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2020 Mini JCW Countryman review: Country dancing

A Mini sport utility vehicle with sportscar performance, the John Cooper Works Countryman makes you wonder what this world is coming to.

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The Mini's implausible turn of speed is thanks to an all-wheel drive, an eight-speed gearbox and a new engine that arrived with a mid-life revamp for the Countryman, bringing 306 horsepower with it.

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The Mini's implausible turn of speed is thanks to an all-wheel drive, an eight-speed gearbox and a new engine that arrived with a mid-life revamp for the Countryman, bringing 306 horsepower with it.

Singapore

WHAT strange and troubling times we live in. First Brexit, then Covid-19, and now this, the Mini John Cooper Works Countryman.

It's unsettling enough that it's a sport utility vehicle (SUV) with a Mini badge, but the JCW Countryman is also fast enough to set the cat among some classic sportscar pigeons.

Let's look at some numbers. This Mini pounces on 100km/h in just 5.1 seconds, which equals the time set by the BMW M3 from 2000, the one car that best embodies the moment BMW hit peak BMW-ness if you ask me. Clearly, sanity has left its throne.

The Mini's implausible turn of speed is thanks to an all-wheel drive, an eight-speed gearbox and a new engine that arrived with a mid-life revamp for the Countryman, bringing 306 horsepower with it.

The John Cooper Works Minis are fast (the label is in honour of John Cooper, the engineer and racer who first realised that putting the engine behind the driver in a Formula One car was a superior design), but they've never been this fast.

As matter of fact, this JCW Countryman has a good 75 horsepower more than the last one.

Of course, rating a high performance car simply by how quickly it accelerates is like judging a sound system by how loud it can blast music.

There's more to driving pleasure than speed, and the Mini gets it mostly right. It offers traction and grip aplenty, and if you're gutsy it feels as if it might even turn in a decent lap time around Sepang.

But boy, are you in for a wild ride along the way. In Sport mode, which is when the engine is at its boisterous best, the suspension firms up so much that jouncing along some roads feels like driving down a staircase.

The JCW sits high, too, so when slung around a corner it sort of lurches its way through while the tyres, springs and dampers have a quick meeting about how to respond.

Such sloppiness would be unforgivable in a bona fide sports car, but here it only seems to add to the hilarity, like the punchline to an inside joke.

The Countryman does the serious stuff well, however. It's big enough to perform family duties, without being a pain to handle in tight city traffic. The mid-life revamp also brought useful updates to its infotainment system (although you'll need slim fingers to operate the relatively small touchscreen properly).

That said, this is never going to be a relaxing car to drive. With the Sport mode switched off it's much more civil on tarmac, but the Mini is still firmly sprung and its tyres rumble considerably.

For S$218,888 with Certificate of Entitlement, the JCW Countryman is actually quite a lot of car for the money, yet the subversiveness of the thing is worth half the price. We live in strange times, but who's to say they can't also be fun times?


Mini John Cooper Works Countryman

Engine 1,998cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 306hp at 5,000 to 6,200rpm
Torque 450Nm at 1,750 to 4,500rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h 5.1 seconds
Top Speed 250km/h
Fuel efficiency 7.9L/100km
Agent Eurokars Habitat
Price S$218,888 with COE
Available Now