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MINI adds some spice

Friday, June 26, 2020

THE MINI Countryman S, equipped with the John Cooper Works (JCW) package, is somewhat of a sweet spot in the MINI range.

Buyers are able to enjoy the natural performance of the Countryman S over the standard Countryman, while not going for the hard-core MINI Countryman JCW.

The JCW pack, when applied to the Countryman S, does more to change its appearance than its performance. That begins with JCW-branded wheels. These are a different design than the wheels that appear on the full-blown JCW model, and are specific to the Countryman S JCW. The lower section of the front bumper has been ever so slightly tweaked, but otherwise things are fairly normal regarding the MINI Countryman fare on the outside.

Where the JCW pack gets to shine is on the interior. Here the JCW branding is in full effect, with the badge liberally applied throughout. The already stellar cabin gets the sporty red accent treatment, gaining excellent sport seating. This is something MINI gets right in its highest-performing cars. They are supportive for those wanting to go fast and yet comfortable enough for daily driving. From there one can easily reach the chunky, leather-wrapped steering wheel with its red stitching and JCW badge. This theme continues with glossy red and black trim across the dashboard and the centre console. Even the shifter assembly gets in on things, mixing all these colours and materials.

The classic MINI elements are still there --- the toggle switches give off that rally car vibe, there's plenty of technology from auto headlights to auto parking, the ring around the large infotainment screen continues its colourful dance to highlight different functions, cabin space is as plentiful as the storage solutions, the overall interior is refined thus allowing relaxed motoring, and the upgrades scream speed while still retaining the fun and practical stuff a premium sport utility vehicle should have.

Fortunately, the Cooper S can back up that demand for speed. The base Countryman Cooper uses a lively, 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged motor with 136bhp. The Cooper JCW is equipped with a fire-breathing 2-litre tuned to 306bhp. S models sit in-between with 192bhp from that very same 2 litre. Put your foot down and the MINI goes, especially in SPORT mode. Handling isn't as sharp as the performance-oriented JCW since the suspension skews towards comfort, but the grip from the larger wheels can be felt at high speeds. The chassis operates in line with the set-up, never uncomfortable, yet never so soft as to impact cornering. The MINI becomes even more rally car due to the transmission's shift pattern — pull back to go up the gears, push forward to go down, and it can be driven with a bit more verve than the non-JCW pack model.

The MINI Countryman S, outfitted with the John Cooper Works, suits buyers who are aware of the brand's long association with JCW and is happy with the middle position the Countryman Cooper S has and its ability to satisfy those wanting to set their MINI or SUV apart from the crowd.