The brand MINI has changed a lot since BMW created it.
Surprisingly, all models still wear the badge MINI, but there is nothing mini about the cars anymore.
They are bigger and better.
Having driven almost all models, it left no doubt that the brand is heading towards a segment where top SUVs and crossovers have been ruling through the years.
I am talking about the Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4 – apart from its hefty price tag, there is nothing wrong with the car. Technicalities first.
The Countryman boasts a four-cylinder engine that produces 170kW at 5 000 – 6 000rpm of power and 350Nm of torque.
Our test unit was fitted with a standard eight-speed Steptronic sports transmission which really did attest itself in a most sophisticated way. Unlike the S version, this one has a four-wheel drive system as standard called the All4 – the same system found in the Clubman JCW All4.
We did not take this one to Gerotek for a full performance road test with data, but BMW claim it can run to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds before hitting a limiter at 234km/h.
We do not have any grounds to doubt what BMW claim, hence the Clubman JCW did that in 6.7 seconds onto a top speed of 244km/h. It is big, fitting in five grownups without any hassle.
You get a large boot measured at 450 litres which can be further expanded to a massive 1 390 litres – something that comes even closer to what competitors offer.
Its looks are on point. The JCW sporty kit reiterates the statement, ranging from the large cooling inlets in the front apron, roof rails and the model-specific roof spoiler that enhance its ‘go anywhere’ attitude to the rebel green colour that our test unit wore.
Inside the cabin, five fully fledged JCW genuine sports seats greet you. You also get a John Cooper Works sports steering wheel with multifunction buttons and a JCW gear lever.
Press the flashing red start button and the Countryman barks to life with a rumbling sound that wanes as soon as the engine has warmed up. You get three driving modes, Green, suitable for comfortable and efficient driving situations, Mid makes the JCW a bit less energetic but in a good way and Sport makes the car ready for some harsh treatment.
The Countryman is fun to drive. The eight-speed gearbox works nicely but only if you select Sport mode. In Green mode, the gearshifts become hopelessly slow – they are not as crunchy as I would have liked them to be.
The JCW feels heavy for its name badge, and that prompted me to watch cornering prowess every time I encountered twisties.
But, thanks to the All4 all-wheel drive system that increases traction, it really did well in such conditions both on and off road.
The JCW Countryman has too much stuff to carry around for it to be the true athlete that Mini claims it is. With a bit less weight and reasonable price tag, it would make more sense.
Like most performance cars, we found it impossible to drive efficiently and a week with the car returned 10.2 litres per 100km. In terms of safety, you get ABS and airbags for driver and passenger.
There is a standard collision warning with city braking function, pedestrian warning with initial brake function, high beam assistant plus road sign detection.
If you are looking for a little SUV that has character and aggressive attitude, then this Countryman could be the best choice for you.
Pricing for the MINI Countryman JCW All4 starts at R606 500, and includes a five-year/100 000km maintenance plan.