You think you know Mini, but you don’t know Mini. Yeah, we know, cute fun little cars. Quick, with – everyone says it – “go cart” handling. But how about a high performance, sports car-stomping, lightning-quick Mini? And how about making that a Countryman?
Behold the JCW Countryman, an unlikely superhero you can’t help but cheer for. For those not in the know, JCW is John Cooper Works. Cooper was a famous racer and performance builder of the original Mini in the 60’s, and we love that Mini remembers those who were so influential to the brand.
A Super New Look
The Countryman was all-new in 2017, and it took a nice step up from a bit of a frumpy vehicle to a more modern handsome small SUV. It was notably larger, 8.5 inches longer, with a 2.9-inch longer wheelbase. While the lines were similar, underneath was an entirely new platform, shared with BMW’s X1. Sharing that DNA will pay off nicely, as we’ll point out soon.
For 2020, the JCW Countryman really stands out. First of all, there are JCW logos. Everywhere. Really. Check the photos. There are also red painted brake calipers, a red crossbar on the grille, and on our tester, cheerful red mirrors and roof. Thanks to our tester being an Iconic trim, we also got the tough-looking Circuit 19-inch rims.
Combine it all, and we have to say, our tester looked awesome. The stance, the wheels, the color, you know it’s something special without being shouty. Or being called “cute”. That’s a win-win here.
It’s a Big Country, Man
Inside is the most spacious of all Minis – which means it’s pretty darn comfy. Opting for the JCW puts you on the path to premium, starting with the John Cooper Works front sports seats which are extra adjustable, supportive and comfortable even for taller drivers.
Like most Mini’s, you have a closely grouped set of instruments nestled on the steering column behind the handsome leather JCW steering wheel. Our tester had the heads-up display that glides up and is projected on a small plastic screen atop the dash. A few other vehicles do this, and it looks as gimmicky here as it does elsewhere.
Over in the center is the large circular display that used to house the dinner-plate sized speedo in previous models but is now home to the info-tainment system, ours featuring a an 8.8-inch screen, Harmon Kardon sound system, and Apple CarPlay compatibility, so we were happy campers.
Underneath that is an easy to decipher climate control system, and the signature Mini row of toggle switches including a big red flipper for the engine start. They’re a lot of fun to use and are definitely something you don’t find on other brands.
If you look at the pics, it does look like a lot of fiddly switches, but the main control for infotainment on the center console is intuitive to use, so you find your way around quickly.
Being the largest of the Minis means an adult-friendly rear seat that also folds down easily and creates a good size cargo hold. And unlike the Clubman, no awkward split swing-out doors, just a traditional swing up rear tailgate.
Power is its Super Power
The big news for the JCW Countryman is an all-new engine, and it’s a sweetheart. A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, it kicks out a jaw-dropping 301 horsepower and 331 lb.-ft of torque at 1,750 rpm. This is same engine that powered our recent BMW X2 M35i, and just like that vehicle, it makes the Mini a rocket ship.
With a standard 8-speed automatic, and standard All4 all-wheel drive making sure the power gets to the pavement, the acceleration is fierce – 0-60 mph is well below 5 seconds, and it continues to pull into ticket territory with a rorty rally-style exhaust note while you’re getting flattened into that supportive sport seat. This is incredibly fast real-world performance, and there are very few modern hot cars that can keep up.
It would be easy to be seduced by just the power, but the JCW is a balanced and polished performer. The handling is excellent, the bit 19-inch wheels and tires give plenty of grip, and the steering is well weighted and communicates faithfully to the driver.
While this is big for a Mini, in comparison to most vehicles the Countryman is small and that means you can cut and thrust through rush hour traffic with ease, and also perfectly place the vehicle on your favorite twisty canyon road. The brakes are also massively capable, and at first stomp will try to put you through the windshield. (ahem, wear your seatbelts) You learn respect and trust in those stoppers – they’ve got your back.
Another nice surprise – unlike our time with the BMW X2 that always felt frenetic, the JCW Countryman is civil and easy to live with for the everyday. The engine note is a subdued burble, the ride is quite supple, and you really have two cars in one; comfy small SUV – and with the tip of the Sport Mode – a high-performance missile that will leave most drivers in shock that a cheerful looking little Mini just kicked them to the curb.
There’s an old saying; you pays for your thrills. And that is true here. While your most basic Mini Countryman starts at just $28,900, getting into a JCW will require you forking over a minimum of $41,900. That’s a pretty nicely equipped little bahnstormer, with a standard Panorama Roof, 18” wheels, JCW sport seats and LED headlights and taillights.
Step up to the Signature model, and you’ll add a larger touchscreen, heated seats, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, Forward Collision Warning and more for $44,400.
Our tester was the top of the line Iconic, which adds connected navigation with Apple CarPlay, premium leather upholstery, and those swanky 19” alloy wheels. That brings the total up to $48,400. Our tester also had the Driver Assistance Package ($850), that includes Front Park Distance Control, Active Cruise Control, Parking Assistant, and Head-Up Display, for $850, Power tailgate ($500), Convenience Package ($650), and destination for a grand total of $51,250.
For comparison, you might also consider the Audi SQ5, but at $66,395 it’s a significantly larger investment. A Volvo XC40 R-Design T5 AWD comes in at $48,550, and it’s a bit larger, but also stylish. The JCW would crush it in the performance department, however.
The closest competitor would be the sibling BMW X2 M35i we recently tested that came in at just a bit more – $53,620. The BMW would have more cache, but the lighter Countryman probably would have the performance advantage. A close call.
We love the 2020 Mini JCW Countryman All4, a massive performance upgrade makes it one of the most fun vehicles we’ve driven in a long time.
The 2020 Mini JCW Countryman. It’s one giant step for a Mini.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.