One might think that a Mini named after Mini Cooper icon John Cooper, the late Formula 1 race car builder—that an understatement, as Graham Hill won the world championship in 1959 and 1960 driving a Cooper Formula 1 car, and a Cooper was the first rear-engined car to run at the Indianapolis 500—would be the hottest of the Mini brand. And one would almost be right.
Here’s how it works. The Mini engines, regardless of particular model, are the same regardless of body configuration. Whether Mini Cooper or Cooper convertible, the stretch Mini Clubman, the Mini coupe and Mini roadster two-seaters, and our off-pavement Mini Countryman, the choice is between the base naturally-aspirated 121 horsepower Mini models, the turbocharged 181 horse turbocharged Mini S variants, and above that are the John Cooper legacy models—dubbed John Cooper Works—with a rated horsepower of 208 hp.For those with an even greater need for speed, there’s the limited-edition 221-horse John Cooper Works GP. The Grand Prix edition doubles the power of the base model.
The Mini Cooper is due to be replaced soon with a new generation—yes, the new Mini has been around for more than a decade—to be unveiled on November 19, the anniversary of the birth Alec Issigonis, creator of the original Austin Mini. Spy shots have leaked out showing a more rakish Mini, but still wholly recognizable, while rumors are that the speedometer will be shrunken and moved to join the tachometer above the steering wheel (though the pie plate will remain). But it’s likely take time for the changes to filter down (or up?) to the Countryman model, so potential Countrymen owners needn’t worry about immediate obsolescence.
But no doubt, on the next generation, the controls will not be so quaintly distributed. That affectation has worn thin, as it did with us while driving the 2013 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works. Our tester was similar in most ways to the 2012 Mini Countryman S we tested a while back. Those controls on our 2013, of course, were just as random as a year ago, though at least on the Countryman, the window controls have been moved from the center to the doors, making the center console more useable.
An interior change for 2013 is the new three-passenger rear bench seat, so the 2013 Countryman can now accomodate five instead of four. That “five,” as in most small cars, must be taken with a dose of sodium chloride, as Mr. Middle can’t be very wide and still fit. Twin buckets are still available as a no-cost option.
As a four-door, the Mini Countryman is, surprise, roomier than the standard Mini and the three-door Mini Clubman as well. That stuff hasn’t changed, and we recommend you go back and read our earlier review of the Countryman S.
The big difference between the Countryman S and the Countryman John Cooper Works is the more than a skosh more horsepower. You won’t see “supercar” and “Mini” in the same sentence (other than this one), while the Mini S was quick (Mini claims 6.6 seconds to 60 mph), the John Cooper Works takes off with a mechanical whir and a need to shift, oh, already.
All4, Mini’s version of all-wheel drive, is standard on the Mini Countryman John Cooper Works.
Our test Mini Countryman JCW was equipped with the optional six-speed automatic transmission (six-speed manual is standard) with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Unlike some makes that have upshifts on one side and downshifts on the other, Mini follows owner BMW with duplicate paddles on either side. Push either away from you—i.e., down—for a downshift, and pull towards yourself—up—for an upshift. It doesn’t take long to acclimate.
Even in full manual mode, however, the transmission will shift up at maximum revs, but only if you ask it to. Just push past a detent at the bottom of the round accelerator’s stroke and let the transmission decide the optimum shift point. Downshifting, of course, can still be done with the paddles.
The driver can put an edge to the Mini Countryman John Cooper Works’ by flipping a toggle at the bottom of the Countryman’s center stack to put the vehicle into “sport.” The primary function of the sport mode is to speed up shifts, and that it did, getting the next gear there more quickly, and giving the shifts a sharper edge, making the Countryman sound like it has more than just a run-of-the-mill automatic.