First drive review: Mini Countryman John Cooper Works (2012)

This is the most powerful and expensive production Mini to wear the famous British badge. It is also one of the strangest: a miniature

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This is the most powerful and expensive production Mini to wear the famous British badge. It is also one of the strangest: a miniature soft-roader with four-wheel drive, a top speed of 140mph and a body kit verging on the boy racer side of good taste.

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Beneath the bling, this is essentially a Mini Countryman that has been tuned by Mini’s sports division, John Cooper Works. It features a newly developed 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine that produces 215bhp, a rise of more than 30bhp over the next most powerful Countryman. That’s been harnessed to ALL4 — Mini-speak for four-wheel drive — making this the first all-wheel-drive John Cooper Works model. The car looks sportier too: lowered suspension, bigger rear brakes and fat 18in tyres have been fitted to keep the power under control. The chunky body kit and sports exhaust system with chrome tailpipes complete the muscular look.

In the cabin, there are sports seats with bright red stitching, a shrunken sports steering wheel and dark backgrounds for the rev counter and vast, but almost impossible to read, speedometer. All in all this appears to be a car that has done everything it can to alienate people who have been buying the standard version: school-run mums who live in the shires and fancy something with a bit more charm than a Range Rover Evoque and more character than a Golf GTI.

But while on paper the marriage of the Countryman to the sporty Works upgrades should be a match made in hell, on the road it works brilliantly. The modifications spoilt the normally excellent Cooper S version of the Mini hatch but they improve the bigger Countryman. The reason is simple: while a Works hatch kicks, bounces and bucks its way from place to place, the Countryman handles and rides on its softer springs rather well. The extra power is smoothly delivered, giving a genuine sense of performance when you put your foot down, and it is pleasant and engaging to drive.

The big downside is the price. The Works version costs £6,000 more than the next most powerful Countryman and is pushing £30,000. Whether there are enough school-run mums with a naughty streak willing to spend that sort of money remains to be seen



Verdict ★★★☆☆

Improved, but too expensive for a Mini


1598cc, 4 cylinders
215bhp @ 6000rpm
6-speed manual
0-62mph in 7sec
Top speed:
38.2mpg (combined)
Road tax band:
L 4133mm W 1789mm H 1561mm



The Rivals

Volkswagen Golf GTI Edition 35 £28,480

For: Excellent blend of all-round everyday abilities Against: Getting old now; less fun to drive than rivals

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Ford Focus ST-3 £25,495

For: Class-leading handling; stirring performance Against: Lacks a certain style; engine noise

Search for and buy a quality used Ford Focus on