The chance to drive any model of Mini in Manila is a great opportunity not to be missed and a chance to drive it in another country is definitely a privilege. When an invitation came from Mini Philippines to drive the Mini Countryman in Thailand, who were we to say no? We flew out to Bangkok to experience the very limited Mini Countryman John Cooper Works (JCW) All4 for three days.
On the road
Our first leg was to drive about 173-km of highway from Bangkok to our lunch venue at the Lake Kaeng Kracharn Dam. We got to experience some of their notorious rush hour traffic until we got to the outskirts of the city. There, we were finally able to stretch the legs of the Mini Countryman JCW. The spacious subcompact crossover SUV was perfect for this long drive as there was more than enough space for me, my co-driver and our luggage.
The John Cooper Works version is the sport tuned all-wheel drive variant. Under the hood is a 2.0 liter 16-valve twin turbocharged DOHC gasoline engine which puts out 231-Hp at 5,000-6,000 rpm with 350-Nm of torque at 1,450-4,500 rpm mated to an eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission. This set up made short work of the highway stretches where we faithfully stayed within the speed limit. The torque coming in low in the rpm range was handy for getting past slow movers and big trucks, allowing for a quick out and in.
On the track
After lunch, there was still about a 20 minute drive to the Kaeng Krachan Circuit where we would get a full appreciation of what the Mini Countryman JCW offers. A private race track which opened in 2010, it’s 2.912-km long, has two shorter circuits within it: a medium course which is 2.4-km and the short course which is 1.004-km. We would follow a pace car driven by one of two female race instructors.
At the start we switched the Countryman’s drive mode from Normal to Sport. We warmed up on the short course where we drove at a moderate speed to get used to how the JCW Countryman handled, and experienced the handling on a short slalom on one of the short straights. Then, as we came back to the start/finish line, we’d do a straight line brake from however fast we were going to a dead stop to familiarize ourselves with how emergency braking feels like.
The next task was on the medium course where we would learn the right areas to brake and apply power at turns. Once the instructors saw we were confident on the medium course, we were allowed to run the full track while trying to keep up with the instructor’s car.
The Countryman JCWs we drove were showroom stock with no modifications, other than what goes into a JCW variant. Of course, there was no way we could keep up with seasoned race drivers on a track, but the Countryman JCW gave us a fighting chance. The wide 19-inch run-flat tires gave us good grip, especially when cornering. The sport tuned suspension kept body roll to a minimum. The speed sensing electric power steering kept resistance of the steering wheel just right, giving us good feedback of the track as we sped around. All-wheel drive came into it’s own, giving traction to all four wheels in concert with the ABS and Dynamic Stability Control (DCS) with Automatic Stability Control (ASC-T), making sure we didn’t lose control on the challenging parts of the track, of which there were many. Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Corner Brake Control (CBC) made us feel like we were racing pros, allowing us to concentrate on following the lead instructor’s car while our own took care of making sure we stayed safe on the race track.
After almost a half day on a racetrack to ourselves, we then drove an hour to where we would spend the night: the Ace of Hua Hin resort. On day three, we would drive roughly 96-km to our lunch venue at Kaomai Plamun Samut Songkhram and then another 92-km back to Bangkok.
The JCW is equipped with many features that will make sure you get home in one piece, working as it should on your daily drive as it did on the racetrack. You can be confident that it can handle anything your daily drive throws at it.
In terms of amenities, you get special JCW sport seats, both driver and passenger seats are eight-way manually adjustable with cushion extensions. There’s a six speaker premium Harman Kardon entertainment system with speed sensing volume. Best of all, it still works seamlessly with the now ancient iPod classic which was great because I couldn’t be bothered to either transfer it all to my iPhone or stream my driving music.
What we think…
The Mini JCW Countryman was a joy to drive on a real long drive of almost 400-km. It was an eye-opener how capable it was on a proper race track, staying true to Mini’s racing heritage. At Php 4,550,00 you’ve got the makings of what’s comfortable enough to be a daily driver, roomy enough to carry your friends and their stuff, capable enough on the open road, and even more so on track days without much fuss. And the best thing? The Mini JCW Countryman is guaranteed to be a classic.