2021 Mini Countryman JCW-Inspired road test review
On the shortlist (we do mean short) of fun-to-drive cars under Rs 50 lakh, the Mini Cooper S is usually right at the top, along with the likes of the Octavia RS245 (if you can find one), the BMW 3 Series 330i, and that's it really. Though, you'd be missing out on a great driving experience if you didn't consider the Mini Countryman. While the 5-door Mini Clubman (or is it 6-door?) used to be another option, it doesn't exist in the line-up any longer, so if you want a Mini-like experience but aren't ready to sacrifice practicality for it, the Countryman should be right up your alley. And for 2021, it makes a lot more sense, with the facelifted model bringing with it a longer standard features list, and some added features on the range-topping Countryman JCW-Inspired Edition.
2021 Mini Countryman: What's new?
Underneath its mild facelift, the Mini Countryman retains the essentials of the second-gen Countryman launched in India in 2018. So compared to the first-gen Countryman, we're looking at a new platform - the UKL2 (same as the X1, and 2 Series Gran Coupe), a 75mm longer wheelbase, and overall larger crossover. The reason that's important is because in a segment which consists of the Volvo XC40, BMW X1, Audi Q2 and newly-launched Mercedes-Benz GLA, it's only the GLA that's an all-new car for India. At least until Audi bring in the new-gen Q3.
That aside, the Countryman looks less fussy viewed head on now, with a single-frame honeycomb grille across all variants, namely the base car and this JCW-Inspired Edition you see here. The square-ish LED headlights get square reflectors that better match their shape, with nice detailing inside them. The base Countryman gets all new bumpers, while the JCW-Inspired Edition with its Aerodynamic body kit carries over the sharper-looking bumpers from earlier cars, but that isn't a bad thing. Around the rear, there's no missing the Union Jack detailing in the tail lights, similar to the updated Mini 3-door, and it really adds to the sophisticated look of the Countryman.
A new paint shade, Sage Green, comes off as near-Nardo grey, then shifting towards a sea-foam green when you get up close. It's the perfect example of what Mini does best - funky styling touches that stands apart from anything else out there. The JCW-Inspired Edition's 18-inch wheels are a new-for-India design and are an instant classic, with 225/50 runflat Pirellis making for a sporty stance.
Inside, there's an updated gear shift lever, with the top JCW-Inspired variant ditching the analogue intrsumentation for a 5.5-inch digital panel (with a real physical tacho needle!) that's easier to read but doesn't look nearly as 'Mini' as the earlier clocks. A heads-up display for speed, navigation and media helps, but the steering controls are otherwise quite intuitive to use. The 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment is paired with Harman/Kardon audio, and gains wireless smartphone integration, with a novel wireless charging pad under the front armrest - it's a bit fiddly to slot your phone in, but once it's in, it's properly secured. Coming to what's standard now - a panoramic sunroof, powered tailgate with hands-free operation, rearview camera, powered front seats and more - makes the Countryman much better equipped than early examples. The top JCW-Inspired variant adds in keyless entry, and parts from the JCW catalogue including the steering wheel, sill plates and stainless steel pedal covers.
2021 Mini Countryman: Cabin, practicality and comfort
The changes to the interiors, while not drastic, do help give you the feeling that you're sat in a thoroughly modern car, so I guess it's mission achieved for Mini, which has always had cool interiors with great materials used all around - the toggle switches are like a little celebration to the art of building cars every time you use them!
You get a commanding view out, and visibility out the front is excellent, though rear visibility is a little hampered by a small-ish rear view mirror, and narrow-ish rear window aperture. The seats themselves, with adjustable bolsters, are snug and the cushioning's firm. Personally, this suits me, but others on the team didn't quite find it as comfortable, though it was pretty unanimously agreed upon that the seats at the rear have firmer cushioning still.
Space isn't at a premium, with good knee room and headroom, and an overall airy feeling despite the dark interiors, though the Countryman will clearly make for a more comfortable four-seater than a five-seater. The rear seats can be moved fore and aft to either give you more knee room or more luggage capacity though the 450-litres boot is fairly sizeable, expandable to 1,390-litres via 40:20:40 split seats.
