Mini goes big and bold with the new Countryman John Cooper Works SUV

Big news! The Mini is not so mini anymore.

The new Countryman is set to hit Britain’s roads within months and will be the largest family car in the brand’s line up.

The new model really does feel maxi rather than mini. Longer than a Nissan Qashqai, it’s a compact SUV crossover that utilises every inch of flexible space.

This is the third generation of the Countryman since the name was revived in 2010, and follows hot on the heels of the bold new Cooper. 

How does the biggest Mini to date fare as a family SUV? Ray Massey’s been driving the new Countryman – the brand’s bold compact car

The first of the cars we’ve driven at the global launch event is the John Cooper Works pocket-rocket version with all-wheel drive.

With prices for the JCW kicking off at £40,425, it’s quite a lot of money for a sporty family runaround.

And there’s £5,200 in extras in our test car. Just the initial panoramic sunroof and privacy glass racks up £2,500 on top of the list price.

Overall, the Countryman range starts from £29,335 for the cheapest trim with a petrol engine. 

If you want to move across into electric driving then you’re looking at £42,080 for the Countryman E, and a hefty £47,180 for the the range-topping electric SE All4. 

Riding on 20-inch wheels (a £600 extra as 19 inch is the standard), the Countryman John Cooper Works All4 certainly delivers fun go-kart style driving thrills – as I found taking it around serpentine roads in the mountains near Lisbon.

The John Cooper Works version starts at £40,425 which is a lot for a family runaround but does the sporty drive make it worth it?

The John Cooper Works version starts at £40,425 which is a lot for a family runaround but does the sporty drive make it worth it?

Overall, the Countryman range starts from £29,335 for the cheapest trim with a petrol engine

Overall, the Countryman range starts from £29,335 for the cheapest trim with a petrol engine 

Longer than the Nissan Qashqai, the new Countryman is a big car from the brand famous for small cars

Longer than the Nissan Qashqai, the new Countryman is a big car from the brand famous for small cars

It’s fast on the straights thanks to the turbocharged, 300 horsepower, 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and seven-speed automatic gearbox, with manual paddles for extra involvement. 

Accelerating from 0 to 62mph takes 5.4 seconds, and the roaring out of the quad exhaust pipes as we carved my way through twisting valleys put a thrill into this family car.

Sports suspension comes as standard, lowering the ride height and improving the handling, while the high performance braking system (with calipers in Chili Red) gives you all the stopping power you need.

Wider tyres noticeably helped enhance the driving experience and grip – tyre diameter has been increased by 30mm and width to 245mm.

A revolutionary interior

Will it fit in my garage? New Mini Countryman ALL4 John Cooper Works (JCW)

On sale: Now

JCW Price: From £40,425

Countryman entry price: £29,335

Electric Countryman price: from £42,080

Built: Leipzig, Germany

Length: 4,447mm 

 Width (with mirrors): 2,069mm 

Height: 1,645mm 

 Wheelbase: 2,692mm

Engine: Turbo-charged 4-cylinder 2.0 litre petrol 

Power: 300 horsepower 

Transmission: 7-speed automatic gearbox 

Acceleration (0-60mph): 5.4 seconds 

Top speed: 155mph

Fuel capacity: 54 litres

CO2 emissions: 177-180g/km

Boot space (seats up): 460 litres

Boot space (seats down): 1,530 litres

But it’s inside the car that’s most revolutionary.

This car has the first circular central digital display touchscreen in any Mini. And at 9.4 inches, it’s size is in keeping with the rest of the car.

Harking back to the original Mini, there are also toggle switches beneath the display which will please the lovers of common sense buttons.

You can toggle through a choice of eight different faces or ‘experience modes’ to set up your preferred ‘driving ambience’ – specially designed backgrounds and sounds. 

A projector on the back of the circular display can bathe the dashboard in atmospheric colour schemes and patterns relevant to the chosen setting.

By far the ‘Go-Kart’ setting is the most fun –  it highlights your speed and revs. 

It also delivers a particularly sporty driving experience by boosting the engine sounds in the cabin. 

It’s supplemented with racing-inspired tones.

Other settings include: Core, Green, Personal, Vibrant, a classically retro Timeless, Trail (if you venture mildly off-road) and Balance.

While you’re cruising along a small but handy head up display helps keep your eyes on the road ahead as does the voice-activated assistant. Just say ‘Hey Mini’ and it will help you with navigation, calling and entertainment.

The sat-nav is where some tweaks are needed to the infotainment system: it’s quite a cluttered, and at times confusing, set up. 

Passengers, as well as enjoying the different ‘experience modes’, will appreciate the recreational flexibility.

The rear row of seats can be adjusted in length by up to 13 centimetres.

And with the rear seat folded down, the available lugging space in the hatchback boot expands from 460 litres to 1,530 litres, allowing bulkier items to be transported.

