2020 MINI Countryman JCW review (video)

It’s got to be one of the most iconic cars of all time. Now worlds apart from then and in use of technology and actual dimensions, the 2020 MINI Countryman JCW stretches the nameplate further than ever.

There are still some legacy cues that have lasted since the Sixties, including go-kart-like handling, beady headlights, and the large dial in the centre of the dash.

There is a suite of MINI Countryman variants and special editions to choose from. The one we’re interested in here is at the very top of the food chain, the JCW (John Cooper Works). It goes with the same 2.0-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder engine found in the platform-sharing BMW X2 M35i, pumping out a ripping 225kW and 450Nm. Sadly, only an eight-speed auto transmission is available – no manual.

Prices begin at $42,200 for the most affordable Countryman Cooper, and rise to $65,900 for the top spec JCW (excluding on-road costs).

2020 MINI Countryman JCW – THE SPECS

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder
Output: 225kW@6250rpm / 450Nm@9000rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
Drive type: All-wheel drive, electronic locking differential
Wheels: F & R: 19×8.0, 225/35
ANCAP: Not tested
Tare weight: 1561kg
Power-to-weight: 6.93:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 7.9L/100km
Economy during test: 8.3L/100km

Fuel capacity/Type: 51L/98 RON
Power efficiency: 28.48kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 2.57 seconds*
0-100km/h: 5.29 seconds*
60-110km/h: 3.84 seconds*
1/4 mile: 13.74 seconds at 165.8km/h*
Max acceleration: 1.009g
100-0km/h braking: 3.03 seconds at 38.52 metres*
Max deceleration: -1.053g
Decibel at idle (/Sport mode): 48/60*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 93*
Priced from: $65,900

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* Figures as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different

2020 MINI Countryman JCW – THE PACKAGE

$66k is quite a wad of cash to pay for a premium compact car. But you do receive a long list of equipment as standard, especially when it comes to everything involving the cosmetics. For example, it has 19-inch alloys, enlarged 95mm tailpipes, funky customisable interior lighting, fancy puddle lamps, partially leather seats, and some fresh multi-coloured paint themes to choose from.

You also get the really important stuff, like distance-controlled cruise control, forward-collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, gear shift paddles, front and rear parking sensors, auto high beam, heated front seats, head-up display, road sign recognition, and a mobile phone wireless charger, to name a few. But it misses out on lane-keeping aid, blind-spot indicators, rear-collision mitigation, and Android Auto phone integration. In fact, none of these are offered as an optional extra either.

On the design front, the Countryman is unambiguously MINI. And the JCW affair builds on that design to create more flair and sporty vibrance. We love the red surround of the front grille and the optional contrasted red paintwork for the roof and the mirror caps.

Inside, that racing sensation flows on with JCW sports seats, steering wheel, gear selector lever, and anthracite headliner. You also get a large round centre dial that changes colour as you change menus, and suave aviation-style prong switches for buttons.

However, the interior quality and usability isn’t always as good as it looks. There are a few hard surfaces about, and you can’t fit your belongings in common storage places. For example, a phone with a 6.5-inch screen or bigger won’t fit in the claws of the wireless phone changer. Some cup holders are small, and we noticed a few creaks, audible road noise, and wind noise from the twin sunroof.

But you have plenty of wriggle room if you’re a passenger thanks to the BMW UKL2 platform and low centre tunnel. And don’t let the name ‘MINI’ fool you; there is plenty of boot space for country men and women to fit their golf clubs, picnic baskets and all things country. It presents 450 litres and 1390 litres with the rear seats laid down.

2020 MINI Countryman JCW – THE DRIVE

Behind the wheel, the Dutch-built hot-SUV expresses its flair further. With 225kW at your perusal from the BMW developed ‘TwinPower’ turbo engine, the JCW is a little rocketship. In red mode (red, orange and green is the order of driving modes), it explodes from 0-100km/h in a claimed 5.1 seconds. We clocked it in 5.29 seconds with our Vbox. It’s the 450Nm of torque that really makes it feel like nothing could stand in its way.

Except in the default standard mode, where there is a notable lag when you want to get things moving. Maybe it’s that it needs to power all fours, throttle control settings, or it is just trying to be economical. As a result, we tended to change driving modes more regularly than in other cars.

The ripper engine is matched to an eight-speed Steptronic sports automatic transmission, with an electronic-locking differential for the front axle. Between gear shifts, you get a throaty exhaust gurgle – especially in sport mode. Shifts are fast and smooth, although it is inclined to higher gears when in normal mode.

The JCW is extremely nimble out in the country, yet just as exciting zipping around in the city. MINI has clearly worked on providing a more comfortable ride than recent past models, as this seems to offer decent suspension travel and even some body roll. It’s not a bad thing, but you can feel a slight softness when the weight is transferred from side to side.

In all other directions, the JCW is appropriately firm and tensioned to match that punchy engine. When taking on corners hastily, it is undeniably a fun car to drive. You can confidently aim it at any bend and it clasps your chosen line all the way through. There’s also loads of feedback from the very responsive and direct steering.

The JCW scores tighter electromechanical steering that further amplifies the agile character, while 360mm front discs with four-piston calipers and 330mm rear discs with single-piston calipers provide repeatable stopping performance.

The official fuel consumption average of 7.9L/100km is commendable when you consider the acceleration and engine output. And our harsh testing came close to that figure, too. We averaged 8.3L/100km during our week. Expectedly, it also requires a minimum of 98 RON petrol for the 51-litre petrol tank. This means you’re looking at a theoretical average range of about 646km, using the official average.

2020 MINI Countryman JCW – THE VIDEO

2020 MINI Countryman JCW – THE VERDICT

If you want an SUV that offers a fun driving character and genuinely impressive real-world performance, the MINI Countryman JCW will not disappoint. And the great thing about the JCW is that it is just like a proper hot hatch, only there is very little compromise on practicality and space, and you can hit some dirt roads or snow without fear of losing traction (or the front bumper bar). The JCW is something you can live with every day and enjoy that bursting performance.

We have some reservations with interior quality and niggly NVH issues for a car in this price bracket, but they might not be as important to some. Likely, most will be drawn to its unique and highly customisable design, and overall fun attitude towards life.

PROS:
– Punchy engine, huge torque
– Funky trim with lots of character; centre dial that changes colour, aviation-style prong switches
– Very responsive handling and steering
– Cracking soundtrack
– Instils traditional fun character

CONS:
– Some interior quality concerns; sunroof rattle on test
– Some phones won’t fit into wireless charger slot
– $66k is a steep price; no lane keeping aid or blind-spot sensors
– Wind noise and road roar

As always, if you’re thinking about buying a new car don’t forget to click here to speak with our car buying specialists.

Mark is a contributing road tester at PerformanceDrive. With the soul and background of an IT nerd, Mark especially appreciates technology advances, safety, and attention to detail. His first car was a rusty powder blue 1972 Volvo 144 sedan. When he's not road testing vehicles, his daily drive is still a Volvo only now it's able to steer and brake all by itself.