2021 Mini Countryman: Engine, transmission and performance
How the Countryman has slipped past so many buyer's radar is beyond me - it drives brilliantly! Granted, recent sales reports show that it does sell better than the 3-door Mini, but it deserves more attention than it gets, honestly. The 2.0-litre B48 BMW engine feels strong and lively, with its 192PS/280Nm tasked with pulling along just under 1.5-tonne of Mini. Sure, the Countryman's heavier than the 3-door, of course it is, and that does mean its 0-100kmph figures of 7.5s claimed (8.3s tested) are down a second compared to the 3-door's 6.7s claimed but it does regularly feel quicker than its test figures show.
The JCW-Inspired Edition continues with a quicker-shifting 7-speed dual clutch Steptronic Sport, compared to the non-Sport version in the base Countryman, and you'll only find yourself reaching for the paddle shifters (another JCW-Inspired exclusive) when you want the extra involvement. At all other times, the gearbox does a great job of predicting what you need from the powertrain, and when. The disappointment is that its launch control feature holds revs at under 1,500rpm when engaged, the same as when it's not engaged, which explains the somewhat lacklustre outright acceleration figure we achieved. Out on the highway, the powertrain's fairly relaxed at 2,000rpm at 120kmph, and slipping the Countryman into its Green drive mode sees the engine go into coast mode more often. Surprising for an engine of its size, we also managed a very impressive 19.2kmpl over our test route in Green mode, and an equally impressive 11.3kmpl in our city testing.
But chances are if you're looking at a Countryman in the first place, you do like the occasional trip to the redline, and this package delivers excitement in spades. Power builds low, with no apparent turbo lag, and the motor revs cleanly and urgently to its redline just above 6,000rpm. It's especially strong between 2,500-4,500rpm - exactly where you want it to be - allowing you to short shift and find yourself right in the powerband. Flipping the toggle to Sport deepens the induction roar, the exhaust volume (not just through the speakers, either) and throws in some burbles on the overrun. It's quite addictive, and driven like a hot hatch, expect to see those efficiency numbers go south. Quickly.
2021 Mini Countryman: Ride and handling
18-inch wheels, and low profile runflat tyres aren't exactly the recipe for stellar ride quality, and the Countryman sure feels it. At low speeds, you're bound to feel the road under you in quite high-definition detail, translating to a slight skip over imperfections at higher speeds. But largely, the ride evens out over 50kmph and only gets better and more absorbent as the numbers on the speedo climb. At triple-digit speeds, the Countryman does feel glued to the road, and it's a joy to steer. You almost forgive the heft of the steering that you experience in the city - it feels that tied down.
In fact, to truly appreciate the Countryman, you need to experience it over a set of corners. Despite being front-wheel driven, the Countryman shows a very neutral attitude if you do choose to attack a turn, with a little wheelspin greeting a heavy right foot getting out of a corner. But the more rewarding way to drive it has to be balancing the Countryman on its brakes, and allowing the great steering to tell you where the grip is. Unfortunately, outright braking performance isn't what we expected to see at this price, and seems like an anomaly.
2021 Mini Countryman verdict
Though the jump from the standard Cooper S to the JCW-Inspired is around Rs 4 lakh for a Rs 51.7 lakh on-road, Mumbai price tag, it's well worth it for the wheel/tyre package alone. The Countryman's also now suitably specced to take on the likes of the new Mercedes-Benz GLA, the BMW X1, Volvo XC40 and Audi Q2, though it's a distinctly different flavour of crossover. And for someone who absolutely loves driving, I think it's a flavour worth buying into.
2021 Mini Countryman performance and fuel efficiency
0-100kmph - 8.3s
30-50kmph - 1.8s
50-70kmph - 1.7s
60-80kmph - 2.0s
City - 11.3kmpl
Highway - 19.2kmpl
Overall - 13.3kmpl
Photography: Anis Shaikh
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