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Only MINI could have brought us a family hatchback like the Clubman. June Neary checks the second generation version out
Added 18th April, 2019
Back in the late Fifties, the story goes that the engineers behind the original British Mini proposed to Austin company Chairman Leonard Lord that a faster version should be introduced with a 950cc engine and a top speed of 90mph. He declared it excessive, limiting production versions to a far more sensible 75mph. What on earth then, might he have made of this Countryman JCW model?
More importantly, what are buyers on the used market to make of it? It's not really a hot hatch or a small sporting SUV, though you could think of it as either. Better perhaps just to think of it as a bit of fun you could sensibly justify, a practical yet compact sporting family five-door backed by BMW standards of engineering
True, the John Cooper Works Countryman is never going to be the obvious answer to any 'which car?' question. It's just too niche a thing for that. Even so, we have a sneaking suspicion that this MINI might suit quite a significant number of used market people very well, assuming that they could be persuaded to consider it in the first place. It's very fast, brilliant fun, is nicely built, looks good, feels unique, swallows a small family and won't cost a fortune to run. If those don't sound like the ingredients for a very promising car, then we're not sure what does.
When it comes to affordable open-topped sportscars that drive well and are usable every day, the used market isn't exactly swollen with talent. There's the evergreen Mazda MX-5, but beyond that, you'll need to step up to much pricier cars like the Audi TT Roadster. Slotting in between these two was an open goal that this MINI was never going to miss.
A little more extreme than an MX-5. A little easier to own - and much more affordable - than a Lotus Elise, this MINI Roadster was extremely carefully targeted, with a very different appeal to any of the brand's previous soft-top models. Buying one will be an unashamed indulgence, as the purchase of any sportscar should be, the beginning of a driving experience that promises fun without too many hard core compromises. It's the MINI method of sportscar ownership. And you can see why many in this market are going to like it.
So what's happened to the MINI 3-Door hatch? Fresh technology, smarter connectivity, standard-fit front and rear LED lights across the range and an advanced dual-clutch automatic gearbox are amongst the highlight changes made to this revised model. That said, despite changing so much under the skin, it feels very much a case of as you were, MINI perhaps a little cautious of alienating either existing owners or potential new customers with something radical.
Don't let that make you think we're underwhelmed by this MINI. It's still a great hatch and the latest changes give it some legs to continue the success story. The prices look very reasonable at the moment, but to get the best from this car, you'll probably want to throw a few of those high-end options at it, so budget accordingly and take that into account when you're calculating your cost of ownership numbers. The MINI might have grown up but it doesn't look as if it's lost its sense of fun.
Third time round, BMW's modern era MINI turned out to be a much more sophisticated thing. This three-door Hatch version is slightly more practical than its R56-series predecessor and feels considerably better built. It's far more efficient too, with the bulk of the range using a punchier range of eager three cylinder engines. And its more sophisticated underpinnings are better suited to longer journeys. In short, this car came of age in third generation form. But does it make sense as a used buy?
Here is a MINI - but not as you might know it. But then, if it was conventionally sized, this Countryman wouldn't be able to keep existing MINI people loyal when they out-grew their city runabouts and shopping rockets. Nor would it tempt in buyers new to the brand. Customers liking the vibrant SUV-inspired Crossover concept, but wanting it with a little more tarmac sparkle.
This Countryman has done both these things, though at the cost of British style and build. It's as suited to the urban jungle as a Land Rover is to the Amazon. It's a car created for the times we live in. And a Country you could be proud of.
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