2012 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works
* Hardcore version of Mini's SUV * Priced from 28,595 * On sale now...
The Mini Countryman John Cooper Works is a hardcore range-topping version of the company's small SUV.
It gets similar enhancements to Mini's other JCW models, with more power, an upgraded chassis and a range of cosmetic tweaks.
What's the 2012 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works like to drive?
Mini's JCW models are usually a bit of a handful, because they have well over 200bhp and send all of this to the front wheels.
The Countryman is different, though, because it's the only JCW with four-wheel drive. Power is split equally between the front and rear wheels in everyday driving, but more is sent to the appropriate end if the wheels start to spin.
This really helps calm things down, and means the Countryman can easily cope with the 215bhp pumped out by its 1.6-litre turbocharged engine. It claws its way off the line with no fuss whatsoever, and doesn't tug away at the steering wheel when you accelerate hard out of slow corners.
The downside of the four-wheel-drive system is that it adds quite a bit of weight (around 70kg), so once you're moving, the speed doesn't build quite as quickly as you might expect.
The 0-62mph time of 7.0 seconds is hardly shabby, but lighter hot hatchbacks such as the Ford Focus ST and the VW Golf GTI will leave the Mini trailing.
More impressive than the outright pace is the engine's flexibility. It'll happily pull 30mph in sixth gear, and revs sweetly to well over 6000rpm. It sounds great, too, with the exhaust popping and spitting when you back off the throttle.
Larger anti-roll bars and lowered suspension are fitted to help keep the Mini's high-sided body in check through corners, and the JCW is certainly more nimble than lesser Countrymans as a result.
Again, though, the Mini is outshone by the best hot hatches, because it doesn't change direction as quickly or neatly as lower rivals, including the Focus and Golf.
The steering gives you little confidence, too; it's initially light and incredibly quick to react, but weights up unnervingly as the car starts to turn in.
Like all Countrymans, the JCW also has a decidedly firm ride, but at least the lower and stiffer set-up hasn't made things appreciably worse.
What's the 2012 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works like inside?
The changes inside are rather more minimal. There are a few John Cooper Works' badges scattered around the cabin and some piano black inserts on the dashboard, but that's about it.
Like all versions of the Countryman built from November onwards, the JCW also has relocated window switches they're now on the doors rather than on the centre console.
The rest of the control layout remains unchanged, which means the retro design looks great, but isn't especially user-friendly.
Don't expect huge practicality, either. The Countryman is easily the biggest car Mini makes, but despite its SUV pretentions, it's no more spacious than a Golf.
True, the sliding rear seats mean you can have either a big boot or loads of legroom, but there's not enough space for you to have both at the same time.
The lofty driving position does give a great view out, though.
Should I buy one?
If you want a fun and fairly practical family car, you're better off looking at a Ford Focus ST or VW Golf GTI.
Both of these hot hatchbacks aren't just faster and more rewarding than the JCW, they're just as spacious and significantly cheaper to buy.
If you're dead set on a Countryman and want a powerful petrol engine, save yourself 6000 and go for the Cooper S model.
Ford Focus ST
VW Golf GTI
What Car? says