Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: January 29, 2020
The John Cooper Works badge is a symbol for serious performance. It’s a hot-rod enhancement for MINIs and alludes to an increase in performance, track capability, and driver enjoyment. We’ve driven every JCW model to date and have never been disappointed, and it’s about to get even better with MINI’s 2020 upgrades.
Raising the bar with a redeveloped 2.0-litre turbo-four engine, the JCW Countryman receives a significant increase of 73 hp and 73 lb-ft of torque, up to 301 hp and 331 lb-ft, making it the most powerful MINI in the brand’s sixty year history, alongside the Clubman JCW and upcoming Cooper JCW GP that also utilize the same powertrain. That is all in part to a larger turbocharger, reinforced crankshaft, strengthened main bearing, revised pistons and connecting rods, a new vibration damper, and a better cooling system. The Countryman JCW employs an 8-speed automatic transmission in conjunction with an ALL4 all-wheel drive system. There is no manual gearbox available, which is a shame considering that the manual used to heavily differentiate the MINIs from other, more casual performance compacts.
Still, the newfound power allows the JCW to reach 0-100 km/h in 5.1 seconds, 2.1 s faster than the Countryman S, and an eye-opening 4.7 s faster than the base model. Yes, it will now out-accelerate like-minded rivals like the Honda Civic Type R, Nissan 370Z NISMO, and even the four-cylinder Jaguar F-Type. Furthermore, MINI has re-tuned the entire chassis, added engine mounts and fixtures for a stiffer foundation, a new cooling system to handle the extra heat, and a spanking new exhaust system. An optional adaptive damper system is available for $500 - seems a little silly that it’s not standard fare.
The new JCW Countryman does not come cheap, listing at $43,090, a significant $8,400 more than the Countryman S, but the host of tweaks and upgrades make it worth every penny if you are seeking a small family-hauling tool with a side of naughtiness. Even with the JCW’s stunning entrance fee, you really won’t find this much performance in a compact SUV anywhere else. The upcoming Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 is a hot contender, as is the BMW X2 M35i, but that’s about it. The Volvo XC40, Lexus UX, Cadillac XT4, and even the Jaguar E-Pace, all lack a performance variant here in Canada. Look outside the box however, and the Subaru WRX STI, Volkswagen Golf R, and Ford Mustang GT, could be worth cross-shopping, especially if you wish to row the gears yourself.
The JCW Countryman sits on the same platform as the BMW X1, X2, and also the 2 Series Gran Coupe that we tested a while back. Despite weighing 86 kg more than the S, the JCW retains a bewildering sense of athleticism through rotation and body control. The Countryman is the heaviest MINI to date and while the JCW augment makes the smaller Cooper hatchback a genuine pocket rocket, it also helps to shave off some ungainliness from the porkier Countryman. Though there is still a lot of top-heavy weight to manage, it goes like stink. A pinch of turbo lag makes it difficult to trim your line mid-corner via the throttle, and the hesitation off the line makes it tricky to become reactive when caught off guard, but taking control via the paddle shifters helps to remedy some of the delay.
The JCW offers a large enough safety net for drivers to easily push the limits (ie. drive at wide-open-throttle without much driver demand), and are aided by an exemplary traction control system and an intelligent gearbox that always seems to know what ratio to choose. The 8-speed is an AISIN-sourced unit and not the ZF gearbox that we have come to love, though it snaps off shifts with a bit more polish than the comparative BMW X2 M35i, and snaps off crispier downshifts when manually summoning gears. The JCW fares better when it comes to ride quality as well, and is more absorbent on broken pavement than the BMW, though is just as unbearably stiff in Sport mode with the optional adaptive dampers. Blame the weight for such a stiff setup. That being said, the Countryman S will be a better compromise for those who prioritize ride comfort above all else.
The outgoing JCW was a willing dance partner but MINI’s latest enhancement transforms it from being just a MINI-on-rails to a mini-street-rocket. The performance is mightily accessible and you don’t need to be a pro to utilize every horse. Furthermore, behind that beefy leather steering wheel lies a haven of road feel. The JCW harbours tight and progressive steering that tramlines every crack and groove, steering that some cars can only dream about. No dead spots, front end eagerness of a go-kart, and a responsive chassis that never relinquishes grip too early, gives this MINI an energetic personality, one that rings true with just about every product wearing a MINI badge. And despite falling into understeer when pushing the limits, it’s easily controllable and predictable through the life-line steering and on-rails grip. We feel that it’s better sorted and demonstrates better on-road manners than the BMW X2 M35i as well. The JCW sounds like a proper hot hatchback too. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video above to hear the raspy burbles of this turbo-four engine.
The Countryman has quickly become the brand’s best selling model, with over 160,000 units sold since its launch. Now with a spicier JCW variant to boot, the added power further masks its inherent weight penalties, adds one hell of an exhaust note, and it does all this without compromising its already impressive interior space or ride quality. The JCW Countryman may not be the lightest or the fastest MINI, but it sure is the most versatile.
Model: 2020 MINI JCW Countryman ALL4
Paint Type: Chili Red
Base Price: $43,090
Price as Tested: $53,530
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,314 / 1,822 / 1,557
Curb weight (kg): 1,719
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 301 hp @ 5,000 - 6,250 rpm
Torque: 331 lb-ft @ 1,750 - 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.2