The MINI Clubman for many people will be a car they associate with practicality a long time before performance. The brand new Clubman John Cooper Works however certainly breaks that mould, even when considering the previous 'hot' versions.
If you're familiar with this car you will more than likely have heard about how much this facelift, or 'life cycle impulse' (LCI) as BMW likes to refer to it as, has brought to the table. The previous Clubman JCW had a rather measly 231HP and 258LB-FT of torque, which made it at best, 'brisk'. However considering the car weighed 1,550KG it was quite underpowered in my opinion. The facelift changes the game completely. The same 2.0L B48 4 cylinder engine is retained, with the same twin-scroll single turbo but power is now ramped up to 306HP and with that is 332LB-FT of torque. I can confirm this thing is now what could be described as rapid. The power level for me at least, is perfect. That B48 engine is just yet another example of why the current generation of B Series modular engines from BMW are some of the best engines to have ever existed. Turbo lag is literally non-existent and the level of torque at low RPM is just immense, yet it revs all the way out to 6,500RPM making power on the whole journey to the limiter. Truly incredible and it is easy to see why this engine is making it's way into the next generation of hot BMW products, namely the MINI 2020 GP, the new BMW M135i and X2 35i. It's something you have to experience to understand. 0-60 MPH happens in just 4.9s and the top speed is limited to 155MPH which puts it right inline with it's competition from the other manufacturers, such as the VW Golf R Estate, Seat Leon Cupra Estate and even the Volvo V60 Polestar.
Paired to that 4 cylinder engine is an Aisin 8 Speed automatic transmission. Although a classic torque converter auto box, the transmission is incredibly sharp in it's sportiest settings and very responsive on the paddles too, making the Clubman JCW a joy to drive spiritedly. I find in the standard drive mode it can be a little indecisive and not so good at pre-empting the correct gear, for both corners and based on throttle position, often choosing to kick down 2 or 3 gears at the slightest of throttle movements. However after driving it for a while it's very easy to dial this out. The Clubman JCW uses MINI's ALL 4 system, driving all 4 wheels. Although a front wheel drive biased system, the car feels incredibly neutral. I was driving the car in some classic British weather, also known as 3 degrees celcius, salty roads with lots of rain, yet the car still put all it's power down at any given moment. Whether starting off hard, planting your foot mid corner or chucking all 1,550KG into a hairpin it coped incredibly well and really highlighted to me how capable it actually is. The front axle benefits from a limited slip differential which does a brilliant job at tucking the nose in through those tighter turns, yet that little bit of rear drive allows for a slight moment of 4 wheel power oversteer, which is pleasant in a car that feels predominantly front wheel drive in most situations.
All that performance is great but if you live in the UK you'll know how well maintained our roads are and how their smoothness is something people dream of - yes, that is sarcasm. At this point then it is important for me to talk about the suspension setup of the Clubman JCW. Let's not forget, many people are going to be using these as their everything car. That being the car that fits the whole family in, the car that will go long distances and more to the point, the car that is fun to drive. Before I begin, I will point out the car I was testing featured the 19" wheels and as such is not available with the adaptive dampers. When pushing on and driving the car to the limit of grip I actually found it to be really well sorted. The damping was perfect, even on northern highland roads at speed, and the car feels really settled, yet firm. Throwing it into a corner there is very little body roll and the whole car shrinks around you which was a very pleasant surprise to me. It feels no where near the size it actually is. I will say however that at times the ride is a little busy. As mentioned earlier, people are likely not going to drive this car at ten tenths the whole time, and as such it needs to have a level of versatility in the suspension system. When cruising at lower speeds you really do notice the bumps and the suspension is notably firm. However I don't think this matters a great deal as let's be honest, if you want a really smooth ride most of the time you should probably opt for something lesser than the Clubman JCW. The car features hugely powerful 4 piston calipers up front with a fixed floating caliper on the rear. The initial bite on the pedal is beautiful and there is little pedal travel, hugely important at this power level and size.
The interior is a nice place to be and it comes equipped with the JCW recaro seats which offer huge levels of bolstering and yet are superbly comfortable over long periods of time. The Clubman JCW starts at around £35,000 in the UK and the car pictured has a list price of around £40,000. What I will say is for that kind of money it would be nice to less cheaper plastics and more metal on the interior. For example the paddles mounted to the steering are made of a rather cheap-feeling plastic - some nice brushed aluminium would've done the job nicely and reminded you more frequently your money has been spent wisely. The interior is by no means disappointing, but it shares an awful lot of parts with the even the cheapest of MINI's, the MINI One, and I can't help but think MINI have been lazy with the design in this area.
To conclude then, the LCI MINI Clubman JCW is a serious piece of kit and is definitely one of the ultimate daily drivers for anyone living in the UK and Northern Europe. There is no denying it will be faster than most of the apathetic cars we see crowding the roads these days, yet is hugely practical, especially with those really cool looking split fold rear doors and of course 5 functional seats. Capable in all weather conditions, hugely fun, and I might even say engaging to drive on the limit. In my opinion it looks absolutely fantastic and offers something a little different too. Those 19" wheels are simply stunning, especially with huge 4 piston calipers lurking behind and the overall design of the car is far beyond aesthetically pleasing. Yes, the price is a little high once you've put a couple of options on it, but as we all know, most people won't be shelling out £40,000 in cash and once you start looking at the monthly payments, the Clubman JCW is a very competitive, and I'd say left-field counterpart to some of it's rivals in this part of the market place. I would go as far to say it's a very refreshing take on the concept. The LCI Clubman JCW is definitely not one to overlook.
If you're interested I have produced a video version of this review over on my YouTube channel. Please check it out here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBp3Rv4cjGs