2017 Mini JCW Countryman Review
Practical Motoring’s first drive 2017 Mini JCW Countryman review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: Mini’s compact SUV, the Countryman, now has a quick version, just like the rest of the range. Despite riding higher and carrying four in comfort, it’s plenty of fun in the twisty bits and, courtesy of its dynamic damping, perfectly tolerable around the city. While the price is a little stiff, the JCW’s hardware upgrades put the Countryman in a class of its own. Until Audi comes up with something similar, at least.
2017 Mini JCW Countryman
Pricing: $57,900+ORC Warranty: three years/unlimited Engine: 2.0L petrol four Power: 170kW at 6000rpm 350Nm at 1250-4800rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic/6-speed manual Drive: four-wheel drive Dimensions: 4299mm (L); 1822mm (W); 1557mm (H); Ground clearance: 165mm; Kerb weight: 1540kg Fuel tank: 51 litres Seats: 5 Fuel economy: 7.4L/100km (auto) 7.8L/100km (manual) Spare: None (run flat tyres)
THE JCW COUNTRYMAN really is just a quick version of Mini’s biggest ever Countryman. This is the second-generation Countryman and replaced the old car in March. Naturally Mini had a JCW version of that, too, and there’s been a mild price drop, which is nice because the entry level car is a few grand more than the car it replaced.
The second-gen Countryman is new from the ground up, not even the engine is the same, now sporting a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol already found in the JCW hatch. Also updated are the iDrive-based media system, interior, interior space and better fundamentals.
What’s the interior of the JCW Countryman like?
Good if you like circles. The slightly demented-looking dash layout (it just looks that way, it works perfectly fine) carries over and in the JCW gets the big touchscreen to help fill out that whacky central dish with the garish LED lighting strip around its circumference. The annoying, reflection-prone speedo can be ignored because there’s an excellent head-up display telling you everything you need to know and the seats are terrific. The fat Mini wheel is a delight to hold, too.
Accommodation is comfortable for four and a right squeeze for five, so leave that third wheel at home with grandma or don’t have it at all. Everyone can be kept entertained with a thumping Harmon Kardon stereo with 12 speakers and on the JCW Apple CarPlay is standard (from September deliveries). The 8.8 screen (larger than lower-spec cars) is excellent and the sat-nav a particularly effective one, BMW’s “Professional” version with all sorts of bells and whistles to keep you out of trouble, or at least traffic jams.
The cabin is trimmed in leather (and some non-leather leather) with anthracite head lining and plenty of mostly good quality dark plastics. As usual, the toggle switches are along for the ride but feel a bit flimsy, as do the plastic separators. Pity, because they look good. The Countryman’s cabin seems a step up from the hatch/cabriolet pair.
For a car this size, there’s plenty of room. Rear seat passengers have good head and leg room as well as air vents. The back-row slides backwards and forwards, but you’ll never have less than 450 litres of boot volume (waaay up on the old car) and with the 60/40 split folding backs down, you’ve got a pretty impressive 1350 litres. Underneath the boot floor there’s even more storage.
What’s the JCW Countryman like on the road?
A bloody hoot, that’s what. Despite riding quite a bit higher than a JCW hatch, it still manages to handle in a very entertaining way. There’s tons of grip available and strength of the 2.0-litre overcomes the extra weight of the Countryman. Minis are definitely an acquired taste when it comes to the ride, with a distinct way of handling vertical movement, and you need to be aware of that. It’s not a bounce as such, but it still feels like a Mini hatch, despite its increased length and waistline.
We drove out to the launch venue in the Countryman and it was blowing a bit of a gale. Crosswinds were noted but that’s about it, which isn’t bad given the high-sided flatness of the body. In Comfort mode, the highway ride is good, but switch to Sport and the dynamic dampers stiffen things up and that bounce…er, vertical movement…can get a bit tiresome (although not as tiresome as the hatch or Convertible in Sport mode).
On the streaming wet roads we later tested on, the Countryman was a gentle underteerer without ever frightening us. On the short stretches of dry we did manage, the Countryman is terrific fun. While never achieving the heights of the hatch, the big Brembo brakes and reasonably sticky tyres deliver plenty of fun and the 2.0-litre turbo plenty of punch.
The JCW’s engine comes in for hardware and software changes to generate 170kW and 350Nm in both manual and auto form. The front left cooling vent in the bumper is actually a cooling vent, channeling fresh air into an additional radiator. It’s a pretty decent upgrade, but it could come with a more excitable throttle, although the eight-speed tranmission is bang-on in both normal and sport mode.
What safety features does the JCW Countryman get?
The Mini Countryman luxuriates in the finest of ANCAP’s ratings, all five stars. A Countryman JCW is equipped with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, forward collision warning and forward AEB.
Obviously, with all-wheel drive, slippery and loose stuff becomes less of a drama, which is also nice. Apparently MIA are things like lane departure warning and blind spot detection.