Monster JCW Countryman now in SA
FOR THE MEAN STREETS: Mini has launched its JCW Countryman in South Africa, the sixth model to join its performance line-up.
Author: JANINE-LEE GORDON
The Mini Countryman was launched locally in 2010 and to date 1800 models are whizzing around on our roads. The John Cooper Works Countryman was launched internationally in 2012 and is the sixth model in the performance line-up.
It might have been of small stature years ago but the Mini has evolved so much over the years, much to its fan's delight. Thanks to its short overhangs, wide track, low sense of gravity it made for a mean feat on the rally tracks and on tar.
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It’s finally made its way to South Africa and its arrival was marked with a life-time experience – one that will always make me think fondly of this car.
Launched in Sandton, Johannesburg on March 25, local motoring media knew we would be in for a treat since the drive out was going to take us to the testing grounds of Gerotek, just outside Pretoria.
What we didn’t know was that the launch would include being strapped down for some hot laps with Castrol Mini driver Gavin Cronje and racing driver Lee Thompson to test the car on the skidpan .
Even though that was great, it wasn't the highlight of the day.
Press conference are often tedious but when Mini SA’s Edward Makwana started talking about the Dakar rally car and 11-time winner Stephane Peterhansel, we sat up. Much to our surprise the motorsport legend walked into the room.
The day would include a shotgun ride with Peterhansel on Gerotek’s rally course in his Monster Mini Countryman, I tried to film probably the best moment of my life to share with you.
Watch the video.
The JCW Countryman has some new styling tweaks that just makes you want to get into the car and throw it around. It’s the kind of effect Minis have always had on me, even though the Countryman and other models has grown significantly in size – it doesn’t seem to matter and still manages to keep that go-kart attitude.
First thing you notice is the aggressive front bumper with integrated fog lights and standard sport kit. It almost looks like a mean bully that no one would dare mess with. The thick painted stripes adds to its mean stance in any of the seven colours available.
The white body colour was my favourite, standing out against the usual British racing blue and red. The new, black anthracite twin-spoke 18” alloys with red brake callipers sit snug under the 10mm lower ride height compared to the normal Countryman. The roof and side mirrors are available in either red, white or black paint.
DOES MY BUM LOOK FAT?
The suspension has tight tuned springs and dampers, strengthened anti-roll bars all work with the driving systems such as the dynamic stability control (DSC) system with dynamic traction control (DTC) mode. There’s also a sport button for optimised engine responses and an even louder roar coming from the exhaust.
It's derriere looks a bit on the plump side due to the huge, flushed tailgate.
This car embodies that passion for racing, and with permanent four-wheel drive or All4 as it’s known with Mini, makes it even more exciting.
Making it go is a newly developed 1.6 twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It features petrol direct injection and variable valve. Power figures are 160kW and 280Nm, and with the overboost function you can get 300Nm for a short period. There’s also a sports exhaust system that gives it some grunt.
It comes standard with a six-speed manual gearbox and an optional auto which makes the car sprint from 0-100km/h in just seven seconds with a top speed of 225km/h (auto: 223 km/h). Claimed fuel consumption figures is 7.4 litres/ 100km (auto - 7.9 litres/100 km) and 172g/km of C02 emissions.
Inside it’s unmistakeably Mini with chunky dials and retro instrumentation. Besides the distinctive dark rev counter and speedometer in the centre of the dashboard, the cockpit is driver focused with the rest of the interior draped in black trim strips, an anthracite roof liner and aluminium pedals.
Tastefully done, there's red stitching on the leather seats, the steering wheel; and red trim panels on the doors and facia. Everything is in place, although I fumbled with the buttons below the big rev counter but that’s because I prefer hitting buttons higher up and closer to the steering wheel.
I like the two-seater second row option while my driving partner said it kind of felt as if space is limited in the individual seat. For those who don’t, there’s a three-seat bench option at no extra cost.
The rear seats can slide back and forth and can folded with a 60:40 split with the three-seat bench. The individual seats can tilt and fold down. Boot space grows from 350 litres to 1170 litres when the seats are all flat.
Driving it in auto guise is a breeze, especially in Joburg traffic and that gearbox knows exactly when to change up or down without feeling any turbo-lag and you can hear it too.
Taking it through Kromdraai’s tight twisties is hardly a challenge as it sits like white on rice on the roads even when you’re really pushing to see when it will fail.
TO BUY OR NOT
You'll have to fork out for options though because things like the Mini Connected system that allows you to access Facebook, Twitter or local Goggle searches is not standard.
Other optional items include: an exterior mirror package(electrically folding and heated); chromed interior; black headlights; sport stripes, a glass sunroof, sun protection glazing; park distance control (PDC), xenon headlights, Harman/kardon sound sytem and even the armrest.
I wouldn’t buy this car even with all that said purely because I’m not a Mini convert, despite that it’s a funky car and it’s definitely the most practical against any of its siblings in the Mini stable.
Yes, the price tag of over R400k is expected with all the included niceties and standard pimped-out kit. But for that kind of money you can buy an Audi Q3, a BMW X3 or the top-of-the range Hyundai ix35.
The thing is none of it is as much fun as the JCW Countryman. The only thing I could think of that comes close is a pair of his and her Nissan Jukes. There isn’t a direct competitor but anything that compares in price with all-wheel drive is bigger, more practical and more affordable.
Also at the launch was the second generation Mini John Cooper Works GP. With only 2000 units built globally, SA was lucky enough to get 30 models come this way. The very gutsy 1.6-litre makes 160kW at 6000rpm and 260/280Nm at 5750rpm. It has larger front and rear aprons, more defined side skirts and a modified roof spoiler.
It looks amazing and is even more fun to drive but, don’t set your heart on it as all 30 units have already been snatched up.
Watch the video
JCW Countryman 1.6 manual R433 643
JCW Countryman 1.6 automatic R450 341