I therefore hoped that no nasty surprise would be in store when I got behind the wheel of the new Mini Countryman recently, partly because it happened to be dressed in the fire-breathing John Cooper Works (JCW) attire. And while colleague Charl Bosch recently sampled the diesel Countryman, I found the JCW to be somewhat of a mystery.
You see, John Cooper Works is Mini’s performance division. They produce some of the fastest, most powerful and dynamic handling Mini models to date. Sounds good right? Well yes, if you plan on sticking to the highways and B-roads. Unfortunately, as I found out, the sport suspension and low profile tyres don’t seem to like gravel roads.
I was very excited to receive the keys to a British Racing Green Countryman JCW, adorned with red racing stripes. The JCW treatment, which includes bold bumpers at the front and rear, big side sills and sporty looking black alloy wheels, really do add to a menacing look.
The Countryman, in my opinion at least, is by no account ‘mini’. It is rather large, something which can be felt inside. The cabin is spacious and like the exterior, also gets the JCW treatment. I particularly like the sports bucket seats finished in red and black.
There is a large circular dial taking centre stage on the dashboard, where the driver can take control of all the infotainment functions. Thanks to some active lighting systems that run along the rim, one really gets a jukebox feels.
When I drove off in the Countryman, I couldn’t help but notice how potent its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is. This is mostly down to the fact that it produces 170kW/350Nm. The Countryman also features Mini’s ALL4 all-wheel drive system, which ensures adequate traction when you are pressing on.
While having the Countryman JCW in my care, I decided to head off to a friend’s farm via a tar road with a number of twists and bends. While it shone on the twisty bits, the smile on my face disappeared when I hit the rough stuff.
The JCW with its finely tuned sport suspension did not like the corrugations one bit, resulting in me having to slow almost to a crawl as the noise and shaking became unbearable. I also had to be extra cautious of rocks to protect those low profile tyres.
Nevertheless, the Countryman got me to the farm without incident albeit a few minutes late. When it came time to leave later that day, the heavens had opened and quenched the dry earth with rain. This translated to a muddy gravel road, again forcing me to take extra caution. Once back on the tar though, the JCW felt more at home.
I had time to think about the car and the situation I put it through. Yes, the performance enhancements really shine on the road, it sounds sporty with all the relevant pops and bangs and it looks good regardless of being dirty or clean. Yet, and unlike its name, it is not really a fan of the countryside,
It is for this reason that if it was my choice, I’d rather consider the diesel with its bigger profile tyres. If it is an all-out performance machine you want with added practicality, the Countryman JCW will deliver the goods without fail.