This week we are reviewing the 2020 MINI Countryman JCW. Our vehicle was assembled at Born factory in the Netherlands and has an MSRP of $53530.00 CAD.
Fun Factor: 10
Can it Family: 7
Karaoke Friendly: 7
City Cruising: 8
We were looking forward to doing a full test-drive of the Countryman JCW ever since we had the honor of driving a couple of laps at the Shannonville Motorsport Park with none other than Charlie Cooper, heir to the MINI and John Cooper Works legacy. We were quite lucky for him to show us what this brute was made off. At the time, we already knew the additional 73hp and 73 lb-ft. of torque were going to be a total game-changer. The total performance of the Countryman was going to be pushed above the 300-horsepower mark 301hp to be exact with a torque figure of 331 lb-ft. This would bring the official acceleration numbers from 0 to 100km/h to 5.1 seconds, in our real-life test in the snow we got the Countryman JCW to 100km/h in just 5.95 seconds, something quite impressive.
The additional power does come with a negative point which the MINI community may find displeasing; there's currently no manual transmission available with the new JCW. With the engine update, MINI also updated its automatic transmission; the new 8-speed Steptronic sports transmission does a fantastic job of mimicking some of the feelings you would get in a manual transmission. One aspect we thought required tweaking is that from a standstill, it does feel slightly hesitant before the vehicle gets going compared to the previous 6-speed automatic, however, once you've started rolling, the Countryman shifts gears lightning fast and always stays in the right gear. We never felt like we even needed to up-shift or downshift to gain the most of our experience.
One thing that bothered us on the previous generation of JCW was the synthetic engine sound pumped in Sport mode, while it may enhance driving it turned out to be unpleasant for daily use. We were happy to see that in the new JCW, the sound is less pumped in, and more of the real stuff can be enjoyed. Since the MINI Countryman is based on a FWD powertrain, the front wheels get a lot of the torque before it transitions to the rear wheel, which can handle up to 50% of the power being sent to them, as a result when you floor the new Countryman you may experience a moment of torque steer before everything settles down. Overall, the updated JCW isn't just a Countryman with more power; it has improved maneuverability. Cornering is even more precise, which enhances that go-kart feeling MINI is known for. This is thanks to the added structural rigidity that was placed around the engine mounts and chassis.
Now the big question that I always get, how can a family fit in a MINI? That's because the Countryman isn't that mini inside, you can seat 5, and yes, that middle seat isn't meant for adults. As a family of 5 we had no issues fitting every family member. The inside of the Countryman is quite familiar to us, as we've tested each variant currently available on the market and we own the plugin hybrid version of it. What we really enjoyed were the optional Dinamica/leather combination Carbon Black seats, we enjoyed them for 2 reasons the first being that they are manually adjustable to the point that it was even too low for us, something that rarely happens in cars, and even at the lowest setting it's often too high for a tall person. That's not the case in the Countryman. Second, we really enjoyed was how much those seats kept us in place and how comfortable they were. Yes, at a price tag of $2245 CAD they better be that good. The front seats are also heated and are quite warm even on a cold winter day. Our kids also found these seats comfortable and relaxing to sit in. As for cargo, a medium-sized stroller will fit in the trunk while leaving plenty of space for shopping bags. The rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 configuration and can slide back or forward for more comfort or cargo room when needed.
With an increase of power, an increase in fuel consumption would be expected; this wasn't the case compared to our test last year with the MINI Countryman JCW. We were able to get an average fuel consumption of 10.4L/100km in a test cycle, where we drove over 500km with a mix of 60% in the city and 40% on the HWY. In the city, we were able to get a fuel economy of 12.7L/100km, and on the HWY, we had an average of 8.2L/100km. Outside temperature oscillated between +2c and -24c during our test and included periods with spirited driving. The official figures that MINI announces are as follow, a combined result of 9L/100km, in the city the announced figure is 10L/100km, and finally, on the HWY the announced fuel consumption is 7.8L/100km.
Has anything changed in terms of the HWY driveability for the MINI Countryman? A couple of things did; with the increased power, the engine runs much smoother at a lower RPM. As a result, you'll see a better fuel economy even compared to a Countryman S. Overtaking is now even more fun than before since the transmission shifts faster into the right gear without any hesitation. Handling on the HWY sometimes feels artificially heavy and makes a smooth transition between lanes more difficult. This doesn't take away on how stable the Countryman feels around tight corners and how planted it feels around bends, where accelerating is possible without losing control of the vehicle. Its large 61L fuel tank makes it also great for long-distance driving; we could easily see a range of 650-750km being done with one tank of fuel without too much trouble.
Not much has changed when it comes to the audio system; our model was equipped with the optional Harmon Kardon sound system that is of decent quality for everyday use at this price point. The system feels tuned more towards urban and EDM music. Other music styles will sound good, though it may not reproduce treble sounds as precisely. However, unless you're an audiophile, you might not even realize the difference and will be very happy with the sound system quality. Now moving to the infotainment, MINI uses a similar variation of BMW iDrive called MINI Connected, in our vehicle we had the larger 8.8-inch high-resolution touchscreen that also includes Apple CarPlay. Unfortunately, Android Auto is not yet integrated with the MINI connect system, it has been announced on BMW products and will most likely trickle to MINI after some time. It is simple to use, and even though it is a touch screen, we've been drawn to use the click wheel instead of the touchscreen outside of Apple CarPlay. The menus are simple to navigate; the only item we could see improvement if the system had fewer sub-menus. In addition, you can control additional features using the MINI Connected app; some enable you to see how much fuel is remaining, unlock the car directly from your phone and even locate your vehicle if you've been brave enough to give the keys to your teen.
Now how simple is it to install car seats? The rear door opening is fairly wide, you will not have any difficulty entering most car seats, and the higher stance of the car also means you don't have to kneel into the vehicle to install car seats. The ISOFIX ports are easily accessible and are hidden under flaps that open upwards, and which can be easily closed when not in use. The rear anchor port is best attached when the trunk is open, otherwise the latch will not pass due to the tight fit of the parcel shelf. We've installed a variety of car seats, and the front passenger doesn't end up in the dash, MINI has well designed the rear cabin of the Countryman to make it usable for a family. Thanks to the flat bench, a child may still sit in the back with 2 car seats installed.
As cliché as it may sound, even though the Countryman is not so mini anymore, we found the city drive experience enjoyable and never found it difficult to find a parking spot big enough for it. The only annoyance we could really find while parking was the very sensitive proximity sensors combined with the sounds used when getting closer to an object, especially for us in the north. This could mean a small block of ice. While we were testing, we went through a period of heavy, sticky snow, and the snow covering the sensor made it ring. Luckily, the system can be turned off, or its sound can be reduced within the infotainment. We would like to see an easy toggle switch similar to what we can find aboard its cousin, the BMW X1.
Why would we buy the 2020 MINI Countryman JCW or what we liked about it: All of its 301hp and the fact that the chassis feels stiffer, the ease of car seat installation, the comfortable seats, and as one of our readers put it, MINI has improved a great vehicle and made it even better.
Why we wouldn't buy the 2020 MINI Countryman JCW or what we didn't like about it: Steering feels artificially heavy, the torque steer under heavy acceleration.
MINI has lent us this vehicle for one week as a press vehicle, we have no affiliation with MINI Canada, and the above is a recollection of our personal opinion of the vehicle referred above.