2017 Mini John Cooper Works Clubman ALL4
The most versatile Mini going
Words by: Adam Allen
This Mini isn’t so mini, is it?
As the byline states, Mini refers to its Clubman as the “do anything” model on offer. Although the crossover based Countryman eclipses it ever so slightly in some dimensions, the two ride on identically sized wheelbases. At 2,670 millimeters from stem to stern these models are positively massive compared to the original concept Sir Alec Issagonis penned back in 1959 but they do address an issue some folks have had with Minis in the past- they allow you to take a lot more of your stuff along wherever you happen to be going. The Clubman features whimsical rear doors used to access the larger cargo hold which look like they were inspired by retro refrigerators.
This is no ordinary Clubman.
The Clubman we drove was the range topping John Cooper Works, the hottest version you can get- you may think of this as a hot hatch that has experienced a growth spurt. Under the hood is the familiar 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo that’s been puffed up to 228 horsepower and 258 pounds feet of torque. Our tester had an 8-speed automatic handling shifting duties but you can still have a manual if that’s your thing. Those who prefer the two-pedal setup should be happy that this automatic is no slush box- it eagerly responds to inputs whether you’re using the paddle shifters or not and will crack off upshifts smartly when you put your foot down. When you stand on the brakes for corners, it telepathically bangs down through the ‘box until it finds the right ratio you’ll need to exit as quickly as possible. A word about those brakes- up front, they feature positively huge rotors and calipers specific to all JCW models. They do an excellent job scrubbing off speed and never threaten to fade. The JCW Clubman also features Mini’s ALL4 all-wheel drive system that not only provides heaps of grip when your exploring the limits of the engine and brakes and chassis on your favorite road but also add a layer of security in inclement weather. Other JCW touches include aggressively bolstered sport seats, unique front and rear facias and special interior flourishes.
How does it drive?
Having driven other JCW tuned Minis, we thought the experience with the Clubman would be a similar one- heaps of fun, but a little too frenetic when commuting and performing general mundane tasks are on the menu. It seems that Mini engineers have taken heed and we were delighted to find that the Clubman’s driving dynamics have relaxed appreciably. Credit goes to the longer wheelbase for sure, which makes the ride around town wholly acceptable- only when you select Sport mode does the suspension’s compliance level go from firm to granitic. Still, we’d select Sport mode each time we shoved off because it opens a flap in the JCW’s sport exhaust and easily makes the Clubman the best sounding car in the entire BMW Group portfolio that is powered by this 2.0 litre engine. Mini’s customizable nature allowed us to sharpen up the engine and transmission behaviors when in Sport but left the suspension in its softer setting. Even the steering, which has always felt go-kart darty in other Minis has been slowed to a point where it’s still nimble and will respond with gumption to inputs but you don’t have to worry about sneezing lest you end up on the shoulder. The all-wheel drive not only allows for the confidence to push the Clubman close to its limits which are commendably high, but it also eliminates torque steer. After spending a week flogging this shooting brake around, we would say that the ability to paste grins on the faces of its drivers makes it worth the premium the JCW treatment commands over the Clubman S- the increase in horsepower and torque is worth the price of entry alone.
Is it as big inside as it looks?
There’s little doubt that this is the most practical Mini for sale, at least until they decide to produce some sort of SUV inspired model that would no doubt grow quite a bit in every dimension. When you pop open those retro rear doors you’re treated to 360 litres of cargo space; that amount increases to 1,250 litres when you fold the seats down. People with active lifestyles will like that that this cargo hold will swallow a good amount of their gear, and roof rails will be able to accept a storage container to keep the stuff that won’t fit inside out of the elements. It can be a bit hard to see out of the Clubman JCW when you look over your shoulder to change lanes or parallel park, but there are driver assistance systems that help with that and the rear-view camera provides excellent spatial awareness through its hi-res camera. Actually, the entire infotainment system has benefitted from BMW’s expertise- it’s now designed specifically for Mini but the menus are intuitive and that old toothpick-like controller has been thankfully exiled in place of familiar iDrive hardware.
What might go wrong?
As much as we’ve praised the Clubman JCW for feeling less high strung than it has in the past, this is still not a car you would buy if you favor comfort over performance. This Mini doesn’t do “subdued”. We wish that they could add a Comfort setting to its available drive modes for those times when you just want to relax. At the other end of the spectrum, we might wish for a little more performance for when you do want to chuck your Clubman around. Ostensibly, it competes with the Volkswagen Golf R and the Ford Focus RS- two other interesting hot hatches with AWD and turbo engines- but the Mini gives up a bunch of horsepower and torque to those two and it isn’t as focused as a track day special.
Should I buy a Clubman JCW?
If you seek a speedy rig that serves up more practicality than a sedan and aren’t feeling the usual suspects from Ford and VW, the Clubman JCW is certainly worth a look. We would caution against indulging in the lengthy options because they can inflate the price tag to the point where the it flirts with the fifty thousand dollar mark. Despite the compromises, the Clubman JCW is probably the best car in the Mini lineup- it offers up serviceable speed and handling but provides the latitude to use yours while road tripping or simply storming down a winding road and in any weather conditions. We think that makes it worth a look.
2017 Mini John Cooper Works Clubman ALL4 – Specifications
- Price as tested: $44,990
- Body Type: 6-door, 5 passenger wagon
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 2.0-litre inline 4, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 228 @ 5000 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 258 @ 1,450 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 1,581 kg (3,486 lbs)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 10L/100km (23 mpg)