Packing some serious power
There is a certain logic in deciding that if you're going to buy a big MINI, then it ought to have a correspondingly big punching engine under its bonnet.
The MINI John Cooper Works Countryman packs a 218bhp haymaker, skittling it to 60mph in just 6.7 seconds, helped by that all-wheel drive chassis. It's quite a package.
There's no getting away from the fact that this car is quick. Seriously rapid. It'll smash through 60mph from a standing start in just 6.7 seconds and the ALL4 permanent all-wheel drive distributes power seamlessly between the front and rear axles courtesy of an electromagnetic centre differential.
The front end is suspended by MacPherson struts, while the rear features a complex central-arm rear axle adapted specially for the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman.
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Firmly tuned springs and dampers keep the big body in control, while heftier anti-roll bars and a 10mm drop in ride height respectively help to quell roll and reduce the car's centre of gravity. Power is deployed through a six-speed manual gearbox, top speed is a reassuring 140mph and peak torque is rated at a chunky 280Nm. There's also an overboost facility, kicking in when the engine is under particularly heavy demand, say when you're overtaking, to boost this to 300Nm.
Okay, so it's obviously a MINI, with its round headlamps and wheel-at-each-corner stance, but there's clearly a decent amount of wheelbase and, when parked next to a 1960s original, the Countryman appears a behemoth.
Get inside and there's a decent amount of space, the 350-litre boot offering more room than the Clubman estate. It's still a long chalk short of what you'd get in something like a Volkswagen Golf or a Ford Focus, but that's the inevitable price of making a style statement.
I'm still a firm believer that MINIs should be small. The smaller the better. That said, it would be churlish in the extreme not to recognise the John Cooper Works Countryman as one heck of an achievement. Yes, it's a fairly big car without a lot of room for your bags, but that aside it barely puts a foot wrong. Even those grumbling about the price need to look at it in the context of the amount of capability that buys you.
Where else for this sort of money are you going to get a 4WD sporting car this fast backed by BMW-style standards of engineering?
The John Cooper Works Countryman is never going to be the obvious answer to any 'which car?' question. It's just too niche a proposal for that. Even so, I have a sneaking suspicion that this car might suit quite a large number of people very well, assuming that they could be persuaded to consider the thing in the first place. I
t's fast, nicely built, looks good and won't cost a fortune to run. If those don't sound like the ingredients for a very promising car, then I'm not sure what does.