We start off our episode of TestDrive Spotlight on this 2018 Mini John Cooper Works Countryman All4 saying that 2018 has been the year of firsts for us at TestDrive. This Mini for example is the first I've had the pleasure to drive, mostly because I am a very large individual and Mini's Cooper line of coupés and hatchbacks don't quite fit with my overall physique. The Countryman on the other hand is a subcompact crossover SUV much like the Kia Niro we featured earlier this year, which means I have more room to be comfortable in a vehicle of this size.
While the Niro and Countryman are both in the same basic segment, they aren't comparable at all. Buyers looking at the hybrid Kia aren't going to be interested in this performance-oriented Mini. Our test vehicle came with $8,740.00 worth of options including the Mini Yours upgraded leather seating, Harman/Kardon audio, head-up display, that flashy two-colour paint job, and much more. All-in for this All4 would come to $47,630.00 Canadian before taxes, destination, and other fees. It's definitely pricer than the Niro, but again not comparable.
First the exterior of this car should be discussed. I like it quite a bit, even though long-time Mini enthusiasts feel this kind of car is an abomination in the vehicle lineup. I think BMW had no choice but to build this kind of car, as buyers continue to gravitate away from sedans and hatchbacks in favour of small crossover SUVs like this. I feel the proportions are quite good overall, and we found the trunk space to be on-par if not better than the Niro, and definitely better than the coupé-like vehicles in this segment like the Toyota C-HR and Mazda CX-3.
Up front you get LED headlights, high beams, and cornering lamps. The JCW trim removes the front fog lamps in order to give the car a bit more of an aggressive look. 18" alloy rims and painted brake callipers help to distinguish this car from other Countryman models, and BMW's comfort access key system allows you to get into the car from either front door. A Mini logo is also projected on the ground in front of the driver's door as a welcome light, along with LED lighting inside the door handles.
Out back we find a power lift gate, Mini's picnic bench seat that folds out a cushion from the trunk to sit on, four parking sensors, and a backup camera. There's not much to surprise out back, but we did find the size to be good as mentioned earlier.
Jumping inside is where this Mini's design really shines. The Mini Yours package adds some British Union Jacks to the seats and headrests, and enhances the leather and design quite a bit. If it's worth the $2,300+ price tag will be up to you though. There's a lot about this car to go over, but we really did cover everything in extreme detail with our Spotlight episode. The highlights include the 12 different ambient light colours, excellent iDrive system, colour head-up display, and overall quirky design with things like the buttons and controls.
We actually found the seats to be quite comfortable as a big guy, and had enough space in the back seat for our 4 year old daughter. There's not much going on in those rear seats but up from you do have heat and a heated steering wheel. Dual-zone automatic climate control with automatic air recirculation, and the upgrade h/k audio system gives you some better sound quality.
The biggest interior feature we loved was wireless Apple CarPlay support, allowing you to pair your phone and use it without the USB connection. Mini & BMW are the first to offer this on a vehicle and we found that it worked incredibly well, our only issue was the media would switch from SiriusXM to CarPlay anytime we replied to a text message. There is a built-in wireless phone charger under the front armrest, but it's too small to accommodate the iPhone 8 Plus or Samsung Galaxy Note8.
Performance is the key reason people are looking at the John Cooper Works version over the regular Cooper S Countryman. The 228 horsepower inline 4 turbo engine is quite peppy, and provided ample power when we needed it. We often found ourselves driving in sport mode with manual shift enabled, allowing us to best waste the most amount of fuel with that 8-speed automatic transmission. A 6-speed manual is available, but will lose you the ability to use launch control.
We really loved the exhaust note this car produced with sport model enabled, but we do feel that Mini has to use some sort of active noise technology to improve the interior cabin sound when using sport mode. We noticed a huge difference when putting the car into sport mode from normal or green, and while it sounds fantastic, we can't believe it's 100% from the engine. This isn't a bad thing though, we buy cars to enjoy them ourselves, and if a bit of audio magic helps improve the feel of the car, we aren't going to argue.
Handling was also what we expected from Mini, we could really chuck this subcompact crossover SUV into the corners without fear of losing control or tipping over. Again, many Mini enthusiasts feel this doesn't follow the original idea of what a Mini should be, but we thoroughly enjoyed it everywhere we went. This could certainly be a good option as a daily driver for someone looking at the practicality of a subcompact crossover that still wants some performance without having to go up to something like the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45.
You can watch our full episode of TestDrive Spotlight on the 2018 Mini John Cooper Works Countryman All4 below, including our full tour of the features and tech in this car, and what we ultimately liked and disliked about it: