Mini is continuing to distance itself from its compact, simple roots in search of a broader audience. The new John Cooper Works Countryman is far from Mini, but that hasn't stopped the team in Oxford from trying to inject it with a touch of go-kart magic from the original. The vehicle will make its debut in Shanghai, and mixes all-wheel drive grip with power from a compact turbo-four.
The JCW Countryman brings about a number of headline figures for Mini. Not only is it the biggest car in the brand's history, it's the equal most powerful as well, courtesy of a turbo four-cylinder making 170 kW (231 hp). It isn't the fastest, though – that honor goes to the less-powerful Mini JCW GP, which could hit 100 km/h (62 mph) in six seconds flat, as opposed to the 6.5 seconds it takes the new Countryman.
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In keeping with its high-riding, wannabe four-wheel drive looks, power is put to the road through an ALL4 all-wheel drive system. In spite of the extra weight this adds to the already-hefty Countryman, Mini is adamant its latest JCW will deliver on the promise of go-kart handling for the road – but we'll only be convinced once we get behind the wheel. In China, the car will only be offered with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, but other countries are likely to get a six-speed manual version as well.
From the outside, Mini has made sure you won't confuse the JCW for a regular Countryman. The car sits on unique alloy wheels, and there's a meaner-looking bodykit as well. It looks like a regular Cooper JCW was hit with a super-sizing ray, right down to the wide-eyed gaze up front. It's worth bearing in mind, most of the styling changes can be applied individually to less-powerful models, but it would take some serious spec-sheet study to perfectly replicate the JCW look on a cheaper Countryman.
None of this is likely to appeal to fans of the Sir Alex Issignois original, but that isn't really the point with the growing Mini range. In brand-conscious China, the badge carries a lot of cachet, but poor roads outside of the main cities mean the Cooper Hatch isn't necessarily a realistic option for lots of buyers. Also, the profit from every Countryman and Clubman sold can be poured into the development of new hatchbacks and track-specials like the Challenge. That's something we can get behind.
The new JCW Countryman will be on show at Auto Shanghai, which kicks off on April 21. It'll be next to the five-door Cooper Hatch, a regular Countryman and the Clubman on the Mini stand.
The vehicle can be seen in action in the video below.