THE NEW MINI JOHN COOPER WORKS COUNTRYMAN HAS ARRIVED.
The model’s top athlete takes the MINI Countryman’s exceptional versatility and extreme driving fun to the next level. We took it on a road trip through the Garden Route to get the full experience.
The new MINI John Cooper Works Countryman has a lovely exhaust crackle when you fire it up… The tingle that sound sends down your spine is a taste of the excitement of driving the second generation of this, the biggest and most versatile model in the MINI range.
A symphony of those growls and crackles, sounding a bit like the start of a rally, signalled the beginning of a day-long road trip we took in the new MINI John Cooper Works Countryman. It took us through the Garden Route and part of the Klein Karoo, allowing us to cover a fantastic range of terrain, from highways and country roads to dirt tracks, mountain passes and coastal roads.
A bit of research revealed that the distinctive sound of the new MINI John Cooper Works Countryman is a result of the sports exhaust system. The power unit is a four-cylinder turbo engine with 170kW (up by 10kW compared to its predecessor) and 350Nm torque. This is the most powerful engine ever to be fitted in a MINI. A sprint from zero to 100km/h takes just 6.5 seconds, and you can keep going up to a maximum speed of 234km/h.
Come rain or shine
Apart from that engine, it also features an all-wheel drive system that not only optimises traction on dirt roads but also enhances stability when the weather gets dodgy. The system’s electronic control unit is linked to the dynamic stability control (DSC), which distributes drive torque between the front and rear wheels quickly and precisely. The sports brake system, which has four-piston fixed-calliper disc brakes on the front wheels (finished in red) was developed by specialist manufacturer Brembo.
Here’s looking at you
The car certainly looks the part. We were assigned one in the Rebel Green reserved exclusively for John Cooper Works models, with contrasting Chili Red on the roof and exterior mirror caps. The MINI John Cooper Works Countryman is immediately recognisable by its aerodynamics kit, which features especially large air inlets at the front apron and an extra radiator to cool that racing-derived engine. A roof spoiler underscores both the height of the body and the fact that its design is geared towards optimum aerodynamic balance.
Let’s hit the road
The route we took, of course, wasn’t just about appreciating the countryside. On a day like ours – with a bit of drizzle and patches of sun coming through the cloud – we got to explore the fun side of the car.
And that throaty rasp wasn’t an empty promise. We took off from George Airport on the country roads heading towards Prince Alfred Pass for an immediate taste of the racing character that lies at the heart of the John Cooper Works motor-racing heritage. (Of course, the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman forms the basis for the MINI John Cooper Works Rally, which is the competition vehicle used for rallies like the Dakar Rally. The first generation MINI Countryman, after all, racked up a legendary four successive Dakar Rally wins.)
Its energetic power delivery carries through beautifully with the help of a turbocharger with increased charge air pressure. The long wheelbase and low centre of gravity complement the power of the engine. What’s more, the tight setup of the sports suspension and damping systems make for an engaging experience.
Before we knew it, we had nipped off the asphalt onto a dirt track and climbed through forested mountainside towards the winding Prince Alfred Pass. Here, the ALL4 all-wheel drive system really came into its own. As we went from stony tracks to slippery mud, and had great fun splashing through the water-filled potholes, the handling was confidence-inspiring and fun.
After the spectacular scenery and driving terrain of the Pass, we took a lunch break in Knysna and admired how much of the Rebel Green and Chili Red we’d managed to cover with mud! Afterwards, as we cruised along the coastal roads towards Wilderness, taking in the waterfront views, the raised seating position showed its purpose.
When the terrain flattened and the roads straightened out as we neared Outshoorn, the comfortable cruising capabilities of the car came to the fore. The cruising times allowed us to appreciate the cockpit, which is spacious and comfortable, with undeniable racing flair. Details like the John Cooper Works sports seats and sports steering wheel enhance the driving experience. The new MINI John Cooper Works Countryman has more space than its predecessor, too, with plenty of head- and legroom, and a nice, big boot.
Then, it was back to George via the Robinson Pass, where we had one more chance to test the harmonious relationship between performance and handling. The new MINI John Cooper Works Countryman’s all-round qualities provide extreme driving fun. But the secret is that it’s designed as much for everyday traffic and lengthier distances as it is for adventures away from asphalted roads. It’s comfortable and practical, but it’s thrilling performance allows the sports exhaust to fulfil its destiny.