The interior of the Countryman is revolutionary with many 'experience modes' to choose from that change the ambience of the cabin - from colour to sound

The interior of the Countryman is revolutionary with many ‘experience modes’ to choose from that change the ambience of the cabin – from colour to sound

The big new hit is the 9.4-inch circular infotainment touchscreen - the first of any Mini to have this

The big new hit is the 9.4-inch circular infotainment touchscreen – the first of any Mini to have this

Safety first 

It’s very safe – just as you’d want from a family car. 

There’s added reassurance from advanced assistance systems which features 12 ultrasonic sensors and four surround-view cameras. 

In the Driving Assistant Professional option package, these enable a degree of self-driving assistance from partially automated Level 2 driving.

The ‘assistant’ can detect gaps in the traffic when changing lanes or heading towards an exit, and brings the vehicle to the optimum speed for the assisted lane change.

Mini says: ‘For the first time, drivers in the Mini Countryman can take their hands off the steering wheel on highway-like routes at speeds of up to 60 km/h (37mph), provided they continue to keep a close eye on traffic and remain ready to intervene at any time.’

The rear tail lights can illuminate in a choice of patterns – from the UK’s Union Flag to a sequence inspired by Tetris

The rear tail lights can illuminate in a choice of patterns – from the UK’s Union Flag to a sequence inspired by Tetris

John Cooper Works details across the car give it heritage and extra pizzazz

The Countryman takes after the new Cooper in terms of styling but this JCW version has extra twists

Mini have committed to making this Countryman stand out from other compact SUVs and it certainly looks the part

It’s a good-looking car. 

In another first the logo used on the new MINI JCW Countryman is in the classic black, red, and white racing colour scheme. 

The front ‘face’ features a newly designed octagonal grille in high-gloss black and a three-colour JCW logo. The contrasting roof is in motorsport-inspired Chili Red. 

The red and black interior colour scheme on the dashboard, along the door panels and on the JCW sports seats are a nod to MINI’s racing heritage. 

And the dashboard is made from two-tone recycled polyester.

The rear tail lights can even illuminate in a choice of patterns – from the UK’s Union Flag to a sequence inspired by Tetris.

This petrol-powered version was a great drive, but how does it compare to the electric version? You'll have to wait and see

This petrol-powered version was a great drive, but how does it compare to the electric version? You’ll have to wait and see

I also drove the new all-electric version of the Countryman.

Although detail and pictures are already out, the driving impressions for that model are embargoed until early next month so a direct comparison is not possible just yet.

The petrol-powered Countryman All4 John Cooper Works is certainly a zippy option with zest. Great to drive. 

But would I choose it over a zero-emissions all-electric version?

Well, you’ll just have to wait and see. That’s for another day.

What’s in the name? John Cooper Works 

John Cooper, the man behind the name that adorns sporty Minis today

John Cooper, the man behind the name that adorns sporty Minis today

To younger motorists, the name John Cooper may be not resonate as strongly as with motor sport enthusiasts of a certain vintage.

But, brought up to the present day, it lives on to celebrate the pioneering motor sport glory days of the early original Mini in the swinging Sixties.

The original Mini Cooper appeared in 1961, when Formula One team owner John Cooper bored out the standard Mini’s engine and fitted it with twin carburettors, disc brakes and a close-ratio gearbox.

But 60 years ago, on 21 January 1964, the British pocket rocket achieved truly legendary status when a Mini Cooper S driven by the late Patrick ‘Paddy’ Hopkirk and co-driver Henry Liddon won the Monte Carlo Rally for the first time. The car proved a hit on motor rallies, with the buying public, and with a generation of young children buying die-cast Corgi toy versions of the winning Mini Cooper.

More wins – and controversy – followed. Hopkirk’s Finnish team-mates Timo Mäkinen and Rauno Aaltonen added two more Monte Carlo victories – in 1965 and 1967 – to the British car-maker’s trophy collection.

But in 1966 when the ‘Three Musketeers’ – Mäkinen, Aaltonen and Hopkirk – crossed the line in that order to achieve a clean sweep of the top three positions, French race commissioners disqualify the trio, alleging disgracefully that the Minis’ lights did not conform with official regulations. Amid widespread complaints of a ‘fix’, the French judges awarded the victory instead to a Citroen.

This legendary racing explains why, when BMW launched the new 21st century Mini in 2001, it also revived the Cooper badge.

Separately, the John Cooper Works company was founded, by John’s son Michael Cooper and with BMW’s blessing, as a tuning outfit for the new Mini. It meant the standard Mini warranty was still valid. BMW bought John Cooper Works In 2008 when it also launched the first factory-built ‘JCW’ version of the car.

Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the first production Mini Cooper S and the 75th anniversary of the Cooper Car company.

John Cooper was awarded an OBE for his services to British motorsport in 1990.

He died in December 2000, aged 77, but lives on as the name behind sporty Mini models to the current day.

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