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Mini Countryman 2021 review: JCW

Changes to the MY21 JCW Countryman include a new grille, bumpers, wheels and Union Jack tail-lights.
EXPERT RATING
7.8
There are performance premium SUVs, and then there is the Mini JCW Countryman. Sitting on the top of the retro crossover's range, it adopts much of the same powertrain upgrades as the related BMW X2 xDrive M35i, for a heady turn of speed underpinned by all-wheel drive control. With generous equipment levels and a surprisingly supple ride, the result is a charming, great-value proposition.

Mini has released the ultimate version of its bestselling model after the Hatch, the John Cooper Works (JCW) Countryman.

Hang on. Wasn’t that revealed last July, you ask?

The answer is yes, but because of, well, 2020, we’ve only now managed to grab hold one of the facelifted (LCI for Life Cycle Impulse) MY21 JCW Countryman models – and in flagship $71,013 Signature ALL4 guise at that. Flash. To refresh, the changes ushered in a revised grille, bumpers and instrumentation, Union Jack-shaped lenses for the tail-lights and higher levels of efficiency, safety and equipment.

Now, there’s been a JCW version of the BMW-owned British marque since the original R60 series surfaced in 2011; the MY21 Countryman LCI is the first big makeover since the second-gen F60 series surfaced in Australia during 2017… and with 250km/h capability, this grade represents the pinnacle.

So, what does one of the fastest performance premium small SUVs feel like? Read on…

Mini Countryman 2021: John Cooper Works Pure
Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.6L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$51,500

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

On the face of it… no.

Every Mini Countryman is a cracking drive, with the performance-orientated Cooper S bringing a healthy level of oomph and punch to the party, from a much-more palatable $52,900 before on-road costs.

If you want a JCW Countryman, then the entry-level Pure kicks off from a reasonable $62,000, rising to nearly $68,000 for the Classic and a tad over $71,000 for the Signature as tested. All provide a substantial output upgrade from BMW’s B48 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine – from 141kW of power and 280Nm of torque to 225kW and 450Nm respectively – as well as all-wheel instead of just front-wheel drive. That’s what ALL4 is all about.

The JCW Signature we tested costs a tad over $71,000. The JCW Signature we tested costs a tad over $71,000.

Like all F60 Countrymen, the JCW rides on a development of BMW’s UKL2 platform that underpins every latest-generation BMW smaller than the 3 Series (old 2 Series coupe/convertible excepted), so there’s a world of expertise and experience underpinning this Mini.

To put the JCW Countryman in perspective, the BMW-branded equivalent nowadays wear M35i badges, like the $68,900 X2 xDrive M35i, so we’re talking serious upgrades here.

Serious competition too, including from Audi’s recently released SQ2 quattro from $64,400 – neatly bisecting the JCW Countryman range. Though noticeably smaller overall, this is probably the Dutch-built British marque's most obvious and direct rival.

Other competitors offering broadly similar AWD performance outputs include two similar SUVs from Mercedes-Benzthe GLA35 4Matic and its bigger GLB35 4Matic sibling from $83,700 and $89,300 respectively – as well as the even-larger Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.0 Ti from $78,900, Volvo XC60 T6 from $78,990, Jaguar E-Pace 300 Sport from $82,200 and Audi RS Q3 from $89,900.

What do you get for all your hard-earned, then?

Among the JCW-specific features are a body kit, extra bracing, revised stability and traction control systems, variable-distribution torque for the all-wheel-drive system, modified MacPherson strut front/multi-link independent rear suspension (with adaptive dampers in Signature guise), a Performance Control function for the Green, Normal and Sport modes and uprated brakes – big four-piston front and single-piston rear items.

It rides on 19-inch alloys. It rides on 19-inch alloys.

At this price point, you’d expect the JCW Countryman Signature ALL4 to include the kitchen sink.

Happily, Mini obliges. You’ll find Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning and braking pre-conditioning, adaptive cruise control with full stop/go tech, adaptive dampers, speed-limit display, traffic-sign recognition tech, a rear camera, auto high beams, light-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a powered tailgate, digital instrumentation, wireless charging, wireless Apple CarPlay, digital radio, keyless entry/start, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, sliding/reclining rear seats, auto parking with front and rear sensors and anthracite headlining.

The sunroof’s blind doesn’t block out enough sun and heat on warm days. The sunroof’s blind doesn’t block out enough sun and heat on warm days.

Wearing the Signature label, there's also greater colour choices, "Leather Cross Punch Sports" seats, a head-up display, Harman Kardon HiFi Sound System with 12 speakers and 19-inch alloys on run-flat tyres. So, no spare wheel. Keep that in mind if you're going to blast your way through remote and/or rural areas.

The lesser variants – in Pure from $61,915 plus on-roads and Classic from $67,818 – obviously aren’t as salubrious, but they are still well-kitted out, all the same.

Features include wireless charging, wireless Apple CarPlay and digital radio. Features include wireless charging, wireless Apple CarPlay and digital radio.

