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Mini John Cooper Works Clubman review: 230bhp estate driven

£29,925 when new
Published: 15 Dec 2016


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Which Mini Clubman review is this?

This is the Mini John Cooper Works Clubman. We’ll call it the Clubman JCW for short. It sees Mini’s most potent engine powering its biggest car, with ‘ALL4’ all-wheel-drive as standard. Prices start at a whisker under £30,000.

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So it’s a hot hatch estate?

In essence, though the Clubman’s not-large boot and novelty doors mean this isn’t likely to oust a small Volvo from the shopping lists of the practically minded. So think of this more as a rival to larger hot hatchbacks than Mini’s usual hunting ground. Given its AWD and £30k price, that would suggest this is aiming straight for the VW Golf R.

How do the numbers compare?

In that particular comparison, not ideally, but then Mini JCWs traditionally compete a little lower down the hot hatch pecking order. So a 228bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine with 1,550kg to move around (the addition of AWD is not a subtle one) means performance is, by class standards, a touch modest. The 0-62mph time is 6.3secs, its top speed 148mph.

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Those figures are true whether you opt for the standard six-speed manual or the £1,600 optional eight-speed automatic, though the paddleshifter returns better fuel economy, with a claimed 41.5mpg supplemented by 154g/km CO2 emissions. Probably want the manual if you favour a bit of driver engagement, though.

And how does it drive?

Interestingly. It’s worth recapping on the old Clubman JCW. As the fastest, most expensive version of a deeply odd small estate car, it was about as niche as things got when it launched. But if you wanted something wildly different, it was good enough to warrant attention. And its longer wheelbase over a JCW hatch made it a marginally better handling car, too.

This new one isn’t anything like as mad. The Clubman as a whole has notably matured with this new, more conventional generation, and is far and away the most composed car in Mini’s range.

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And this is true of the JCW, too. It rides pretty comfortably, the steering is calm and measured – Mini’s usual setup is hyper alert – and the overall handling balance is safe and reassuring. It grips properly in poor conditions. The Golf R comparison is back on the table.

‘Calm’? Isn’t this a JCW?

In the ten or so years we’ve had JCW-badged Minis in our lives, the badge has gained a reputation for slightly mad, frenetic cars that take some hanging onto when driven hard, particularly in crap weather. The Clubman’s stockier proportions and torque-spreading AWD turn that on its head.

It’s a point rammed home by its performance. JCWs have always been rather faster than you’d expect a Mini to be. The Clubman weighs 270kg more than an identically powered hatch, though, and boy does it feel it.

A real world test – third gear, 30mph, foot to the floor, leaving a village into national speed limit – is a very telling example of how much the power-to-weight ratio has suffered. The engine makes plenty of noise, but you don’t move quite as boisterously as you’d hope.

So what would be the fix?

Mini making a front-wheel-drive version, perhaps. The best Minis – the sold-out JCW Challenge, and Works GP versions of previous Minis – are FWD at its most fun, and proof that being pulled rather than pushed around a corner can still be extremely exciting.

While the AWD system beneath this Clubman is undoubtedly clever – front-driven most of the time, with the rear helping out or even taking over completely when the car senses slip – I think it rounds off the edges too much, as well as adding too much weight.

This is a JCW that isn’t daft. Or unreasonably fast. Mini’s made the quick Clubman significantly less niche, but in the process, I think that’s made it harder to make a case for buying one. The Golf R needn’t look over its shoulder.

What about the rest of it?

It feels like a real quality item now, the Clubman. The rearmost doors still take some getting used to, and its boot space isn’t much larger than in a regular five-door Focus. But there’s enough room in the back for adults under six feet, while the materials, infotainment and the availability of grown-up safety tech all impress. Mini’s head-up display is particularly good.

Grown-up praise, then, for what feels like a grown-up car. If you want a quickish Clubman, though, the £6,500 cheaper Cooper S is probably a better bet.

If you want a JCW that remains mad as a badger – for all the right reasons – then get the hatch and spend your spare cash (£6,500 in this instance, too) on buying some of the official Works bits to pretend you’ve got the brilliant limited-edition Mini Challenge.

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