2014 Mini John Cooper Works Countryman

The standard Mini Countryman is a bit of an odd duck against the backdrop of 'normal' small crossovers like the Mazda CX-5 and the Ford Escape, but I sort of get it. Apply the same winning Mini formula to a CUV, and you get a smaller-than-average entry in the segment, one that is far more entertaining to drive than the norm, more stylish inside and out and pretty expensive when cross-shopped. That list of qualities doesn't appeal to all crossover shoppers, sure, but it intrigues a big enough list that the Countryman has reason for being.

Now, add the expensive John Cooper Works package to the Countryman's already niche goodies list, and Mini starts to lose me. So, I'm getting the softer suspended, taller, generally less dynamically joyful version of the brand's core values, but now you're charging me at least $35,000 ($13k more expensive than the basic, front-drive Cooper Countryman and $7k more than the MSRP of the Cooper S All4 version)? What's that? You're going to make it look like a garish, tippy-toed tuner car in the process? Take my money.

Or, actually, let me keep it. I can swing with a lot of the weirdness that Mini has to offer, but this car pushed me past my limit.

Driving Notes
  • Black stripe package ($500), black headlamp surrounds with Xenon lamps ($600), 19-inch wheels ($750), leather seats with red piping ($2,000), flat load floor in hatch ($250), chrome line interior ($250), tech package with navi ($2,250), premium pack with dual sunroof ($1,250), cold weather pack ($750). Sorry for the list; that's what it'll take to make your JCW Countryman ring up for almost $43k, as mine did.
  • One thing the John Cooper package does get you, is where you are going in a hurry. 6.6 seconds to 60 miles per hour feels more than sprightly from the high seating position of this car, and the torque jump up to 207 pound-feet (on overboost) is rather thrilling compared with the 177 lb-ft from the still quick Cooper S Countryman.
  • Huge 19-inch wheels wearing hard-as-nails run-flat rubber kill any of the ride quality the standard Countryman offers versus the rest of the Mini line. In the case of the JCW, though, the sturdier set of suspenders isn't enough to dial out a ton of roll through hard corners. With less comfort in a straight line and a still-tippy feeling in the bendy bits, this Countryman gets the worst of all worlds.
  • Direct steering with ample feedback is in the Mini DNA, and both are in evidence with the JCW CUV. The All4 all-wheel-drive setup seemed grippy enough during my mostly dry driving week, as well. Of course, the incoherent mix of hard springs and high ride height obliterated any desire I may have had to exploit the car's tactility and outright poise, so it hardly mattered.
  • Now with a bench seat in the rear quarters (the original Countryman had twin buckets and a rail-system center console), there is a lot of practicality baked into a small footprint here. The Countryman is still short enough to be wieldy around the city, while offering enough backseat space and cargo room to keep a young, hip, small family-type pretty comfortable.
  • The Countryman is a useful package, wherein you're always paying more than a 'standard' small CUV for added style and verve. The high cost and unsettling ride of the JCW adds make zero sense to me, however. This isn't a car you're going to autocross, or even want to drive hard on the proverbial canyon road. Sock that seven grand away into a college fund or put it into your Spec Miata if that's your thing, and stick with the more reasonable version of this biggest Mini.