Mini's Countryman JCW SUV Finally Feels Special

The performance of Mini's updated-for-2020 John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4 is almost substantial enough for us to forget how silly it is.

By Elana Scherr, Car and Driver

We're not sure why the 2020 Mini JCW Countryman ALL4 has such a sad clown face. It's a hip little crossover that offers family-friendly seating for five wrapped in distinctive Mini Cooper styling, and that's before the John Cooper Works (JCW) model adds some serious go-fast goodness. There's no reason for the Countryman to look so sulky. Hey, Mini, you're fun! How about a smile?

The Countryman's frown isn't as obvious on its lower trim levels, but the all-wheel-drive JCW model gets flashy red outlines around its grille, even if you don't choose a strawberry shortcake two-tone paint scheme like the one on our test car. Along with the scarlet trim, JCW cars have different badging and wheels from the standard Countryman. The contrasting details work with some color combinations better than others. Those who are nostalgic for the holiday season will love the forest green-and-red pairing.

A Funky Place

Things are subtler inside. Mini does an interesting job on its interiors, with quirky details and a generous use of different textures and materials that manage a nostalgic flair while staying on brand and not seeming too forced. Rows of toggle switches are spread along the bottom of the center stack, and the chunky steering wheel is echoed by the circular infotainment housing. JCW sport seats covered in striped dark gray cloth give the cabin the retro feel of a nylon racing jacket. It's silly but fashionable and, more important, comfortable.

While it all looks friendly, some controls are more intuitive than others, including the new electronic joystick shifter. All of the Mini's hard buttons and toggles are satisfying to the touch, but the touchscreen, even the optional 8.8-incher, is cramped by the thick, round bezel surrounding it and requires precise finger taps to avoid selecting the wrong menu. The biggest issue with the small screen is that the backup camera image ends up being no larger than the screen on today's smartphones. 

Turn It Up

This hot Countryman's big selling point is not its tech, however. It's a redesigned chassis, adaptive damping, and a massive bump in horsepower. Similar improvements have been added to Mini's latest John Cooper Works Clubman model. For the 2020 model year, the JCW Countryman gets its go from a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four that makes 301 horsepower and 331 lb-ft of torque. It's paired solely with an eight-speed automatic transmission, although you can at least control the action in its manual mode via paddles on the steering wheel. It's virtually the same setup found in its platform-mates from parent BMW, the X2 M35i SUV and the M235i variant of the new 2-series Gran Coupe sedan.

In our testing, the saucy Mini went from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 13.1 seconds at 105 mph—the quickest we've ever clocked a Mini and a couple of tenths quicker in both measurements than the slightly larger X2 M35i. On the street, that means you'll have no trouble getting the jump on fellow drivers in small SUVs, the Countryman's engine snorting a choppy grumble, the low growl of a dog too lazy to get off the couch for a proper mail-carrier barking. If you really step on it in the Sport mode, you might get some burbles and barks, but in the Comfort driving mode you won't rile your neighbors or wake up little passengers in the back seat.

While Sport mode is fun for playing a hooligan, Comfort is a better fit for this Mini day to day. The shifts are less frenetic, and the suspension is still firm, but the car no longer attempts to shuffle your organs. You'll need a smooth road or a stronger tailbone than ours to use Sport mode as a daily setting, but it's satisfying to know that it's there. Our 3745-pound test car rode on optional 19-inch wheels and Pirelli P7 run-flat tires, sized P225/45R-19, although 18s are standard and likely would help with the JCW's ride comfort. Both its 0.91 g of lateral grip around the skidpad and 161-foot stop from 70 mph are respectable and slightly better than those of the last M-badged X2 we tested.

Getting Comfortable

Mini's John Cooper Works offerings in traditional two-door and even wagon-ish Clubman are more fun to drive as hot hatches, but if you need the extra room and the extra height of an SUV, the Countryman version will make your back-seat passengers, little or otherwise, much happier. There's enough legroom for grown-ups, which means enough car-seat space to get kiddos in and out without ramming anyone into the front headrests. There's no standard armrest or center console in the back, and the charging ports in our test car were both USB-Cs, which are not yet the phone-tether norm, but we're sure there's a dongle for that. And you can keep that dongle in the Countryman's map pockets or the roomy door compartments.

Dimensionally, the Countryman is a bit short on overall cargo space with just 17 cubic feet behind its rear seats, or five cubic feet less than what you get in the X2 M35i. Even so, the rear hatch in the Mini is easy to open and load, and it's more than ample for swallowing a stroller, groceries, or flats from the plant nursery. With the 40/20/40-split folding back seats down, cargo volume increases to a more capacious 48 cubic feet. Raising those seats from their stowed position, however, requires tugging on a strap with both hands, an annoyance that helped us realize that the Countryman is still adjusting to domestic life. Who has two free hands these days, Mini?

The latest John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4 starts at a significant $42,250 and our decked-out test car just snuck past $50K. That's not a small price for a little crossover, although it does undercut its more practical and less flamboyant BMW sibling by about $5000. But when it comes to both sheer personality and performance in a versatile compact SUV, the hottest Countryman has few peers. Now will you smile, Mini?


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Autos Magazine: Mini's Countryman JCW SUV Finally Feels Special
Mini's Countryman JCW SUV Finally Feels Special
The performance of Mini's updated-for-2020 John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4 is almost substantial enough for us to forget how silly it is.
Autos Magazine
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