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First Drive: Mini Countryman John Cooper Works car review


IN THE face of buoyant sales figures it would appear that Mini can do no wrong. The bold decision to launch the Countryman model has, despite the furrowed brows of traditionalists, proven to be another success in the short history of the BMW-owned brand.

With tin-top, convertible and lifestyle estate variants, there’s more choice than ever when embarking on a Mini adventure. With the Countryman designed to appeal to families and buyers wanting a Mini but seeking a car with greater versatility, the range is complete. Well, until the next model is launched.

You’d have thought that the situation would be bordering on saturation point by now but, the sales data proves otherwise. But where do you go from here when all the bases have been covered? You offer a faster and more sporty model, of course.

And that’s why we now have a, deep breath, Countryman John Cooper Works variant. Powered by the 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine that you’ll find in other JCW-badged models, this pumped-up Countryman ensures that not even family-types are denied some fun on the morning commute.

As you would expect from the masters of car personalisation, Mini has worked its magic on the Countryman - visually and mechanically - to elevate it above the regular models. At first sight it’s easy to tell it apart from even a tricked up Cooper D model, thanks to the more aggressive JCW bodykit and lowered suspension set-up. Granted, the various JCW badges and racy decals also help, as do the rather stylish alloy wheels and distinctive brake calipers.

Although there are no major changes inside the car there’s just enough JCW-themed badging and trim materials to remind occupants that they’re in the hot Countryman. For the rest of the cabin it’s business as usual. The Countryman’s interior boasts enough space for a growing family, with the emphasis on front seat occupants. Children will be fine in the back for long journeys but Mini has never promoted the Countryman as a conventional people carrier rival, preferring to focus on looks, heritage and lifestyle elements.

The car’s standard fit 18-inch alloy wheels are matched by a good level of kit in the cabin, including a quality audio unit complete with DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and air-con. Plenty of standard kit will no doubt please the bean counters but the reason you buy a JCW version of the Countryman over a diesel model is, obviously, because of the added fun factor.

John Cooper Works status means this Countryman gets the same 1.6-litre turbo motor as all the other hot Minis. Tweaked for the 2013 model year, the motor gains a few choice updates to boost its green credentials and responsiveness. The result, when installed in the Countryman, is 218 horsepower and a seven second zero to 62mph sprint time, plus a healthy 207lb ft slug of torque and an overboost function for brief but rapid acceleration moments.

In an unusual but no doubt welcome move for some buyers, Mini is offering a six-speed auto gearbox, complete with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, alongside the standard fit manual unit. The second surprise is the inclusion of all-wheel drive from the standard car. This Countryman-only feature does much to enhance stability in the wet and dry, and helps you put the power down cleanly when pressing on through a corner.

Granted, you can’t expect the Countryman to mirror the lighter, lower and smaller regular hatch and coupe JCW models when it comes to outright agility, but there’s no question that the lowered ride height and sports suspension do a good job of imparting a sharper and more responsive experience for keen drivers. Factor in the willing engine - complete with a popping and banging exhaust for good measure - and its considerable thrust, and it’s not difficult to make rapid progress over a familiar twisty A road.

Assuming the role of Mini’s grown-up GTI, the Countryman John Cooper Works promises brisk performance from its feisty turbo motor. The added security of all-wheel drive does much to both sharpen the overall driving experience and add a welcome layer of security when the going gets slippery. That the car looks the part adds weight to its sporting pretensions, allowing buyers seeking some Mini fun in a family-friendly package.

FACTS AT A GLANCE?Model: Mini Countryman John Cooper Works, from £28,595 on the road.?Engine: 1.6-litre turbo petrol unit developing 218bhp.?Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving all four wheels through adaptive all-wheel drive.?Performance: Maximum speed 140mph, 0-62mph 7.0 seconds.?Economy: 38.2mpg.?CO2 Rating: 172g/km.

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power3 (average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy3 (average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups3 (average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats5 value verdict:    stars

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