MINI is known for, what else, but small cars.
The world, however, has changed as people have different needs. Coupled with stringent safety regulations, today’s cars have grown bigger in size and heft. The obsession for safety has also forced modern cars to become bloated as they are packed with numerous safety equipment, a necessity to keep one safe with the higher speeds today’s cars are capable of.
The MINI Countryman JCW remains just as fun and quirky despite growing in size and heft with the added dimension of taking that spunk on light off-road trails.
The MINI Countryman is built on the BMW Group’s UKL2 platform, shared with BMW’s own X1 and X2 SAV’s plus MINI’s own Clubman. Power comes from the B48 direct injected twin-cam 16-valve engine, featuring an uprated turbocharger that delivers an impressive 306hp and 450 Newton-Meters of torque, driving all four wheels via a ZF8HP automatic with paddle shifters on the steering wheel for more involvement on a fun drive. The big engine feels relaxed when you’re not in the mood, upshifting quickly and seamlessly, with no fuss to get the best efficiency, but wakes its frenetic alter ego when you drop the hammer. It’s mated to MINI’s sophisticated ALL4 AWD system that can apportion torque front to back, depending on road and driving conditions. The latest 2021 model gets a slightly revised front grill and a subtly reshaped front bumper.
Getting in, the JCW has a beautifully detailed interior. The large circular center display and toggle switches are classic MINI design cues, and though impressive, makes me wish MINI would come up with something new and different after over 20+ years of BMW stewardship. The front seats, covered in a mix of suede and leather with beautiful contrasting red stitch-work are firm and very supportive but takes a whole lot of adjustments to find a comfortable position. Perhaps it’s made for tall, slender Caucasians rather than fat and average height Asians. My test unit also came with a panoramic glass roof which, for the British is cool as they rarely get any sunshine, but in the Philippines, with summer knocking on your door, it made for a rather warm initial drive. But it’s still a very special and stylish place to be in, nonetheless. It’s loaded with safety equipment of course: six airbags are standard, plus ABS-EBD brakes with emergency brake assist, plus traction and stability control. Hill-Start / Hill-Hold Assist is another convenient feature for smooth take-offs on inclines. You get a Harman Kardon surround sound system powered by the MINI Assist Mobile Device Integration App but unfortunately local variants don’t come with Apple CarPlay.
While the Countryman JCW rides really firm as you can feel all the bumps and ruts on the road, there’s no harshness at all, which in itself is magic as the Countryman wears sizeable, almost cartoonish 19-inch wheels shod in high-performance Pirelli P-Zero tires sized 225/45R19. The massive brakes are a bit over-assisted in low-speed but modulates well in higher speeds, the engine accelerates with vigor from as low as 1500rpm and the transmission shifts almost practically as quickly as any modern dual-clutch, with the smoothness of a CVT in traffic.
On the highway, in Green Mode, ride is actually serene, stable and composed. When the road starts getting tight, twisty and curvy, select Mid or Sport Mode and the Countryman sheds its crossover identity and turns into a proper hot hatch, accelerating, braking and changing directions at a rapid rate, but with the added benefit (and confidence) of a raised ride height.
This is, in reality, all the performance car anyone would ever need on our roads: athletic and dynamic, with the added versatility of increased ground clearance, five doors and a useable trunk, wrapped up in a stylish and iconic design, its silhouette unmistakable a mile away. The size is perfect too, small enough to fit all our inner city roads, with room for four adults on a long drive plus decent cargo space in the boot. No less than 498 liters of trunk space with the comfortable rear seats up, and 1348 liters with the rear seats down means the Countryman makes for a very practical family car with lots of style and pizzaz. At night, the front LED lighting illuminates your path brightly, allowing you to carry on with speed and confidence and truly savoring your traffic-free night drive. It returned very good fuel consumption figures too of 12km/liter going up Tagaytay with heavy weekend traffic, and 16km/liter going down and back to Manila through a ‘very spirited’ drive. In a lazy Sunday drive, the MINI felt relaxed, serene and despite the firm ride, offered a semblance of comfort and refinement one would expect from a premium vehicle. And it returned a very respectable 8.8km/liter. With more miles under its tight engine, efficiency should improve further as the Countryman JCW only had under 4,000 kilometers.
Fun, stylish, quirky but crucially, very practical for people looking for a family car from MINI, the Countryman is perhaps the best choice for Filipino MINI fans who want it all.
A car enthusiast through and through, Botchi Santos believes that different people have different needs. He tries to find the best car for a specific audience, and spruces things up by delving into car culture, helping make the local car community vibrant and enjoyable for all. His passion for motoring is built around a belief that cars are among the top three life purchases.