Readers of AutoTrader.com's long-term reviews might be familiar with MINI's John Cooper Works (JCW) high-performance offerings. Our JCW Coupe has been the ride of choice for many adventures and has garnered plenty of praise for its exciting driving dynamics, stand-out looks and great fuel economy. So the addition of a John Cooper Works package to another MINI model was certainly welcome news.
The 2013 MINI John Cooper Works Countryman is the latest performance-tweaked model. Although MINI has not yet released the official specs for a US-bound version, we had a chance to drive a preproduction European-spec model earlier this year. Beyond the expected Works fare--more aggressive styling, more power, sportier suspension tuning--the JCW Countryman offers a few firsts among MINI's performance models. And if it fails to make an impression on your other senses, the latest Countryman will surely get your attention with its unique sound.
Typical for the vehicles in the John Cooper Works lineup, the JCW Countryman features sportier styling inside and out. An aero body kit and standard 18-inch or optional 19-in alloy wheels differentiate the Works version from tamer Countryman models, and JCW badges mark the grille and rear hatch. Fog lights are standard. Red mirror caps and roof finish are available, details that are exclusive to MINI's Works models. In keeping with the brand's vast customization options, racing stripes are available too.
The treatment continues inside. Passengers will notice the JCW logos on the sills, and the more supportive sport seats and steering wheel are suited to the vehicle's performance character. MINI's Lounge Leather is available as an option. The rear seats in the 4-door Countryman come in a choice of two configurations. The model we drove had a pair of individual seats separated by a console; a bench with room for three passengers is also available.
Although the size of the JCW Countryman's engine is identical to those in other Works models (1.6-liters), here the engine is tuned for its highest output. The turbocharged 4-cylinder makes 218 horsepower and a maximum of 221 lb-ft torque with overboost. Compared to the JCW Coupe, that's an advantage of 10 hp and 14 lb-ft of torque.
Along with the beefier motor, the JCW Countryman offers a few attributes that are unique among Works models. First, the Countryman benefits from the added traction of MINI's ALL4 all-wheel-drive system. Although the system is primarily biased toward applying power to the front wheels, its center differential can apportion power to the rear as needed. This not only gives the JCW Countryman improved handling on dry pavement, but also provides better traction in wet or snowy conditions or loose surfaces, like gravel.
The JCW Countryman is also the first Works car to offer an automatic transmission. The standard 6-speed manual can be replaced with a 6-speed automatic for those drivers averse to a clutch pedal. With the automatic, gear changes can still be selected at will by using the paddles mounted on the steering wheel.
Fuel economy ratings for the JCW Countryman are good, matching the economy of the Cooper S Countryman. With a manual transmission, the JCW model is rated at 25 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. The automatic suffers a small economy penalty. It's rated at 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Still, these are good numbers considering the model's performance potential.
Drivers who enjoy MINI models' nimble handling and the rev-happy sportiness of the automaker's turbocharged engines will feel right at home in the high-performance JCW Countryman. Like other vehicles with the John Cooper Works treatment, the JCW Countryman sacrifices some ride comfort for greater control and handling capability, but the ride is not harsh. Stiffer springs and a lower ride height pay off on twisty pavement. The JCW Countryman feels firmly planted, especially under acceleration. Its all-wheel drive means less of the torque steer that, in other JCW models, results from sending 100 percent of the power to the front wheels.
Pressing the Sport button significantly amps up the performance quotient by altering throttle response, power steering assistance and, in cars equipped with automatic transmissions, shift points. Furthermore, Sport mode takes the stirring exhaust sound of JCW models to a new level.
Keeping in mind that the Works Countryman we drove was a preproduction model, its sound was decidedly outside the norm, even for a JCW car. For drivers who like a racy note to accompany sporty performance, the JCW Countryman delivers. And you won't have to roll down the window to hear it. Asked if the soundtrack is intentionally channeled into the cabin, a representative from MINI did not comment. But that certainly seemed to be the case.
Pricing details and an arrival date for the 2013 MINI John Cooper Works Countryman have not yet been announced. But judging by the prices of other JCW models, it's reasonable to expect the high-performance 4-door to be priced in the mid-$30,000 range. As soon as details are available, we'll share them. And we'll certainly provide a full review of a US-spec JCW Countryman as soon as we can get our hands on one.