You always earn extra points for owning a car that’s starred in a famous movie and been involved in an iconic car chase but I’m not about to outrun the law or jump any bridges with my second generation Pontiac Firebird like it did in Smokey and the Bandit. However, I have been recreating scenes (in my mind at least, don’t write in...) from The Italian Job, because when all is said and done, the primary objective for this wild little Mini JCW Countryman is to ensure it puts a great big smile on your face. And that it most certainly does.
Alright, it isn’t so little anymore; in fact, the Countryman, which was redesigned last year, is the biggest model to the wear the Mini and JCW badges. With an overall length of 4,299mm, it’s 190mm longer and at 1,822mm, it’s 30mm wider than the model it replaced and thanks to 75mm longer wheelbase, it affords more space for passengers seated in the second row. Speaking of which, if you fold those seats down, it has 1,390 litres of room or 450 litres with them up. But the beefed up crossover is able to combine all of this useful versatility (never thought I’d use the word ‘versatile’ to describe a Mini, but thanks to its increased dimensions it really is...) with a race track feeling on all terrains and that’s because under the bonnet resides BMW Group’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo that produces 231bhp. That is 13 more than the predecessor, and it has 350Nm of torque. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic that shifts fast with the steering mounted paddles responding swiftly to your inputs. It can dispatch the 0-100kph dash in just 6.5 seconds, in fact, the JCW Countryman loves it when you bury the throttle — and you’ll do so every chance you get. Overtaking is a blast, but it is made even better by the crackles and pops from the exhaust. Every trip becomes a hot lap.
It rides on BMW’s UKL2 platform, albeit with a stiffened suspension, while the all-wheel drive system ensures a consistently fast and precise response distributing the torque between the front and rear wheels as and when needed. You never tire of throwing this JCW around, not when the sporty chassis keeps egging you on to press it harder. Do so and it still handles with aplomb (even though it tips the scales at a rather unflattering 1,630kg) — and it’s reassuring to see that stopping power comes from powerful Brembo brakes. You certainly wouldn’t miss it buzzing around what with the aggressive rally-inspired front and rear fascia, side skirts, prominent JCW badging and 18in JCW wheels hiding those big red calipers.
For 2018, it gains a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors as standard. Apple CarPlay is now included in the Technology package and the Attentiveness Assistance, which monitors driver fatigue, comes as standard on all trims.
Aside from the large, round gauges and overhead toggle switches, there are plenty of other quirks in the cabin that’ll have you giggling as much as the fun-to-drive powertrain. Switch the drive mode to Sport and it not only awakens its inner beast but it also displays a little graphic of a go-kart on the 8.8in touchscreen and the ambient lights flash and change colour as you change other settings but best of all is the Union Jack stitched into the back of the front headrests. It’s a nice touch. It’s also all put together very well; there’s very little hard plastics or cheaper materials and it boasts very good fit and finish. There’s ample leg and head room and good forward visibility, however, accessing the rotary dial for the infotainment system is tricky due to the way the centre console slopes down but once you’ve taught yourself where everything is, the Countryman’s cabin really is a pretty nice place to be. Overall, it feels upscale and thanks to the longer wheelbase you won’t mind being seated in the second row. It packs a host of tech and kit as standard including LED headlights (with cornering function), cruise control with automatic braking function, collision warning with city braking function, pedestrian warning with initial brake function and road sign detection.
Whether you are pootling around town or blasting up mountain roads it never stops being fun. Hmm, how would it cope going down a flight of stairs like in that scene from the movie? Judging by its cheeky expression, it clearly wants me to find out! Excuse me while I do...