In the beginning, there was the Mini Cooper – a pint-size two-door road cart that had cute looks and glee-inducing handling. Well, Mini customers asked for more space. So, Mini gave us the Clubman wagon and Countryman crossover. This week, we’re stuck in the middle with the Clubman – all updated and more suave, especially in the John Cooper Works edition.
At first glance, it’s as cute as any other Mini with bulging oval headlamps, cute curves, and a floating roof. But, look a little closer and you’ll see six doors – four on the sides and two Dutch-style in the rear. LED lamps front and rear ignite the night while the short little rear wipers keep glass clear. Our car came with black 18-inch wheels, but I’d go for the special-edition 19-inch JCW alloys. Definitely choose the red roof and stripe package – very British bling.
Stoop and slide to see what’s inside. Mini should never change its basic interior design with the large center screen, podded instruments behind the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel, and toggle switches in the lower console. It’s all so Mini. Heated cloth seats are all-day comfy and side-gripping supportive. Dual-zone automatic climate control is simple to use and there’s reasonable space for four adults and their gear. I’ve even grown to like the BMW-derived joywheel-and-screen “iDrive” system for infotainment control. Wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay, and navigation are also appreciated. Rain-sensing wipers clean the screen.
On the flip side, I could do without the annoying parking sensors that beep immediately upon starting whether you’re in gear and driving into anything or not. The rear camera is much nicer. I do not get the dash-mounted head-up display that makes you look down to view it. It’s a mere imitation of real head-up displays that visually project over the hood. Either do it or don’t. BMW has very nice HUDs, so maybe Mini should ask its sibling for help.
Clubman JCWs boast and burble with their upgraded powertrains. Behind those cute little headlamps is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivering 228 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque – plenty to plant power to pavement through the standard all-wheel-drive system and scream away from a stoplight. As in all Minis, the shifter for the six-speed manual transmission is clunky, but it gets the most out of the engine. Fuel economy is rated 21/31-MPG city/hwy – not stellar for a compact car, but frugal for a performance machine that can run 0-60 mph in 6 seconds on the way to a 147 mph top speed.
Owning any Mini is about the driving experience, and the Clubman JCW is mostly a delight to drive. Keeping in mind it has a stiff sport suspension, the car does a good job of soaking up rough pavement. But, the car is really at home sweeping through fast mountain passes, running full out on the Interstate, or providing a little respite at the local track club. The chassis and steering hold hands as if they’re firmly engaged. Oversized brakes keep it all on pavement.
In full disclosure, my family owned a Mini Countryman for five years. We loved traveling in it and it was always an enjoyable car to drive on the highway, but the rough ride, rattles, and broken interior bits - not to mention a new fuel pump at 9,000 miles – tried our patience. If the Clubman JCW proves a better assembled machine, and there are no problems to report, I could go for a Mini that’s been worked over by John Cooper. It was sure a lot of fun during our first drive.
2017 Mini Clubman JCW
- Five-passenger, AWD Wagon
- Powertrain: 228hp 2.0-liter Turbo-4, 6-speed manual trans
- Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
- Wheels f/r: 18”/18” alloy
- Brakes f/r: disc/disc
- Must-have features: Style, Performance
- 0-60 mph: 6.0s
- Top speed: 147 mph
- Fuel economy: 21/31 mpg city/hwy
- Assembly: Oxford, U.K.
- Base/as-tested price: $24,800/41,500