A John Cooper Works On All Fours With Love Handles

2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4

How long will it take for a Mini-branded vehicle to cross the two-ton threshold? We already have the four-door Countryman and it's a small crossover, so how far off is a tall and longer Mini with third-row seating? Say what you like about the Countryman, though; the best expression for how it's selling in the United States and just about everywhere else is "like hotcakes." It's the same love-hate situation with Porsche and its wildly successful Cayenne revisited, albeit at a cuter and more affordable dimension.

Honestly, though, as much as we dive with enthusiasm into any John Cooper Works model, we have to admit that Mini is really stretching the definition of its JCW brand with this – at minimum – 3,260-pound Countryman John Cooper Works. With the optional six-speed automatic, it weighs in at 3,315 pounds. To help set off the high-riding heft, Mini/BMW has fitted its new 1.6-liter N18 transverse turbo four-cylinder, good for 215 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. The non-adaptive standard sport suspension is also more rigid and brings the JCW four tenths of an inch closer to Earth than more ordinary Countrymans (Countrymen?). Our test car carried the standard 18-inch wheelset dressed in Pirelli P Zero treads – 225/45 R18 91V front and rear – though a 19-inch setup is available as an option. (Hint: The 18-inchers do the job nicely).

It's pretty clear that Mini knows it's stretching the Works shrinkwrap just to see how far it can market its aura before buyers reject it. So far, however, the Mini stratagem is going undeniably well. Yet however much we played on the roads in and around Germany's Taunus region north of Frankfurt, we wanted more of a sense that this largest of all JCWs is getting trickle-down benefits from the 2,650-pound Countryman-based Prodrive World Rally Championship car. No, we don't really expect the entire rear seating setup to be ripped out, the front seats to go carbon fiber shell and down to the very floor, or for a production Countryman JCW to come with a navigating co-pilot barking orders at us in Europese. But for us, the final product does not feel quite 'Works' enough to wear the label. This Countryman JCW is a terrific sporty compact CUV that gets to 60 mph in just under seven seconds, but throttle oomph and the side-to-side movements of the chassis go much further away from "crisp" than we want in a Works-branded car.

2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4 side view2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4 front view2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4 rear view

Yes, we're very exacting when talking about this level of car – as we are with Audi and its RS models, Chrysler's SRT brand, and others. Taking a piece of glorious sporting heritage and applying it to the softer, fatter and dolled-up mainstream is a dicey science. We're still willing to give Mini a pass from this point of view, but they're pushing it with a Countryman JCW. But, hell, this thing largely behaves as well as any Mini and will mostly be piloted through sensible suburbs already filled with other image rides when deliveries to North American customers start in November.

We enjoy the presentation and look, for one thing. Nine different body colors are available, but we like this black treatment with optional Chili Red aesthetics package inside and out. Riding lower and with slightly augmented aero bits, the Countryman JCW does work hard to look the part. The temptation to touch up and detail Mini's inherent adorableness has got to be irresistible in the company's design department, and at times, we feel the designers have gone a bit too kitsch for their own good. But, again, we still give Mini a pass this time around and just hope they can keep riding that aesthetic bleeding edge.

2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4 interior2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4 front seats2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4 rear seats2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4 rear cargo area

The JCW treatment on the Countryman's passenger accommodations and cargo is excellent, and Mini continues also riding the fine line between good and not-so-good plastics with uncanny talent. The well-done flexibility of the cargo space can range from 12.4 cubic feet on up to 41.3 cubic feet, and the added stowage beneath the rear floor is undeniably handy.

But, this is a John Cooper Works and is made to be driven in a sporting fashion, no? To that end, the Sport switch at the base of the center stack increases the steering weight, throttle response and exhaust sound. If you do opt for the six-speed automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddles, the shift timings will also be dealt with. Manifested best in Sport mode, too, is the additional 14 lb-ft of torque overboost available for short bursts, a particularly useful tool for overtaking on two-lane highways.

2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4 engine

Color us sacrilegious, but at least on the Countryman's tubbier format, we can't help but wonder if the $1,250 six-speed automatic with its paddles and sport shift mapping might not be the better choice than the three-pedal setup. The manual six, even with sport throttle engaged, has the N18 working like a bear to get this show on the road when conditions allow sportier curve hunting. We'll need to wait to see, though, since no auto-equipped Countryman John Cooper Works All4s were on hand for us to try at the launch event.

The electrically assisted steering is pretty good here, and when Sport mode is on call, feel at the wheel improves several-fold. This and the default sport suspension setup are terrific together, the damper/spring combo working wonders all day long. Speaking with Mini's dynamics people, however, we learned that the anti-roll bars fore and aft were simply those from the stock Countryman. Hmmm.

Autoblog Short Cuts: 2013 Mini Countryman JCW

Through the many desirable curves on our day's drive, it was the tough to corral side-to-side sway that convinced us most that Mini needs to invest a tad more in getting this Countryman up to JCW snuff. The steering feel, the ride and the reaction time of the solid All4 all-wheel drive all aim to please, but the physics of the added weight and momentum have not been sufficiently accounted for.

2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4 driving
2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4 headlight2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4 wheel2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All4 badge

Along the lines of the still-high hip point (despite the 0.4-in. lowering), the standard front sport seats need another inch or so of downward adjustability. At present, it feels like the driver sits too high, a reality that also can't be helping matters dynamically. We'd be sorely tempted to add the $2,750 Recaro sport seats and the JCW strut brace and JCW-specific sport suspension, but in doing so, things get horribly expensive quickly. If pricing for the Countryman JCW All4 follows the German market's 24-percent premium over the stock Countryman Cooper S All4, in the States, this means the JCW could start at a bit over $34,000. With options as we think we'd like it done, our Countryman JCW would hit closer to ... *deep breath* ... $45,000.

Reconciling all of our criticism with the reality that most JCW models will be purchased as image cars and not as performance cars, and having the hottest chassis treatment or lowest h-point possible will take back seats to selling creature comforts and sheer style for two or three people aboard. This is certainly what Mini intends and so it should keep right on selling like hotcakes in this guise. Doesn't mean we always need to love it, though.