Thus, with three grades instead of just a single JCW offering for 2021, there’s a bit more scope for buyers to tailor-make their ideal version.

Hasn’t this always been the Mini way?

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

The biggest Mini in the icon's 62-year history and counting brings almost 4.3 metres of length, 1.56m of height and over 1.8m of width, as well as a handy 165mm of ground clearance. We’re talking true small SUV proportions here.

With squarish headlights, a gaping grille and bulbous bonnet, this is unmistakably BMW-era Mini caricature, albeit one that blends in well enough, with the upright profile and floating roof design giving the crossover a unique personality. Those Union Jack tail-lights, though, won’t be to everybody’s taste.

The Countryman is the biggest Mini at almost 4.3 metres of length, 1.56m of height and over 1.8m of width. The Countryman is the biggest Mini at almost 4.3 metres of length, 1.56m of height and over 1.8m of width.

Finished in lovely retro-inspired Sage Green and boasting handsome 19-inch alloys dubbed ‘Turnstile Spoke’, the quickest Countryman’s appearance approaches sophisticated and contemporary, with the extra red detailing, larger air intakes and bespoke body kit featuring fatter exhaust pipes – now at 95mm diameter – serving as a contrasting statement.

 An oversized, overblown and over-styled one, in some observers’ eyes.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

Standing so tall and wide, it’s no shock to learn that the Countryman is for folks who need space, practicality and utility.

To that end, getting in and out is easy, there’s heaps of room up front, sufficient space for adults in the rear, a reasonably large cargo area, deep windows and fairly good vision all-round. The front seats envelope you in a secure and cosy way, ventilation is adequate, storage is thoughtfully provided and – once you learn the multimedia system – operating the vehicle is child’s play. All basics ticked.

The front seats envelope you in a secure and cosy way. The front seats envelope you in a secure and cosy way.

The playful (some might say twee) elements of previous BMW-era Minis isn’t as pronounced in the F60, and with the LCI ushering in a 5.5-inch digital cluster, it’s even less cartoonish. Especially with the piano black inserts and anthracite trim. Much more grown up.

But don't fret, purists. The big circular central screen and toggle switches live on, though there’s some slick leather upholstery, brushed metal detailing and a real sense of solidity to up the quality ante.

Some of the graphics in the BMW iDrive-based multimedia system may seem somewhat convoluted, but there is a vast amount of functionality, with plenty of vehicle operations, trip data, map views and audio options to configure and personalise.

The back seat is better than we anticipated for comfort, support and adjustability, since the back 40:20:40 bench splits, folds and slides for added versatility. Beyond that, the 450-litre (VDA) bi-level boot layout makes for a deceptively big cargo area, and it’s all beautifully presented.

The back seat is better than we anticipated for comfort, support and adjustability. The back seat is better than we anticipated for comfort, support and adjustability.

Downsides? Those upright windscreen pillars and bulky exterior mirrors do block vision in roundabouts; the sunroof’s blind doesn’t block out enough sun and heat on warm days, never mind hot ones; and while you can turn off the ambient colours at night, their garishness is a bit much and lingers on in the memory.

Still, all mostly good. And from this point onwards, away from the upright pillars, bug-eyed bonnet view and whimsical retro touches, the JCW Countryman ceases to be Mini and turns into pure, unadulterated BMW… with performance and handling to match.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   10/10

Coded B48A20T1, the JCW’s heart is based on the Cooper S’ B48 1998cc 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo engine – a modular unit that includes an aluminium block and head, a twin-scroll turbocharger, direct injection, variable valve lift (Valvetronic) and variable valve timing (Double VANOS).

It pumps out a terrific 225kW of power at a heady 6250rpm and 450Nm of torque from 1750rpm up to 4500rpm, and drives all four wheels via an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. Yep, you cannot get a JCW Countryman in manual.

Even though it tips the scales at a hefty 1605kg, it will hit 100km/h from standstill in just 5.1 seconds, on the way to a top speed of 250km/h. The power to weight ratio is a fighting-fit 140.2kW/tonne.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

BMW… sorry, Mini recommends you fuel your car up with 98 RON premium unleaded petrol.

We didn’t have the JCW Countryman long enough to conduct real-world fuel consumption figures, but the trip computer readout said 9.7 litres per 100km while the official average is 7.6L/100km – which equates to 174 grams/km of carbon dioxide emissions.

With a 51-litre tank in tow, a potential distance of over 670km is possible.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

Like all F60 Countryman models tested in 2017, the JCW version scores a top five-star ANCAP rating.

Safety gear includes AEB with pedestrian detection, Forward Collision Warning, lane-keep warning and assist, adaptive cruise control with stop/go and speed limiter, auto high beams and traffic-sign recognition, as well as automatic parking, front and rear parking sensors, six airbags (driver, front-passenger, front seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain), stability and traction controls, ABS, two rear-seat sited ISOFIX child-seat anchorage points and a trio of child-seat tether points behind the backrest.

