Review and road test of the MINI Countryman John Cooper Works (2012 - 2016)
By Jonathan Crouch
The first generation version of MINI's five-door MINI Countryman might not seem like the obvious choice for hot hatch John Cooper Works treatment but the result might just surprise you. No other MK1 model MINI Countryman offered more power, enough to skittle you to sixty two mph in just 7.0s, helped by prodigious all-wheel traction. It's quite a package.
5dr SUV (1.6 petrol JCW])
Indulge us here. You might think this is a monstrous heresy, but we'd like to draw a comparison. Remember the awesome Audi Quattro, the original 20v model back in the Eighties? If you do, then you'll recall something of an automotive legend. With four-wheel drive punch for traction in all weathers, a turbocharged engine capable of 217bhp, space inside for four to five people and the ability to leap to 60mph in less than seven seconds, it was quite a machine. Weird to think then, that all those qualities that once made the Audi such a supercar slayer were also back in 2012 also made available in, of all things, a MINI. This one - the John Cooper Works Countryman.
On first acquaintance, the very name seems contradictory. 'John Cooper Works', after all, is a brand that gives fashionable little MINIs a frantic feel. But there's nothing very little - and you'd think, nothing especially frantic - about the company's Countryman model, a beefy five-door crossover-style design focused on families. Not the kind of thing you'd naturally want to be flinging about the lanes.
Yet this is exactly what this car was designed to do. It was the very first John Cooper Works MINI to get four wheel drive and back in 2012, no other JCW model in the range was firmer or more powerful. Yet it still manages to offer standards of fuel economy, safety and space that would shock not only original Quattro customers but also most MINI buyers. This then, was a crossover with a point to prove. It was originally launched with a 1.6-litre engine tuned to 211bhp, a unit boosted to 218bhp in 2015. It sold until 2017 when a second generation Countryman JCW model was introduced powered by a 2.0-litre turbo engine.
What You Get
This is certainly no Countryman for old men. In fact, it's actually quite a stylish thing in this guise, which might surprise those who may have dismissed more mundane versions of this model as being rather frumpy. In JCW trim, the muscular nose gets a big, wide grille, huge air intakes and a beefy spoiler, into which are set piercing front foglights. A bodykit completes a ground-hugging appearance emphasised by a 10mm lower ride height and offset by a dynamic set of 18" or 19" alloys. In true MINI style, there's a contrast paint finish for the roof and exterior mirror caps which can be either white, black or a red exclusive to the John Cooper Works models. You'll also find the same colours used for optional body stripes that many original owners found it hard to resist.
It all rather disguises the fact that like any Countryman, this one is actually a relatively large car - and one that would appear positively enormous were you to park it next to a 1960s original Mini. The payoff comes inside, where a stretched floorplan means that, unlike the MK1 Clubman estate from this era, this really is a MINI able to offer two proper rear doors and a back seat that two fully-sized adults can get comfortable in.
Most original buyers went for two individual rear seats, but there was also the option of a rear bench, theoretically big enough for three, provided that the middle occupant is a fairly small child. Models equipped with the bench don't get the novel centre rail that's fitted to cars featuring two individual rear seats. Onto this rail, all manner of (mostly optional) items could be clipped. Most original owners wanted these to include things like cupholders and a sunglasses-holder but buyers who made free with the options list ended up clip on everything from iPhone chargers to dog bowls.
The individual rear seats can recline for greater comfort on longer journeys and slide backwards and forwards so that you can have a large boot or plenty of legroom. Sadly, there's not quite enough space for you to have both at the same time. Still, the VW Golf-rivalling 350-450-litres you do get is double that of an ordinary MINI, even if the seats-folded total of 1170-litres isn't quite as class-competitive. There's a bit of a step up in the boot floor with the seats down too.
Up-front, all the expected MINI design cues are present and correct. With the exception of the rather awkward-to-use aircraft-style handbrake, owners familiar with the brand's smaller models will feel right at home. There's the usual over-sized speedometer, with an high definition colour screen at its centre that displays the clever MINI Connected system, capable of replicating everything on your iPhone for easy reference as you drive. There aren't too many interior concessions to this car's status as one of the most expensive MINI models ever made, but the cockpit design is neatly set off by Piano Black interior detailing and an anthracite-coloured roof liner.
