For all those MINI fans that look at down at the Countryman, we were there too. We know that look of subtle disdain you give the F60. Hey we get it. We’re fans of less is more too and we’ve been there. But we have good and maybe surprising news for you. And it starts why 181 lbs doesn’t matter as much as we thought.

181 lbs? That’s the difference between the JCW Countryman and the JCW Clubman. They’re roughly the same car but one is raised, heavier, slower and less efficient. You can guess which one and you can read our head to head review here. But funny thing about 5,000 miles in a car. You learn to forgive and forget real quick – even 181 lbs. And in the case of the JCW Countryman you learn to love what it can do – specifically what the Clubman cannot. That hatch, the larger cargo area and even the more versatile rear seats. It all adds up to a car that is more of a Swiss Army knife that ultimately becomes endearing for different reasons.

Now let’s talk about the real surprise. MINI has taken a forgettable formula in the small crossover and made it truly interesting in a way a MINI should be. This is a car that engages you in ways that no small crossover does. It’s not an R53 in disguise mind you. But this truly is the MINI of the small crossover world. Quick turn-in and flat cornering make it all feel immediate where most of the competitive set bounce, roll and flounder.

A big help is the revised suspension (new for ‘21) and larger brakes that finally make the JCW Countryman live up to the badge. Oh and 306 hp and a staggering 332 ft lbs of torque. This thing is seriously quick – especially in the mid-range. Next to the JCW Countryman in the MF garage sits an BMW 1M and Porsche 718 Spyder. The JCW Countryman isn’t far off of either in the mid-range. If it wasn’t for the weight, it might be right there.

Infotainment, CarPlay and Touchsceens.

Big changes in small upgrades here. CarPlay has been a part of MINI for a few years but moving to a version that makes use of the full screen changes the game. And for ‘21 MINI updated the Countryman’s infotainment with faster processing that makes everything all the more responsive. Combine this with the new digital cluster and there’s a real sense of modern tech in a MINI for the first time.

Onward to 10,000

Given that this is a modern MINI it’s not surprising to note that our 2021 JCW Countryman feels absolutely vault-like when it comes to build quality. And at 5,000 miles it feels like it’s got plenty to go before getting totally broken in. But not everything is perfect – especially for just under $50k. The 8 speed Aisin automatic is damn close but it’s not quite yet at ZF levels. Nor is the throttle mapping quite to our liking. And let’s not talk about steering feel and the lack there of. But feel is not precision and the JCW delivers an engaging experience that nothing in the category can match. And that’s the theme here. This is the MINI of the small crossover world. And damn that boring world needs it.