NEW MINI COUNTRYMAN

Bigger Countryman gains practicality and takes on more of a premium sheen in dynamic JCW form.

This is a huge year for the Mini brand with a complete range refresh set to unfold, beginning with the introduction of this, the biggest and most expensive model, the new Countryman. The Aceman crossover and Cooper hatch will quickly follow as Mini pushes further along the path to electrification. Each will seek to forge distinct identities within the storied brand.

We’ve started at the top of the ICE tree with the high-spec John Cooper Works Countryman powered by a 220kW 2.0-litre turbo. Those not intending to go electric will instead be able to choose a 1.5-litre triple with front- or four-wheel drive.

Earlier Countryman models were slightly hamstrung by not having adequate space to compete with core crossover SUVs on practicality but Mini has now addressed this in a stretched body that measures 4.43m long. A lot has changed in the looks department, especially when you consider the C-pillars and new roofline. Up front, there’s a bespoke grille and lots of aero elements. The rear lights have an upright design and feature digital motifs. And not a single chrome element exists on the JCW.

Inside, there’s a lot to catch the eye in a modern, materially-rich space with a few retro touches. That black and red textile dash is made from recycled polyester. The central OLED touchscreen is packed with features and measures 9.4in in diameter. It transmits so much info that it leaves the driver with only a small but sharp digital display propped up behind the wheel. We particularly enjoyed using the twist ignition and the toggles for gear selection and drive modes. The screen is busy with graphics so some of the functions require familiarity but Spike, Mini’s voice control assistant, can quickly save the day.

Drive modes are now labelled Experience modes and each has its own jingle (if you don’t disable the soundtrack). Go Kart equates to Sport and was our preferred choice for its engine punch and sharper suspension tune. It demonstrates the new Countryman’s penchant for firmness and directness but in a more sophisticated way than before. Steering is very direct and quick to respond to inputs and there’s sufficient feel to satisfy most keen drivers. We did wonder if the wheel rim had to be so thick and the gearshift paddles so small.

This Countryman always feels stable on the road at sensible speeds; there’s good weight to the controls and the suspension and All4 traction combine to produce great cornering composure, although it’s not without body roll. We expected more of an exhaust note when pushing things along, especially with quad pipes out the back, but the BMW-derived motor clearly majors on efficient delivery rather than outright character. With plenty of torque from the turbo four, the JCW feels brisk and a claimed 5.6 second sprint time underlines that.

Dial things back to Core or Green settings and the Countryman JCW is a pleasant tool to noodle about town. Once you’re used to the digital displays and high cowl, you enjoy excellent forward visibility. There can be a slight hesitation when moving gently away from a standstill but progress thereafter is smooth and mostly refined. This model usually gets away with riding on large 20-inch alloys, although the ride gets a bit brittle on the worst coarse chip and over bumps. Drive with a sympathetic right boot and you’ll get few complaints from passengers who now enjoy extra room front and rear, excellent sports seats and some intriguing detailing in what is without question a premium if unconventional cabin. A clever feature is the 130mm of travel in the sliding rear seat. Also, a false floor in the boot increases load capacity slightly, with up to 460L now available.

Practical then, and also plenty of fun, the Countryman JCW impresses in several areas where earlier models fell a bit flat. It’s a more desirable overall package and a very promising start to Mini’s new model roll-out.

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MINI COUNTRYMAN JCW

MOTOR 1984cc 4-cyl turbo

POWER 220kW (296bhp)

TORQUE 400Nm

TRANSMISSION 7-speed auto

DRIVETRAIN all-wheel drive

WHEELS 20-inch alloy

TYRES 245/40 R20

WEIGHT 1660kg

LENGTH 4.43m

0-100km/h 5.6 secs

RANGE CLAIM 8.3L/100km

PRICE from $79,990

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