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Mini went maxi when it introduced the Countryman in 2010. It was snug, not too pretty, a bit shivery over the bumps, and not quite the playful frolic that Mini’s other cars were. So when the new generation Mini Countryman that you see here arrived, I went in expecting nothing spectacular. Coming with this John Cooper Works Inspired kit, I had high hopes from the drive but you see, in India, we get only the body kit along with subtle changes and not the retuned engine that makes over 40 horses more. Get the ‘Inspired’ moniker now?
“The redesign does however refresh the Mini’s styling, with the new car appearing less bug-eyed than its predecessor”
There are some styling updates from the outgoing Countryman, most notably a larger grille. The new Mini Countryman is longer by 200mm and wider by 30mm. The headlights have become LED powered and the visual aggression goes up a notch in general. It looks more imposing and purposeful now, and yet the Countryman fails to cut the prettiest silhouette. The redesign does however refresh the Mini’s styling, with the new car appearing less bug-eyed than its predecessor. The change suits the JCW Inspired Mini Countryman in particular, its more aggressive look fitting well with its performance orientated character. The three letters pay tribute to the late great John Cooper, the Formula One and rally car designer and builder. Although Mini calls the Countryman a natural athlete, at just under 1600 kilos, it is the heaviest and most expensive Mini you can buy. With 189bhp and 280Nm on tap from its two litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, it ain’t the most powerful too.
“It’s tuned to give way to speed bumps and potholes, softening the impact shock to a minimum and allowing you to just about live with the JCW”
The JCW versions of every Mini have been characterised by sharp reflexes and sporty suspensions that hammer away at the softer elements of your spine. A suspension hardened to satisfy your corner carving cravings on the road, while not really prioritising in favour of comfort. And yet even though the ride is stiff, it’s not unbearable. The springs and shocks are mostly carried over from the regular Countryman but with a slight height reduction. It’s tuned to give way to speed bumps and potholes, softening the impact shock to a minimum and allowing you to just about live with the JCW which runs on 18-inch wheels and run flat tyres, an inch bigger than the regular model.
Since we don’t get the slightly beefed up engine, there are very few technical aspects that distinguish the JCW Inspired from the regular model, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even though it is front-wheel driven, you can barely feel the JCW losing traction. It goes about its business with zero drama, even when you’re pushing it hard around bends. The characteristic Mini wide-track layout is improved upon with a tightly wound standard sport suspension with dynamic damper control, variable steering, dynamic stability and traction control systems.
“It’s all a bit too relaxed and the numbers prove it too with 100kmph coming up at a leisurely 7.5 seconds”
But it doesn’t accelerate out of the corners the way you would expect a Mini to. Don’t get me wrong. It’s responsive enough and that low-end torque suits the character of this car very well, the eight-speed sport automatic transmission with paddle shifters keeping things moving along nicely.But not enthusiastically I’m afraid, especially in Comfort mode. The noticeably more aggressive Sport mode does liven things up, but while acceleration is brisk it is missing a bit of sharpness. It’s all a bit too relaxed and the numbers prove it too with 100kmph coming up at a leisurely 7.5 seconds. The exhaust note isn’t particularly sporty either. Although there is no doubt that this car is a lot of fun, it’s just that you expect a little more wildness and lunacy from something that comes with a JCW moniker. Oops. JCW Inspired. Why wouldn’t you bring the full-blown JCW, BMW India?
“The Countryman retains a familiar Mini aesthetic common to the brand”
On the inside, the upgrades deliver a very nice finish, including charming touches and detailing all over the car, with top quality materials used everywhere. One thing that isn’t significantly updated in the redesign is the instrument cluster. This is a delicate subject because Mini purists demand that it retains a certain look, but it’s time to consider integrating more digitalisation here to help make reading the speed easier. If you opt for the head-up display, it’s the flip-up kind that I find more difficult to read quickly than the sort that projects directly onto the windshield.
If you’re shopping for the Mini Countryman, you’re probably concerned about finding a stylish crossover with a good amount of storage space, which is one area where this car delivers well. Seating space in the back is just about okay, even for adults and the reclining seatbacks certainly help. Bottom line, it still looks like and feels like a Mini. The Countryman retains a familiar Mini aesthetic common to the brand. From the motorcycle-style instrument cluster, to the retro switches in the centre stack, to the ring around the nav screen that changes colour with the drive mode selector, this car is brimming with unique Mini flair.
Despite its increased size and overall SUV like profile and proportions, the JCW Mini Countryman S is still fun to drive, brimming with character and now more practical. It is also a lot more refined as well. It could have done with a bit more pep, although as a rival for more conventional ‘proper’ SUVs though. Maybe the JCW kit will do the trick, if and when it comes to India. However, the Countryman makes a far more compelling case for itself while standing out in a crowd, thanks to its unique styling.