2014 Mini Cooper Countryman John Cooper Works Quick Spin: Introduction
You might have noticed that Mini is rather optimistic when it comes to expanding its lineup. Add wheelbase to a Cooper = new model. Add a convertible top to a Cooper = new model. Remove rear seats from a Cooper = new model. Of the “new models” created by the lighthearted people of Mini, the Countryman is actually substantially different, larger and more robust than the well-known Cooper variants, and more comfortable for Things Three and Four, if not Five.
With the Countryman, Mini creates the very definition of a crossover vehicle. Blending the attributes of a hatchback, station wagon, and an SUV, the Countryman is any of these things, depending on how it is configured. And now, you might as well throw “sports wagon” into the mix, thanks to the addition of the Mini Countryman John Cooper Works ALL4 model to the lineup.
Mini characterizes the John Cooper Works ALL4 as the one stuck in “high-performance beast mode.” Remember, this company loves hyperbole. This new version of the Countryman isn’t a “high-performance beast,” unless, of course, you drive it right after stepping out of a standard Countryman. Compared to that wimpy 121-horsepower model, which accelerates to highway speeds in just a little less time than it takes for the driver’s hair to go completely gray (hyperbole!), the Countryman JCW’s power and performance are impressive.
I’ll be right up front about something. I am a huge Mini Cooper fan. If I could bring myself to sell my Mazdaspeed Miata, I’d likely swap it for a Clubman S. I hadn’t driven a Countryman yet, though. So at a recent media event, where this Absolute Black and Chili Red John Cooper Works model availed itself, I scooted off into the desert for a quick spin in the closest thing to an enthusiast-tuned family hauler that Mini offers.
2014 Mini Cooper Countryman John Cooper Works Quick Spin: Features and Options
Mini sells the 2014 Countryman in regular strength, extra strength, and extra-extra strength format. I recommend the extra-strength Countryman Cooper S model with front-wheel drive. It’s got plenty of turbocharged power, and saves $1,700 compared to the model with ALL4 all-wheel drive. That’s money that can be better spent on the Countryman’s long menu of options.
Plus, as a native Michigander who was given a rear-drive, V8-powered sled to drive at the age of 16, I know that nobody actually needs AWD in the snow, especially in a vehicle that has 60% of its weight sitting over the drive wheels. And if there’s a blizzard, the Countryman’s 5.9 inches of ground clearance would bog it down early, rendering the optional ALL4 system useless. Trust me. Buy snow tires instead.
The Countryman John Cooper Works is the extra-extra strength model, and it comes with ALL4 as standard equipment. It also has a massaged version of the Countryman Cooper S model’s turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine, which is good because the JCW variant weighs 210 pounds more than the Cooper S. Horsepower checks in at 208 peaking at 6,000 rpm, compared to the Cooper S model’s 181 ponies at 5,500 rpm. Torque is pumped up, too, from 177 lb.-ft. starting at 1,600 rpm to 192 lb.-ft. beginning at 1,900 rpm. The Countryman JCW can generate up to 207 lb.-ft when in Overboost mode, but that lasts for about as long as your typical junior high school romance.
The result? The Countryman JCW zooms to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, while the Cooper S does the deed in 7 seconds flat. Both models have a top speed of 128 mph. That’s not much performance gain for the extra price pain. The JCW ALL4 costs $9,250 more than a Cooper S. Ouch.
Don’t worry. There’s more to the Countryman JCW than ALL4 and a hotter engine. This model also gets standard 18-inch aluminum wheels, a lowered sport suspension providing just 4.2 inches of ground clearance, and performance-oriented upgrades to the steering, braking, and exhaust systems. Add unique interior and exterior styling and trim details, plus a set of front sport-bolstered seats, and you’ve accounted for the extra expense.
But here’s the thing. For 2014, you can add John Cooper Works Packages ($3,750) to a Cooper S model, giving the car the same look without the same hardware.
2014 Mini Cooper Countryman John Cooper Works Quick Spin: Design and Materials
You’ve gotta be extroverted to pull off a Mini Countryman John Cooper Works. This car is an attention-getter, what with its bold stripes, contrast-color roof, big wheels, and Aero Kit. Check out that tailgate, too. Nothing Mini about that badge or the COUNTRYMAN lettering, is there?
There are ways to limit the garishness. My preference is white or silver paint with a black roof and no stripes. But then, the great thing about buying a Mini is that the choices are seemingly limitless, allowing buyers to custom-tailor a car to their specific preferences and personalities.
Unmistakably, the Countryman is a Mini. A mere glance at the car confirms that. It has taken awhile for me to warm up to the Countryman’s bloated look, and I say that purely in comparison to a standard Cooper. In the grand scheme of things, the Countryman is still a small and tidy vehicle.
Step inside, and the Countryman is instantly familiar to fans of the Mini brand. While my test car’s cabin was relatively plain in appearance, there’s no reason for that if you prefer something dressier. Mini provides a long list of upholstery, trim, and color options to help make a Countryman exclusively yours.
