MINI unveils rally-bred Countryman JCW

The best way to get into a 'rally car for the road' back in the '90s was to buy an Impreza Turbo or Mitsubishi Evo. Today, it's buying this: the MINI Countryman JCW. How does that make you feel?

Yes, BMW has launched a Countryman John Cooper Works with 215bhp and four-wheel drive, making it a direct descendent of the MINI World Rally Championship (WRC) car. It's the most powerful production car MINI has ever made.
It's the first member of the six-strong modern JCW family to have four-wheel drive, in fact. It's also the most expensive, natch, with a £27,800 list price.

That's not far off the cost of the 295bhp Mitsubishi Evolution X FQ-300 (£31,349), or the 296bhp Subaru Impreza WRX STI (£32,995), for reference.

Due to be unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, the Countryman JCW's ALL4 four-wheel drive system apportions power equally between the front and rear wheels in normal driving conditions, but it can send all of it to the back axle when needed. Or, as BMW puts it, "when the going gets tough."

The 0-62mph sprint is done in seven seconds flat, regardless of transmission - this is the first JCW car with an automatic as an option - and it hits 140mph before running out of breath. Power comes from a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine.

The springs and dampers are stiffened, compared to the regular Cooper S Countryman, as is the anti-roll bar, and the brakes are beefed up. The ride is dropped by a centimetre.

Like the other JCWs, there's a Sport button that sharpens the throttle response (transforming it into a simple on/off switch, in our experience), beefs up the steering and makes the exhaust blow louder.

However, the yin to that stuff's yang is a load of fuel-saving technology that MINI labels MINIMALISM. It includes brake energy capture, an optimum gearshift time advisor and start-stop. Fuel economy, therefore, is a fairly decent 39.2mpg with 167g/km CO2. But with an auto 'box they sink to 35.3mpg and 187g/km.

You don't need us to run through the looks - you have eyes of your own - but it's clear that MINI has done some work making this the most aggressive Countryman this side of the actual rally car. The body kit is exclusive to the JCW, as are the contrasting red stitching and piano black inserts of the interior. Of course, there are JCW badges all over the place.

The MINI Countryman John Cooper Works hits the shops in autumn.
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