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Mini Countryman JCW 2024 review – the most expensive Countryman is our least favourite

Mini has tried to make the 1.7-ton Countryman JCW drive like a hot hatch – the result is a compromised, frustrating driving experience

Evo rating
Price
from £41,575
  • Fantastic interior and build quality; decent performance
  • Artificially sharp and unrewarding to drive

For evo’s 25th anniversary last year, we revisited the most significant and iconic cars launched in the magazine’s lifetime, one of which was the BMW’s first revamp of the Mini hatch. It dazzled us with its quality and sophisticated dynamics back in 2001, and it’s equally desirable today. ‘Small, loaded with character, capable and properly entertaining’ is how our man John Barker described it. Not all of that applies to the new Countryman JCW. 

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‘That’s a Mini? But it’s massive!’ is how people tend to respond to the BMW X2-based crossover. The Countryman is indeed quite a big car at almost 4.5 metres long, and Mini says that it has ‘grown noticeably’ to be more spacious and versatile than before. For the JCW, BMW’s B48 turbocharged four-pot has been fitted – not an engine known for its effervescent character, but it generates 296bhp here and gives the hottest Countryman a decent turn of pace (62mph comes up in 5.4sec, top speed is 155mph). The price? £41,575. 

On first acquaintance, the Countryman – and this goes for all versions – really does feel like a quality item. The old car was screwed together well but the new one feels far, far more modern, with a pleasant blend of materials and nifty design details. Some (the bank of toggle switches below the infotainment screen) are more successful than others (the fuzzy projected patterns on the dashboard at night), but the Countryman feels more special and premium than just about any rival. The tech is great too, with a sharp and responsive circular OLED display taking place of the Mini’s traditional central speedo. 

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Twist the ignition switch on the dash, set off and the JCW immediately gives off some typical modern Mini traits, although not necessarily ones we like. The steering, for instance, is super quick but can shuffle in your hands over heavily cambered roads. Switching to the sportiest Go Kart drive mode introduces unpleasant heft, and coupled with tightly wound and lumpy damping, makes it feel like the Countryman is trying a bit too hard to tell you it’s a performance car.

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On the positive side, traction is excellent thanks to four-wheel drive, which is a good job since the ultra-sharp throttle calibration in Go Kart mode makes it tricky to dial in measured, controlled amounts of power. Use the full arc of the pedal and the JCW motors along well in the mid-range, but doesn’t actually feel as rapid as you might be expecting for a near-300bhp car (thank the 1735kg kerb weight for that). You also find that the front tyres start to tug and wander more aggressively when deploying maximum power, and the engine note itself is flat and industrial with the synthetic sound generator switched off. We actually preferred driving with the piped-in noise as it gives some life to what is otherwise quite a dull engine. 

While all this means that the Countryman isn’t the most gratifying or intuitive fast SUV we’ve come across, there are flashes of ability when you go searching for it. The front end is resilient and the handling balance is safe and secure, the 245-section Pirellis finding good bite and allowing the car to cover ground quickly. Start to work the engine hard and the seven-speed automatic gearbox is obedient (if not that crisp) when flicking the wheel-mounted paddles, and brake feel is positive underfoot when shedding momentum. The harder the push the more you become conscious that the Countryman is still a tall, heavy crossover, but you can bully its weight around to uncover hints of adjustability at the rear end. You need to be overdriving the car to do so, it must be said. 

There’s plenty of Mini DNA in how the Countryman JCW drives, but trying to inject that kind of character into a 1.7-ton crossover comes with inevitable compromises. The package doesn’t feel entirely cohesive, and the Countryman’s key strengths – its refreshing, high-quality interior, tech and yes, practicality – are all present in the calmer, sub-£30k standard car. It probably won’t make our 50th anniversary shortlist…

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