The Mini is no longer “mini”. But we already knew that when BMW reinvigorated the brand back in the early 2000’s. Now in the early 2020’s, the Mini is available as a compact crossover SUV called the Countryman. For the 2020 model year, it looks the same as the previous year’s model but this top of the line John Cooper Works edition receives a huge boost in power.
Disclaimer: I don’t know why it says #MiniInvasion2019 on the back bumper. That’s how I received the car from Mini. Just pretend it isn’t there.
Engine – Last year’s John Cooper Works (JCW) Mini Countryman had a healthy 228 hp engine. The 2020 model year receives a boost of 73 hp! Power from the 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is now rated at 301 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Normally when auto manufacturers give a car a mid-cycle update, the power increases by maybe 20 or 30 horsepower. But 73 hp is a big jump and the result is a 0-100 km/h sprint in just 5.1 seconds. Pretty brisk for a family crossover.
But the torque didn’t remain at 258 lb-ft like the 2019 model year, it too received a healthy bump to 331 lb-ft for 2020. This helps the Countryman get off the line quickly. From 1,750 rpms to 4,500 rpms, the 331 lb-ft of torque is sustained which allows for quick response and that 5.1 seconds 0-100 sprint.
With all this power, you’d expect the Mini Countryman to be a bit of a pig on fuel but it’s actually not that bad. EnerGuide rates it at 10.0 L/100km (23.5 mpg) in a city and 7.8 L/100km (30.2 mpg) on a highway. The downfall though is that it does require premium fuel.
Transmission – The 2020 Mini JCW Countryman All4 is only available with an 8-speed automatic transmission… at least for now. Car and Driver published an article late last year in which they asked a Mini spokesperson if the manual transmission will return at least for the JCW models. From the article, it sounds like it might (Link here) but for now the 8-speed automatic is what is available.
The automatic transmission is not a dual-clutch like the 7-speed that is found in the Cooper S model but rather a traditional automatic. While not being a dual-clutch, it feels like one when driving the Countryman enthusiastically through twisty mountain roads. Shifts are quick to respond to driver inputs when using the gear selector and the 8-speed automatic blips the engine when downshifting for smoother changes. In normal drive mode, shifts are hardly noticeable and there is no hesitation that is sometimes found with dual-clutch transmissions when setting off from a stop.
Braking – The JCW Countryman is equipped with massive 4-piston front brake calipers that stop the almost 1,800 kg curb weight with ease. The brake pedal feels firm but is also relatively easy to modulate for smooth stops. Automatic emergency braking is available as an option as part of the Driver Assistance Package.
Handling – For being a crossover, the Mini Countryman feels more like its compact hatchback brothers when driving on twisty mountain roads. The extra boost in power for the 2020 model year helps the car accelerate quickly out of a corner. There is a bit of torque steer that can be felt when accelerating hard out of a very tight corner but it goes away once the computer sends more power to the back wheels. Yes, it is a primarily FWD system but when in Sport mode with the Dynamic Traction system turned on, you can get the back end to slide a bit through corners on more slippery surfaces… such as snow.
Steering feel is pretty good and communicative. Steering effort is heavier than in most other crossovers so parking the Countryman may feel a bit more tedious for some than in other crossover SUVs. But the heavier steering makes for a very enjoyable drive along a scenic and twisty mountain road while carrying the kids in the back seats.
Ride Comfort – This particular JCW Mini Countryman came equipped with the Dynamic Damper Control option. A $500 option that gives you adjustable shocks that change stiffness depending on the drive mode. In Sport mode they are obviously stiffer to resist body-roll while in Normal mode they are softer to provide a comfortable ride. Overall the ride of the JCW Countryman is stiffer as it is a more sports oriented crossover but it’s not overly stiff. You’d be perfectly comfortable driving the car over rough downtown city streets and not have spilled coffee in any of the 4 cup holders.
Interior Space – The interior of the 2020 JCW Mini Countryman is actually quite large. A taller adult like myself has plenty of leg and head room. I actually had more space to move the seat further back if I needed it. Rear occupants also have a good amount of space. At 6’4”, I have just enough head and leg room behind my own driving position thanks to the indentations that are in the back of the front seats. Trunk space is a bit below average for this class at 498 L (17.6 cu-ft) with the rear seats up and 1,348 L (47.6 cu-ft) when folded.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – Overall the Mini Countryman is quiet. Wind noise on highways is not too intrusive and while this particular demo came equipped with snow tires which are normally louder, all-season tires should reduce some of the tire noises that are a bit noticeable at highway speeds.
But the most noticeable noise in the cabin of the JCW Countryman is the sports exhaust. It crackles and burbles at startup but is relatively subdued when in Normal drive mode. Put the car in Sport mode and the exhaust makes very satisfying bangs with each upshift beyond 3,000 rpms.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – In terms of gadgets it has pretty much everything that most people would want in a compact crossover. Navigation, heated seats, heads-up display, parking sensors, forward collision alert, power liftgate and so on. There are a few things missing though that would be a nice addition to complete the package. These include things like Android Auto (CarPlay is available though), a heated steering wheel, lane departure warning, and blind spot sensors.
Interior Design – The Countryman’s interior design is pretty much identical to it’s Cooper S hardtop brother. A circular speedometer with a semi-circular tachometer are directly in front of the driver (although I’d prefer it they were switched) while a head-up display shows speed and shift points when in Sport mode. In the center is a large circular design that is reminiscent of Minis of old but in 2020, it houses the infotainment screen. Below it are physical buttons and toggle switches for the climate control and traction & drive modes. Overall a well laid out cabin with good quality materials.
Exterior Design – From far away, the 2020 Mini Countryman looks more like the 5-door version of the standard Mini Cooper. It’s only when you get closer to it that you realize just how big this “Mini” really is. The overall shape of the car is instantly recognizable as a Mini product from the front fascia with the round headlights to the rear “pill shaped” taillights. The only miss are those taillights. They look a bit bland when compared to the Union Jack tail lights of the Cooper S hardtop.
With a starting price of $43,090 CAD ($41,400 USD), the 2020 JCW Mini Countryman is pretty good value for the performance that you’re getting. But this being a BMW product, the options list is extensive and expensive. This particular demo car has almost $10,500 in options. However if you’re looking for a sporty crossover that can take the kids to school and still have some fun, get the base JCW Countryman with a few options and you’ll be perfectly happy.
Thank you to Mini Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Mini.ca