I have made no efforts to hide the fact that I’m a Mini enthusiast (also known as a “Miniac”). I owned one Mini, a 2005 R50, and I fell in love with it over the few years of ownership. It lacked the guts of the Cooper S, and it had its issues, but it was by far the most character-filled car I have ever owned. The Minis I have road-tested this year have been modernized and slightly bigger in overall size, but they still possessed the same character traits as my old car. When I first got into the 2013 Mini Countryman S John Cooper Works, I was nothing short of confused and befuddled.
Firstly, it has the longest name in existence. The Countryman as a whole looks and feels unmistakably Mini, but is obviously quite a bit larger. It’s also the first Mini sold with four usable doors, and the first where you can put two full-sized people in the back. It has the same posture and road feel as everything else Mini makes. I’m not one of those diehard Mini fans that says that the only “real Mini” is the classic icon from decades ago; I personally feel that the regular Cooper hatchback is adequately small and quirky.
The John Cooper Works Countryman is powered by the same 1.6L turbocharged 4-cylinder that powers the other models in the JCW lineup. It puts out a modest 208 horsepower and starts at just under $40,000. This engine is particularly peppy in the smaller iterations of the Mini, and feels mostly the same in this application. We were lucky enough to have this Countryman S at the same time as the Nissan Juke Nismo, and we lined them up to compare a few factors. Both are small crossover-type vehicles with all-wheel-drive and 1.6L turbo-4s. They’re both quirky and have “love-it-or-hate-it” followings, and they’re both goofy yet strangely cool to drive. They both get about 9L/100km in combined driving if you’re not stomping on it in Sport Mode all the time.
My tester was painted in a bright Chili Red and drew stares everywhere it went. I actually got a thumbs-up from a fellow Countryman S driver. Mini has done such a good job at trying to make the Countryman fit in with the rest of its crossover rivals that I feel as though it’s lost a bit of its charm. The 6-speed Steptronic transmission is great, and does the job just as well as it always has, but in a Mini, I would want to row my own gears. Call me a purist, but I had the same complaint with the Juke Nismo. They’re great cars that are meant to be sporty; there’s no point in dulling them down with automatics. Also, the paddle shifters on this Countryman were a bit counter-intuitive. Every other automaker uses the same formula; right paddle for upshifts, left paddle for downshifts. On this one, both sides the same thing; you pull towards you for upshifts and push away to downshift. I just left it in Drive or “Drive Sport” and let it do its thing, it’s quite good a unit when left on its own.
At an as-tested price of $50,000 however, John Cooper’s Countryman begins to become a bit hard to swallow. Pay the price, and you get a great navigation system (located in the centre of the speedometer), Bluetooth connectivity, a panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights, a thoroughly enjoyable Harman-Kardon sound system, and 19” alloys that look great. Fifty grand for a car with a Mini badge does seem tad steep, though.
The interior of the Countryman is a very nice thing; it’s infinitely more pleasant to be in than the Juke. The Championship Red Leather Lounge is worth every dime of the $1,900 BMW wants for it. Everything is exactly where I would expect it to be in a Mini, with the exception of the power window switches. I know other writers over the years have complained about how the retro-setup of the switches isn’t ergonomic, but I genuinely like it. I like how uniquely everything is laid out. Driving the JCW Countryman on a hot day, I instinctively went to the center console and simultaneously pushed the two outward-most switches and expected my two front windows to go down. Nope; I ended up turning off traction control and turning on the fog lights. Please Mini, don’t change up the simple things.
Even though I started off my test week on a confusing note, I eventually began to see the light with the John Cooper Works iteration of the Countryman S. Sure, the badges on the rear decklid are absolutely monstrous in size, and for a Mini, the car itself is monstrous in size. It’s a little overweight, but at least it doesn’t try to hide that fact. More than being a Mini enthusiast, I consider myself a car enthusiast. If I couldn’t fit my family or entourage of friends into my (hypothetical) Mini Cooper S, I would buy a second vehicle for necessities, and keep the toy around for fun. Apparently, there is a small niche market of Mini buyers who demand something bigger. As I said before, the Countryman is unmistakably Mini, and that alone makes me welcome it onto the market with open arms. Personally though, I’d prefer a regular Cooper S hatchback with an exhaust that makes fun noises. It’s much more my style, and I consider it properly cool.
2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works Gallery