These two are variations on a theme. 306 hp four door performance MINIs with all wheel drive and highly effective 8 speed automatics. Yet they couldn’t be further part philosophically. The JCW Countryman is MINI’s unique take on the small performance SUV that seems everywhere these days. The Clubman is a unicorn of sorts. A small performance wagon with all the utility of the aforementioned small SUV yet with a lower center of gravity and tuned for greater performance (and perhaps more importantly) more driver engagement. With 306 hp a piece, both have blistering performance that would rival M3s from a decade ago. But if you could only have one which would it be?
We’re in a unique position to answer that question. Having just put almost 18,000 miles on our JCW Clubman before handing it back to MINI, we developed more than a few opinions about the small wagon. And with perfect timing, a 2021 JCW Countryman just dropped in our driveway last week. And to make things even more interesting we’ve had the previous 231 HP versions of both of these cars in 2018 and 2019. So our knowledge (and opinions) run deep on these two.
JCW Countryman Vs JCW Clubman – Performance
181 lbs. When you’re discussing the differences between these two that’s the number that matters. With the JCW Countryman at 3,790 lbs and the JCW Clubman weighing in at 3,609 lbs, neither of these cars are lightweight specials. But with all wheel drive, massive brakes and all the creature comforts that one would expect in 2020, these numbers shouldn’t be surprising. Luckily the 306 hp and 332 ft lbs of torque make you forget about the pounds for a bit as it propels the Clubman and the Countryman to 60 mph in 4.6 and 4.7 seconds respectively (and those are conservative official numbers).
However it’s the revised suspension and larger brakes on both models that make the recent upgrades so sweet. Worth noting both cars got the new power plant and brakes in 2020. However the revised suspension was introduced in 2020 on the JCW Clubman (as part of the LCI) and recently on the 2021 LCI for the Countryman. Now with both of them brought up to parity, it’s easier to feel the subtle and distinct differences.
The Countryman’s extra weight and height don’t necessarily diminish it’s speed but do give you slightly less confidence in its abilities at the limit. The gentle body roll produced by the extra mass is something you feel immediately driving the two back to back – especially on track. That carries through everywhere from pushing hard into corners to accelerating and even braking. It’s subtle and arguably doesn’t impact everyday performance much, but it’s there.
Compared to the previous version of these cars, both exhibited better, more direct feedback, quicker shifts, and an All4 system that feels more predictive. Both on the road and the track, what MINI has done is sharpen the responses and evolve both to be more driver focused.
The 14” rotors and larger calipers simply stop the car better and with less fade than the previous set-up on both cars. In recent time at the track with the JCW Clubman we found lap after lap, we hit the braking point on the back stretch with more speed until we felt completely dialed in. Never once did we feel any degradation or inconsistencies. Not surprising given that these are the same calipers and rotors as found on the GP (albeit in lighter aluminum here).
The JCW Clubman clearly comes away the winner in this category on weight related grounds alone. But MINI has also tuned these cars slightly differently with the Clubman having more aggressive suspension tuning and generally better body control when pushed.
JCW Countryman vs JCW Clubman – Utility
Our years of experience with these cars point to a clear winner but just barely. The Countryman offers slightly more overall volume due to its height, but more crucially, it does more with its space.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Countryman is just under an 1″ wider and 1.5″ longer. But what that means for passengers is interesting. Up front the Clubman actually has 1″ more legroom than the Countryman and is identical in shoulder room. It’s the rear where the Countryman wins out with 3.3″ extra rear legroom and 1.2″ extra rear shoulder width. In other words the Countryman is a very slightly more comfortable kid-mo-bile where as the Clubman is a bit more geared to the driver and front passenger in its layout.
However the most important difference was the adjustable rear seats. The ability to move them fore and aft gives you more flexibility in packing and/or carrying passengers – something we appreciated a handful of times during the course of our year with the car.
|Inches||Clubman||F60 is greater by||Previous|
|F60 is greater by|
|Cargo Volume (rear seats in use)||17.6||17.5||0.1||17.5||0.1|
|Cargo Volume (rear seats folded flat)||47.6||47.9||-0.3||42.2||5.4|
JCW Countryman vs JCW Clubman- Conclusions
When we pitted these two against each other last year we came away clearly preferring the Clubman. However with the recent LCI including some subtle suspension tweaks, the Countryman shows stronger than ever. The gap in performance isn’t as big as you might expect now. Instead we would judge these cars on what prospective owners would need out of them.
If you’re looking for a four door performance MINI focused on utility as much as driving engagement, the Countryman is your answer. You can’t look past its more configurable rear seats and cargo area much less its taller roof. And the tradeoffs are more subtle than ever with the various revisions MINI has made for 2021 (and yes that includes fullscreen CarPlay – finally)
For those who are looking for a little more performance and (very) slightly less utility, the clear choice here is still the excellent JCW Clubman. With the JCW Countryman starting at $41,500 and the Clubman at $39,400, the argument gets easier for those looking for the small wagon experience.
However the vast majority out there prefer a crossover and in that light the JCW Countryman might just be the best small performance crossover on the market. Lighter, faster and way more interesting than the BMW X1/X2 and better sorted than the Audi Q3, it manages to deliver a premium experience in a very MINI way. Of course there are many others out there but to a one they are focused on all the things that we as MINI fans and driving enthusiasts don’t spend much time thinking about. And it’s this reason why the JCW Countryman really is in a class by itself.
We’ll have much more on the 2021 JCW Countryman over the course of the next 12 months as our daily driver.