A Mini sadly lacking in charm

 
Ryan Borroff
The Mini Countryman is quick and spacious but not enough fun to drive. It’s not much of a looker either.

THE Countryman is Mini’s SUV crossover, a car unrecognisably distinct from the original Mini. Aimed at families who need a more spacious car and older drivers who like a raised seating position, it’s selling well in the UK.

Mini has now introduced the quickest version of its most practical car, the John Cooper Works Countryman. Its John Cooper Works line is the best you can buy across the Mini range and this Countryman is the first production Mini to be kitted out with the ALL4 all-wheel drive system. Listen up, vomit-stained dads; you can now have the hot hatch you’re craving with stick to the road grip and get it past the missus as well.

Powered by a four-cylinder 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine good for 218bhp, this JCW model rides 10mm lower than the conventional Countryman and has an upgraded chassis and bigger brakes. Meanwhile, the ALL4 all-wheel drive system is able to switch the power automatically between the front and rear wheels depending on road conditions. This maximises grip, meaning it promises to be a quick and sticky family hatch.

I was expecting great things. But though the hatchback model may be the fastest and most dynamic Mini yet, this version doesn’t come close to providing such thrills. Powering around the hills of the Serra De Sintra Mountains to the west of Lisbon, I found it lacking. It is very good for a Countryman, it’s just not as good as I would expect from a Mini wearing the JCW badge.

The Countryman’s existing chunky styling is not to everyone’s taste. Its bloated body and retro styling is a little too conservative. The JCW version adds loud and garish to the list of aesthetic failings. The special aerodynamic body kit is a little overdone, though the 18-inch twin-spoke burnished wheels look terrific. Inside, there are carbon-black seats with red stitching and black dials for the speedo and rev counter. There’s a special JCW steering wheel, gear lever gaiter, and entry sill panels, though some people may find the red and black a bit lurid.

Although the car has fantastic grip and handles well enough, the additional weight of the four-wheel drive system means it doesn’t feel fast enough. The steering and ride is a little disappointing too and it doesn’t come close to providing the go-kart feel the Mini brand is known for.

That said, this is a car with 1,170 litres of luggage space that can hit 62mph in 7.0 seconds: an impressive and unusual combination in this segment. It has a range of qualities that aren’t often found together in the same car. If you fit in its niche group of target customers, or even if you just love the idea of owning a Mini, maybe it could work for you.

However, the fact remains that on the road the JCW Countryman is simply not as exciting as it should be.

THE FACTS: MINI JOHN COOPER WORKS COUNTRYMAN
PRICE: £28,595
0-62MPH: 7.0 secs
TOP SPEED: 140mph
CO2 G/KM: 172g/km
MPG COMBINED: 39.5mpg

THE VERDICT:
DESIGN **
PERFORMANCE **
PRACTICALITY ***
VALUE FOR MONEY ***