One reason for so much choice is that Mini must walk a fine line in creating a vehicle that is both affordable and aspirational. As such, the Countryman’s interior is constructed using parts and pieces of various levels of quality, though the overall impression is a favorable one. Buyers who don’t like what they see at the base price can always upgrade to better materials.
2014 Mini Cooper Countryman John Cooper Works Quick Spin: Comfort and Controls
Driving this Countryman JCW was my first exposure to the largest member of the Mini family, and I’ve gotta say, I was impressed with the level of comfort and interior room. While my time with the Countryman was short, and I couldn’t toss my own kids into this car for the full family test, this model strikes me as a great package for the Mini lover with dependents.
Starting up front, the sport seats provide impressive bolstering and support, and the driver is perched high behind a plump-rimmed steering wheel. While the interior’s design and soft-touch materials feed your brain a traditional Mini vibe, the view of the outside world definitely represents an elevated point of view.
With the driver’s seat set for my comfort, I got into the back seat. Normally, in other Mini models, this would represent a torture test of sorts. That’s not the case in the Countryman. I’m frankly astounded by how much legroom this vehicle supplies. That said, the cabin is too narrow to seat three adults in the back, and the rear seat’s bottom cushion is mounted too low and too flat to deliver the level of thigh support required by the longer-limbed members of the species. Kids won’t mind, but without loading my own offspring into the Countryman, I can’t say whether or not they can see out.
One reason the rear seat cushion is low and flat is to help create a level load floor when cargo space is maximized. With the rear seat in use, the Countryman carries 16.5 cu.-ft. of cargo, which is about as much as a typical midsize sedan. The space is useable, too. Again, I didn’t load a stroller into the trunk, so your results may vary.
Fold the rear seats down, and the Countryman swallows 42.2 cu.-ft. of cargo. That’s not much in comparison to the typical compact crossover SUV, so if you need to carry lots of stuff on a regular basis, know that a Countryman is not an acceptable substitute for something like a Toyota RAV4. It is, however, far more utilitarian than a Toyota Camry, so there you go.
The Countryman has a bunch more personality than any mainstream Toyota, too. Some people might get frustrated by the interior’s classic Mini control layout, which emphasizes style over function, but once the Countryman owner becomes acclimated to how this vehicle works, the cabin proves fairly easy to use.
2014 Mini Cooper Countryman John Cooper Works Quick Spin: Driving Impressions
Though I spent a solid hour driving the Countryman JCW, all the miles were piled on while driving on smooth 2-lane highways, with the single exception of a small section of city streets.
In these environments, the John Cooper Works engine proved itself strong, but not blisteringly so. While there’s predictable turbo lag right off the line, the engine spools quickly and the car moves forward with firm authority. Torque steer goes undetected, likely due to the ALL4 all-wheel-drive system.
With my test vehicle’s optional automatic transmission, fuel economy ratings are 23 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 24.6 mpg, which reflects one of two things. Either the EPA estimates are overstated, or I spent too much time dipping deep into the car’s throttle. Based on the outstanding gas mileage I’ve gotten in other Mini models, my bet is that this unimpressive number is related more to how I drove the car than to inaccurate EPA numbers.
Blame my engagement of the Countryman JCW’s Drive Sport mode. I didn’t spend much time making manual gear changes, though, in part because Mini designs the manual shift gate to deliver a downshift when pushing up, and to execute an upshift when pushing down. This might work brilliantly in F1 racing, where severe g-forces on the driver’s body demand such an arrangement, but out in the real world, its just counterintuitive. Good thing the steering wheel offers paddle shifters.
Speaking of the steering, I’ve got no issues with the Countryman JCW’s electric steering, which feels natural and quick off-center, and steady and resolute on center. Effort levels are perfect no matter the speed. The brakes are terrific, equipped with a pedal that requires a degree of acclimation but proves easy to modulate. Hit them hard, and the Countryman JCW bites and brakes like it is digging claws into the pavement.
The reworked suspension delivers a stiff ride quality, but this is not a major trade-off given the taut handling and beautifully controlled body roll. Like most Mini models, the Countryman JCW eagerly dives into corners and curves, making its driver giggle. The 18-inch wheel-and-tire combination certainly helps, but the penalties to be paid are an unexpectedly wide turning circle and plenty of road noise.
2014 Mini Cooper Countryman John Cooper Works Quick Spin: Final Thoughts
As much fun as I had tossing the Mini Countryman John Cooper Works around on the floor of the Mojave Desert, I’m not convinced that I would require the full JCW treatment. Using Mini’s new-and-improved (?) vehicle configuration tool, I built the perfect Countryman Cooper S for $34,353, and that included cool checkered-flag mirror caps. Compare that to the opening price of the Countryman JCW at $34,950, and you can understand why I’d be willing to live with front-wheel drive and slightly slower acceleration in favor of a custom-configured vehicle that gets better gas mileage.
Even without the JCW treatment, I’m pretty sure the Cooper S would have me giggling just as often.
The author attended an event held by the Motor Press Guild in order to facilitate this review
2014 MINI Countryman ALL4 John Cooper Works photos by Christian Wardlaw