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MINI Countryman JCW: Sports car of SUVs

BY RORY DALEY
Observer writer
daleyr@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, September 27, 2019

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CAN the family sport utility vehicle (SUV) be a sports car? The 2020 MINI Countryman John Cooper Works (JCW) says it can. This is achieved by incorporating the trademarked go-kart driving feel the MINI 3- and 5-door models are known for.

When John Cooper created the original MINI Cooper and Cooper S in the 1960s, he set a template based on his company's motorsports knowledge. In 1964 it gained the name “Giant Killer”, as the small front-wheel-drive passenger car beat some serious competition in the gruelling Monte Carlo Rally. Proving it was no fluke, a Cooper won again the following year and in 1967. On the track, the MINI Cooper found similar success in the same circumstances, beating much more powerful vehicles with the balance between chassis and horsepower.

The 2020 MINI Countryman John Cooper Works celebrates that balance. As a sport utility vehicle, it's filled with premium touches to make everyday life easy. At night, the MINI logo lights your way into a cabin filled with quality materials and an iconic design all lit with cool, ambient lighting after being unlocked by keyless entry. Night or day, the full panoramic sunroof creates a larger airy feel. From small to big, it's automated — wipers, headlights, parking. What's not automatic is powered by the press of a few buttons. When one does have to physically interact with the MINI its toggle switches give an extra sense of fun, missing in most vehicles. Also fun is the excellent infotainment system. Made to look like the circular speedometers of MINIs of old, a surrounding light ring gives visual cues to user operation, while pumping out great sound from whatever device is connected. Storage for personal or family gear is plentiful due to the space on offer and smart integration around the vehicle.

Around town, the Countryman is comfortable, cosseting its occupants with space, refinement and technology. Of course, the MINI could stop there and continue to be one of the top candidates in the SUV segment, but it doesn't.

The JCW badge on the grill means something and the MINI Countryman JCW isn't some marketing sticker job. The JCW treatment means some of the best sports seats in the business, trimmed in red, necessitated to hold the driver in place as he unleashes the 231bhp and 258lb/ft of torque from the 2-litre TwinPower turbocharged engine. The eight-speed automatic funnels that power to all four wheels and to a chassis that has clear links to MINI's smaller hatchbacks. The power alone is intoxicating, pulling to triple digit speeds with near telepathy. MINI's eight-speed manual mode is rally-car perfect, pull back to shift up and push forward to shift down, making it easy to indulge in one's Ken Block fantasies. Open the sunroof to hear the exhaust pop and bang to increase the sensations.

Despite the size, in sport mode the Countryman JCW appears to shrink around the driver. That has to do with the directness of the chassis, the weight of the steering, the suppleness of the suspension and the amazing grip from the all-wheel drive system. At high speeds the full JCW bodykit creates downforce that further aids grip. Turn in, add power, and the JCW shreds corners as if they weren't there. A tap of the massive Brembo brakes slows things quickly. The combination breeds a confidence that can turn any boring commute into a makeshift rally stage.

In the right hands, the Countryman JCW can cover ground at a pace with the best of sports cars; more importantly, it does so with a level of driver connectedness not usually found in the suv segment and put it there with many other sporty vehicles. Yes, the MINI Countryman JCW can do it all, not just make the average school run, but make owners want to run to school.


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