What To Look For
What to Look For
MINI Countryman build quality is pretty good but there are a few issues you'll need to look out for. There have been reports of heavy clutch wear on 'ALL4' 4WD models like this one. Look out for things like dashboard creaks over bumps, annoying buzzing sounds from the doors and peeling exterior chrome beltline trim. There have been reports of surface rust taking hold on some components, specifically the water pump and the wheel nuts. Plus corrosion has been reported on the optional two-tone alloy wheels. Finally, we came across a couple of owners who reported that the interior reading lights had a mind of their own, switching on when the car was locked.
(approx based on a 2014 MINI Countryman JCW excl. VAT) Brake pads are between £23-£30 for cheap brands and up to £44 if you want an expensive make. Brake discs start in the £25 bracket, but you can pay in the £50 to £110 bracket for pricier brands. Air filters sit in the £9 to £13 bracket. Oil filters cost between £5 and £6 depending on brand. A water pump is around £44-£65. A headlamp would cost in the £178 to £217 bracket. A radiator would set you back about £233, while a wing mirror glass would cost around £11.
On the Road
There's no getting away from the fact that this car is quick. Seriously rapid, smashing through the 62mph mark from a standing start in just 7.0 seconds. The package is based on the Countryman Cooper S ALL4 model, which means that a 1.6-litre petrol turbo beats beneath the bonnet, distributing its power via a four-wheel drive system that can split power equally between the axles in normal driving but if necessary, can send up to 100% to either end, depending on where traction is needed.
And there's certainly enough power on offer to ensure that the tractional hardwear will be fully used. Poke from the little engine was rated at 211bhp at launch, boosted to 218bhp in 2015, a figure that in this era was equalled only by the head-banging limited edition MINI GP. But where that car feels like a race track refugee, this one is far more refined in the way that it delivers its pulsating punch. The tyres don't smoke away from rest. Nor does the steering wheel tug away at your arms when powering out of slow corners. It's all very un-John Cooper Works-like.
Or at least some of it is. The ride is exactly what you'd probably expect the JCW badge to deliver, the lowered suspension rock hard and uncompromising to a point you'd have to like if you were to live with this car. Of course, the payoff comes with quite astonishing levels of body control and lateral grip that pins you into the sculptured sports seats through tighter bends, cornering aided by larger anti-roll bars that are there to keep the high-sided body in check. Plus there's plenty of electronic aid as well, with traction also helped by the fitment of Dynamic Stability Control with Dynamic Traction Control and Electronic Differential Lock Control. In other words, you'll not want for grip, wet or dry.
Power is deployed through a six-speed manual gearbox, top speed is a reassuring 140mph and peak torque is rated at a chunky 280Nm. There's also an overboost facility, kicking in when the engine is under particularly heavy demand, say when you're overtaking, to boost this to 300Nm. Less impressive is the speed-sensitive electric power steering - even if you weight it up by activating this 'Sport' setting. Still, at least that mode delivers a few other advantages - like tweaks to engine and throttle response and the introduction of a brilliant bass pop and crackle from the exhaust on the over-run. Lovely.
Back in the late Fifties, the story goes that the engineers behind the original British Mini proposed to Austin company Chairman Leonard Lord that a faster version should be introduced with a 950cc engine and a top speed of 90mph. He declared it excessive, limiting production versions to a far more sensible 75mph. What on earth then, might he have made of this Countryman JCW model?
More importantly, what are buyers on the used market to make of it? It's not really a hot hatch or a small sporting SUV, though you could think of it as either. Better perhaps just to think of it as a bit of fun you could sensibly justify, a practical yet compact sporting family five-door backed by BMW standards of engineering
True, the John Cooper Works Countryman is never going to be the obvious answer to any 'which car?' question. It's just too niche a thing for that. Even so, we have a sneaking suspicion that this MINI might suit quite a significant number of used market people very well, assuming that they could be persuaded to consider it in the first place. It's very fast, brilliant fun, is nicely built, looks good, feels unique, swallows a small family and won't cost a fortune to run. If those don't sound like the ingredients for a very promising car, then we're not sure what does.
MINI Countryman John Cooper Works (2012 - 2016) review by Jonathan Crouch