Tackling corners comes with ease and the car feels planted around every bend.
In a market where automakers are in a race to produce smaller and more concise lineups, there is one company that’s aiming for vehicles of the slightly larger variety. While MINI is known to craft road legal go-karts, they’ve started producing some vehicles of the more practical nature. With an innovative shooting brake-like concept, the Clubman shares its lines with the iconic MINI Cooper, but with a longer wheelbase to support a more active lifestyle. Dubbed the MINI for grown-ups, this 2017 MINI John Cooper Works Clubman allows for more carrying capacity without sacrificing the fun demeanor of the Cooper. With the added performance of the John Cooper Works ALL4 package, the Clubman exceeds the boundaries of a daily commuter.
Contrary to popular belief, while the MINI Clubman seems, well, mini, the cabin actually has ample room for larger people. Of course, piling the interior to capacity with five occupants will make things a little snug, but otherwise the seating positions are comfortable. The JCW ALL4 is equipped with sport seats draped in Dinamica cloth finished in Carbon Black, with intergrated headrests. These seats manually adjustable, and while upgraded leather seating options with automatic adjustments are available, these sport bucket seats seem more fitting for this car.
Contrast white stitching along with checkered vertical stripes pop against the dark fabrics, adding a nice touch of detail to a cabin that commands further attention as a top trim model. The luggage compartment is where the Clubman shows off its most valuable asset, with 360 litres of space, and an impressive 1250 litres made available by folding down the rear seats, which are available in a 40/20/40 split configuration.
Accessing the cargo area proves to be something of a unique experience. The unique split “Barn Doors” make loading and unloading easy, with hydraulic arms propping the doors open at the touch of a button. These doors do come with one major flaw; visibility. Thanks to the split design, the rear window is cut down the middle, ruining rear-view visibility in the place drivers need it most. Two wipers help clean off these windows, though because of their dimensions, the wipers only cover some of the window surface when activated.
The remainder of the cabin sports more performance elements that emote the personality of a quick car, with pedals finished in stainless steel, a roof liner in anthracite, and John Cooper Works door sill finishers. The steering wheel itself also features a unique JCW design with multifunction buttons and paddle shifters that work in conjunction with the eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. While the JCW comes standard with a manual gearbox, the automatic transmission is available as a standalone option at a price of $1,650. Regardless of which transmission is chosen, official numbers show that the Clubman JCW reaches a 0 to 100km/h time of just over six seconds; 6.3 to be exact.
This is also the first time the current 2.0L engine developed for the John Cooper Works models is mated to the new ALL4 all-wheel-drive system. The four-cylinder powerhouse with turbocharging produces 228 horsepower at 5,000 RPM, 39 more than that of the regular Cooper S Clubman (reviewed here). Torque is 258 lb-ft. between 1,450 and 4,800RPM. While some may not expect much excitement from a small four-banger, the JCW exhaust proves to be something of a fun factory. Upon warming up the engine, this Clubman produces an assortment of loud crackles and pops on down revs, with pops between gear shifts.
While some prefer the enjoyment of a manual transmission, it’s hard to replicate the intoxicating sounds this automatic gearbox produces with the sport exhaust. Though the engine is small in displacement, the 50L tank will empty quickly at that rate, and premium fuel certainly is not cheap these days. Fuel ratings range from 11.4L/100km city and 7.8L/100km highway, with our as tested combined average settled in the middle at 9.4L/100km. MINI requires premium 91-octane fuel for this vehicle.
The exceptional Harman Kardon Sound System included in the Loaded Package ($1,300) is a great touch, with crystal clear sound quality. This package also includes an auto-dimming interior mirror, automatic climate control and LED headlights. The Essentials Package engages the other senses with a panorama sunroof, heated front seats, and rear fog lights to increase rear-end visibility in dodgy driving conditions.
Speaking of lighting, the rear-end lighting ensemble on the Clubman stands on the unconventional side; things are not as they seem. Where the design layout seems as though the brake lights sit on the barn doors, they are actually embedded in the bumper just below, a similar design element to that of the Ferrari California T. The reasoning behind this decision is the federal laws prohibit any major lighting elements to be placed on moveable parts as a safety measure.
While the rear of the car suffers from some questionable looks, the rest of the JCW Clubman doesn’t look half bad. Our tester sported Midnight Black Metallic paint with red sport stripes, along with red mirror caps, and a red roof. Behind the 18” JCW ALL4 alloy wheels lie massive red Brembo brakes – part of the sports braking system. The front section of the car replaces standard MINI components with performance pieces. For example, the front bumper features large side cooling inlets instead of parking lights and fog lamps. The fascia is also made up of a hexagonal radiator grille with a honeycomb pattern and a Chili Red cross-member.
The JCW Clubman rivals the likes of the Volkswagen GTI (reviewed here), a giant in this segment. Both offer a five-door configuration with similar power figures, so really it comes down to driving characteristics, overall looks, pricing, and individual preference. There’s also the factor of reliability. MINI has had some questionable affairs in this column, while the VW has proved they can build a reliable little rocket. While the GTI caters to just about anyone looking to hop into this segment, the MINI caters to more of a niche market
The Clubman undoubtedly has a unique personality, which carries over to those interested in buying one. Then again, the personality emoted from a MINI is what makes a MINI so much fun to drive. Whereas the GTI is the Jay Pritchett of this segment, the MINI Clubman JCW is the Phil Dunphy. (Oh look, a “Modern Family” reference… how cute –Editor)
With a base price of $36,900, the JCW certainly is not a cheap little machine. After piling up optional packages and stand alone features, the as tested price of the vehicle comes to a total of $44,900; that’s Golf R (reviewed here) money. As far as pure driving enjoyment goes, the MINI is unquestionably fun to drive. In Sport mode, the exhaust loudens up, the steering becomes a little heavier, and throttle response is increased.
Tackling corners comes with ease and the car feels planted around every bend. Regular driving proves to be comfortable even for taller people. Is it more comfortable than any of its competitors? The answer to that is subjective, though the 2017 MINI John Cooper Works Clubman offers a different, unique driving experience while compromising some of the performance of the Golf R. It’s worth a test drive between the two to see where your priorities lie.