The JCW version scores a top five-star ANCAP rating. The JCW version scores a top five-star ANCAP rating.

The Autonomous Emergency Braking range operates between 0km/h and 140km/h.

Note that the tyres are runflat items, which are designed to be driven on straight after a blow-out or sudden pressure loss to safety.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   4/10

Mini offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which trails the five years offered by Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Land Rover. Poor effort, BMW.

The JCW indicates when it needs servicing, meaning it is condition-based rather than time-based scheduling. In the UK, it is generally recommended every 12 months or 10,000km is a good rule of thumb.

Owners can also purchase a five-year/80,000km service plan to help save money. This is structured as either a ‘Basic Cover’ or ‘Plus Cover’.

 

What's it like to drive?   9/10

Astonishing.

The first thing you’ll notice when you take off in the JCW Countryman is just how weighty and hunkered-down it feels, like it is glued to the road.

That’s no bad thing in a car capable of 250km/h, and then you realise that this ultimate of Mini SUVs is just that – a high(er) riding crossover with real sports car performance and road-holding.

That all said, in Green (eco) or Normal modes, the JCW’s performance might seem a little… held back for a flagship grade with iconic badging. Sure, it’s quick – very fast, in fact – with strong acceleration and speed that swells up before you even know it – but there isn’t the pinned-back-in-your-seat thump you may expect.

In Green (eco) or Normal modes, the JCW’s performance might seem a little held back for a flagship grade. In Green (eco) or Normal modes, the JCW’s performance might seem a little held back for a flagship grade.

Then you realise there’s Sport mode, so you toggle down to that setting, and immediately, the JCW growls and snarls into a heightened state of agitation, egging the driver to prod the throttle.

And there it is. The lunge forward, followed by the catapult towards the horizon and the realisation that there’s a slightly unhinged side to this awkward-looking crossover’s repertoire. The theatre of sudden and unexpected speed, backed up by howling engine revs and the accompanying bellowing exhaust; they sharpen the mind, especially as you realise that the legal limit was breached quite a while back. Time to take stock and slow the hell down.

Yet some fab hills beckon. Over our tight and twisty test route, the JCW Countryman owns the road, carving through the ragged corners with deliciously poised control. While the steering is on the heavy side, the handling is as pointed and direct as you’d hope for a model promising thrills, but all the while you’re blasting along reassured that all four wheels are stuck fast to the tarmac. An electronic differential lock is standard.

The JCW Countryman owns the road, carving through the ragged corners with deliciously poised control. The JCW Countryman owns the road, carving through the ragged corners with deliciously poised control.

Then it stars raining. The roads become instantly slippery, and with a few turns left, the natural inclination is to slow down, but the sticky ALL4-equipped JCW keeps gripping, powering on through regardless, all safe and sound. There’s real sophistication in the way the chassis electronics subtly yet compellingly keep things simmering so sweetly and smoothly.

 We anticipate a punishing ride with firmed-up suspension on wheels wearing fat 225/45R19 rubber, but instead enjoy a compliant and surprisingly isolated experience, even back in the urban jungle. Later, barrelling along in heavy weather on the freeway, the Mini’s dauntless command of the environment is the equal of any BMW SUV – maybe even more so.

While the steering is on the heavy side, the handling is as pointed and direct as you’d hope for. While the steering is on the heavy side, the handling is as pointed and direct as you’d hope for.

Before this test, we wondered whether the JCW’s $13K-odd premium over the Cooper S is worth it. After, even with the sometimes-crass add-ons, the beefcake performance upgrade, imperious AWD chassis agility and broader suspension bandwidth make those three little initials a big deal.

And all at a reasonable price, comparatively speaking.

Verdict

If it wears a Mini badge, you have a right to expect cheeky brio and unbridled exuberance. In the Countryman, the Cooper S can supply all that and more.

But the JCW magnifies and multiplies such talents, for a price differentiation that is inverse to the sheer extra levels of performance, roadholding and suspension control benefits gained.

In other words, the Mini Countryman flagship rocks.

Pricing guides

$55,795
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$35,800
Highest Price
$75,790

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Cooper Classic 1.5L, PULP $36,200 – 46,860 2021 Mini Countryman 2021 Cooper Classic Pricing and Specs
Cooper S Sport 2.0L, PULP $49,700 – 62,810 2021 Mini Countryman 2021 Cooper S Sport Pricing and Specs
Cooper S Classic 2.0L, PULP $44,000 – 55,660 2021 Mini Countryman 2021 Cooper S Classic Pricing and Specs
Cooper Exclusive 1.5L, PULP $44,900 – 56,760 2021 Mini Countryman 2021 Cooper Exclusive Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.8
Price and features8
Design7
Practicality8
Engine & trans10
Fuel consumption7
Safety9
Ownership4
Driving9
Byron Mathioudakis
Contributing Journalist

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Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.