids, a dog and rural living, the sex kitten and Captain Sensible will have to duke it out on this one.
An icon of the 60s, the Mini was a cool, compact city runaround, redesigned in the Noughties to stop it looking like a relic and is now gunning for families who love a crossover SUV. The difficulty in this market, to get the practical stuff: safety, space, 4-wheel drive, you tend to lose the fun factor. These cars are the equivalent of trading in your Christian Laboutins for a pair of slippers.
But there’s hope. The JCW Mini Countryman aims to tick the boxes of families, rural dwellers and SUV obsessed who need to tick all the sensible boxes, but secretly want a car that’s fast, fun and, the ultimate contradiction, economical. The JCW Mini Countryman is a Jeckyll and Hyde car but it’s far from being a horror show.
The Countryman is the biggest Mini in the range, and while dedicated followers of the original love to hate it, buyers can’t get enough. There are five models available the Cooper, Cooper S (both petrol), Cooper D (diesel) – all available in All4 drive, Plug-In Hybrid (boasting an incredible 88.3-97.4 mpg) and the super-sporty JCW, we’re testing, which has more power, courtesy of the 2L, 4 cylinder engine plus extra kit. They’re just numbers to me, too. But add them together and it equal SPORTY.
It’s worth noting there is no manual option in the JCW – the car comes with an 8-speed fully automatic gearbox with paddles on the steering wheel to change up and down when you need to. To be honest, I’m a bit of an automatic convert. The perfect solution for control freaks who can’t be arsed
This is the most fun you’ll have on four wheels. SUVs tend to lack oomph, speed and sportiness, but the JCW Countryman is the exception. Despite the Countryman’s XXL size, it’s nippy the 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol engine squeezes out 228 horsepower and gets your from 0-62 in 5.1 seconds (what happened to 0-60?). Although the drive is firm, whizzing around Berkshire’s country lanes felt like I was full throttle in a motor rally.
What I loved about it was the three drive modes: Green, Mid and Sporty. Flick the fighter pilot red start button and you can choose your driving mood. Sport unleashes your inner hooligan and an engine that growls, crackles and pops as the car sticks to road, whether you’re weaving through the lanes or bezzing down the motorway. Take it a down a notch and Mid offers a ride that purrs around town and country. It’s the place where Captain Sensible hovers. There’s enough firepower to get you out of a sticky spot, but offers a smooth drive. Finally eco-conscious Green mode, well, it’s not exciting, but when you’re in traffic or eeking out the MPG, you’ll be grateful for the fuel economy. Having the option to go green, is a bonus rarely offered in SUVs.
The JCW MINI Countryman also comes with the top 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating, which means it provides an outstanding level of protection on all seats in every situation. Peace of mind, right there.
Is it weird to say that the interior reveals the car’s bubbly personality? Pah! Just said it. But it really does and it starts with the styling and ends with the gadgetry. The dash nods to the iconic original with sexy curves all over the dashboard from the infotainment system to the speedometer.
It’s also surprisingly roomy – this generation is 20cm longer and 3cm wider than its predecessor. Mr M and my eldest are both well over 6ft and could sit comfortably in the front and back. The JCW comes with heated sports seats, something that didn’t register on my must-have list, but my boys loved them, and having a a toasty tush (perfect in winter) was a bonus.
What did I get a kick out of? The fact I could get my big food shop in the 450l boot. A big tick. That’s a substantial 239 litres bigger than you get in a normal Mini 3-door, and certainly makes this car family friendly – fitting pushchairs and large suitcases in, although perhaps not at the same time.
THE TECHY BITS
Technology you say (*stifles yawn*). Come on, focus.
The JCW Countryman 2 litre, four cylinder petrol engine, goes 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds– definitely poky off the start line and you’ll get a reported 32.1-34.4mpg – not bad for this supersized Mini.
Emissions: Petrol only engines in the JCW, so the emissions might make diehard eco warriors wince, but at 156-166 g/km. That said the Cooper Diesel, Plug-In Hybrid modela and this year’s fully electric Countryman will make eco conscious peeps happier.
Comes with: Adjustable electric seats (seriously, that’s a lot of fun to be had right there); 6.5in touch screen and Mini’s fancy infotainment system (based on the BMW system but with funkier graphics); heated seats, MINI intelligent emergency call out
Pay more for: The JCW Country man comes with the Navigation and Comfort Packs as standard. I’d always pay more for leather seats (£500) as they’re easier to clean. Navigation Plus gives you wireless phone charging and access to the concierge services but comes with a hefty £1,300 price tag. If you’re a bit Bear Grylls, the Activity Pack (£800) gives you a larger fuel tank, wireless charging and a picnic table. Who needs the Macdonald’s drive thru when you can pop your Fortnam & Mason hamper in the boot.
It’s kitted out with a 6.5-inch touchscreen and the gadgety is based on BMW’s iDrive, so you get Apple CarPlay – which mirrors most the apps from your iPhone hooking you up to your Spotify playlists, Siri will read your text messages and dictate replies and more. A digital PA, no less.
Dry your eyes, Android users, there’s plenty more, like the Mini SOS button which connects to emergency services if you’re in an accident telling them your location, number of passengers, direction of travel and how bad it is. Brilliant!
There’s ConnectedDrive giving you weather forecasts, where parking spaces are available and your nearest petrol station. Plus sat nav, real time traffic info, reversing camera, wireless charging and, my favourite, LED logo puddle lights. All this comes as standard in the JCW Countryman as is fitted with the Navigation and Comfort packs.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Families who wanna have fun! This crossover bridges the gap between sensible and sporty. Anyone looking for a compact SUV that’s less gentrified and unleashes the hooligan within.
Not for: Mini purists! This styling of this XXL model doesn’t follow in the footsteps of its iconic Swinging 60s original, but if any model can win them over it’s the JCW Mini Countryman.
£££: The entry level price Mini Countryman is £23,390, maxing out at £36,660.
Fancy a test drive? Go on then, and see if you agree with my verdict! Pop in and see the guys at Dick Lovett MINI in Hungerford, they’ll arrange a 24hr test drive. Dick Lovett MINI, Bath Rd, Hungerford RG17 0EL. Tel: 01488 853630