A dash of horsepower goes a long way, especially in a car that felt underpowered from the get-go. That's the case with the 2020 Mini John Cooper Works Countryman compact crossover. But power is only part of the equation, and there's only so much that can be solved by piling on the motive force. While the spiciest Countryman on offer does give me a lot to like, there are parts of the experience that leave me a little less impressed.
- Charlie Hustle acceleration
- Compact enough for the city
- Fun design
- Not the most sure-footed
- Surprisingly expensive
- Common options notably absent
One of Mini's most compelling traits is its design. That bubbly brand of quirky fun is on full display in the 2020 JCW Countryman. It's a little blobby on the outside, thanks to the Countryman's more upright nature, but it's still an eye-grabber that doesn't resemble much else on the road. The John Cooper Works models ramp up the looks even further through some clever elements, such as the additional badging, unique wheels and my tester's fun two-tone getup.
Character isn't in short supply inside, either. In fact, its lighthearted look is one of the most compelling reasons to consider BMW's (sorta) British sibling. The steering wheel is chunky, and the gauge pod behind it is funky, offering up just enough information with an additional trip-meter screen at the bottom. The dashboard's massive circular pod houses the latest version of the Mini Connected infotainment system -- which is basically just a reskinned BMW iDrive -- but my absolute favorite part of any Mini is the switchgear, which is modeled after aviation controls and is surprisingly fun to flick. The dashboard is kind of long, though, which means I really have to reach to adjust the mirror, a lone frustration in an otherwise pleasant cabin.
While hidden storage might be in short supply, thanks to a small glove compartment and an even tinier center armrest, that doesn't mean there aren't spots to store your stuff. The two cubbies in the center console will hold boxes of nitrile gloves or phones just fine, and the door pockets are plenty capacious, which is good because the cup holders have trouble accommodating large-format water bottles like Nalgenes. Second-row storage options are limited, as is the cargo capacity, to be honest -- 17 cubic feet is on the low side for a crossover, although it's enough to hold a month's worth of groceries for two people.
Not everything inside the Mini JCW Countryman's cabin works for the driver, though. In addition to small things like the mirror being halfway to another time zone, I need to talk about the seats for a second. While the lateral support is ace, the seat-bottom cushioning is not the good kind of firm. There's also the matter of options. A well-optioned JCW Countryman can push north of $50,000, yet the seats still require manual adjustment. That's not fun and quirky, that's dumb and cheap.
Thankfully, a quick press of the engine start button is all it takes to gloss over Mini's interior missteps. JCWs are programmed for noise, and the Countryman is no exception, its 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 barking to life with more basso profundo than a small car should rightfully possess. This four-pot now puts out 301 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, boosting each figure by 71 over the previous iteration. Those newfound gobs of power make themselves obvious at all times. Putt around town, and a squeeze of the ol' right pedal will produce ample low-down torque for passing anything short of a bullet train. At higher speeds, there's just… more speed. More than you'll ever need, and more than the local constabulary would prefer.
Leave it in Comfort mode, and the exhaust will settle down at higher speeds. Flip the mode switch to Sport, though, and the car cranks up the volume (at least partially synthetically) with barks and overrun burbles aplenty, which unfortunately also creates a ton of engine drone over 55 mph.
I first experienced Mini's eight-speed automatic transmission in the, and it's precisely as excellent there as it is in the JCW Countryman. No matter the mode, the 8AT will slap through shifts with the utmost precision. When I'm really caning it, the transmission feels as serious as any dual-clutch out there, but it settles into a nice, smooth groove at pedestrian paces. The front-biased all-wheel-drive system only offers up a smidgeon of torque steer, and only when you catch it with its pants down. Otherwise, the AWD works commendably, providing the right forces to the right tires in the name of maintaining traction.
The JCW Countryman's ride quality is vexing. Whereas the low-slung JCW Clubman was simply stiff all the time regardless of vehicle mode, its crossover cousin delivers tautness and slop in equal doses. I'm blaming this on a couple of factors. First, the Countryman carries its weight higher than the Clubman, and second, there's a bit more suspension travel on this compact crossover. The result is a ride that wavers between stiff and floaty, never really giving me the corner confidence that the Clubman did. If you really want to get the most from the John Cooper Works lineup, I'd highly suggest picking a more grounded model (literally).
When I'm not whipping the Countryman around, though, it returns some damn decent fuel economy. The EPA estimates the JCW Countryman will hit 23 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, but a light foot brings me closer to 25 in the city and 32 on the highway, which is a nice surprise. The window sticker might shake you until all the cash falls out of your pockets, but at least the fuel tank won't.
Mini's in-car tech is mostly carried over from its more expensive BMW siblings to good, but not perfect effect. Living inside that LED-lit ring on the dashboard is a pared-back version of BMW's iDrive infotainment system. A 6.5-inch screen is standard on the base model, but my top-tier trim carries an 8.8-inch screen. The display might be wide, but it's not very tall, and it takes a slender (and steady) finger to ensure you actually tap the icon or menu that you want. It makes for one tiny backup camera image, too. Mini's telematics setup also lacks a proper home screen that displays multiple things at once -- the best you get is a split-screen layout that further condenses the visual real estate. As with other BMW and BMW-adjacent cars,is on offer but is not yet. I don't think anyone is buying a Mini for its in-car tech, but still, a larger and more detailed system would be nice to see on a $50,000 car, even if it's based on a $28,000 one.
Safety features are also on the limited side. A good number come standard, including rear parking sensors, automatic emergency braking and automatic headlights. If you want to pile on as much driver-assistance tech as possible, it'll only cost you $850 to add adaptive cruise control, front parking sensors and a head-up display. That price sounds nice, but if you want anything above that -- say, blind-spot monitoring or lane-keep assist -- you'll have to buy a different car entirely. I can get BSM on a freakin' Miata nowadays, and that car doesn't even have blind spots; there's no reason it shouldn't be available on a compact crossover, especially one that's halfway to a hundred grand. Charging isn't in short supply, though, with my tester offering two USB ports (one USB-A, one USB-C) in the front row and another pair of USB-C outlets for rear seat passengers.
The 2020 Mini John Cooper Works Countryman doesn't really have much competition. The CR-V or Tiguan variants kicking around. Instead, the Mini's biggest competitor is calling from inside the house -- the costs about $5,000 more but is a little bigger and more capacious. It also doesn't suffer from the same weird on-road demeanor as the JCW Countryman, and the infotainment tech feels more suited to the price tag.can do battle with the and (Types-R? Civics Type-R?) of the world, but there are no hopped-up
If you're all about quirky fun, the 2020 Mini JCW Countryman offers truly unique styling and an engaging powertrain. It's not cheap, although parts of it definitely feel that way, and it might not offer the most performance-oriented connection between the body and the road, but it's well suited to urban environments and will leave you grinning after every smash of the gas pedal.