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2017 MINI John Cooper Works Clubman ALL4: Hot Wagon

The Car Guide logoThe Car Guide 2017-08-11 Danny Geraghty
Danny Geraghty: 2017 MINI Clubman John Cooper Works All4 2017 MINI John Cooper Works Clubman ALL4: Hot Wagon

MINI jumps back into the hot wagon segment by giving the John Cooper Works treatment to its second-generation Clubman. The Clubman is a four-door MINI station wagon which entered its second generation for the 2016 model year.

The new Clubman is actually the largest MINI ever produced, measuring 4270 millimetres long and 180 centimetres wide. It was necessary to increase the size because the old version didn’t have four full-size doors, but rather one smaller passenger-side suicide door to access the rear seat. The exterior look has also been updated with a fresh, modern take while still retaining all its familiar MINI-like qualities. After a year off, the John Cooper Works edition makes its return to the lineup.

So what exactly is John Cooper Works? In the year 2000, the son of John Cooper, who created the originalMini Cooper, formed a company called John Cooper Works which produced performance parts and accessories for the new MINI. BMW (which owns MINI) took notice and in 2008 ended up acquiring the company altogether with the goal of incorporating it into the product line in an official capacity.

Almost every MINI model has a John Cooper Works edition that can be had for a nice price premium. JCW models enjoy upgrades to the engine, brakes, suspension and look of the vehicle. If we compare it to the Cooper S edition of the Clubman, JCW has managed to extract 39 more horsepower and 22 lb.-ft. of torque from the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-banger under the hood, for figures of 228 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. The car is dropped by 0.4 inches thanks to a sport-tuned suspension that is quite firm. Adding to the fun is a louder, high-flow exhaust system, black 18-inch wheels (19 inchers are optional) and big Brembo brakes for additional stopping power. On the visual side of things, the car gets equipped with front and rear fascia that have a bit more flair with more aggressive styling and, of course, JCW badging.

So what does all of this add up to? Simply stated, what we have here is a veritable go-kart. MINI’s characteristics already lend themselves well to that go-kart feel, but with the added upgrades, it’s quite something. Take the Clubman JCW into a corner at speed and she’ll stick to the pavement as if she was on rails. Press on the brake and the car will come to a halt so fast your seatbelt might hurt your chest. Need to avoid a pothole? You can safely dodge them at the last second with overwhelming confidence in the car’s handling. The ride is a bit rough with that stiff suspension, but you probably don’t care if you’re the type of person opting for the JCW package. This car begs for a manual transmission, but I was able to extract much enjoyment from the vehicle despite the fact that my tester came equipped with the eight-speed automatic instead of the six-speed manual.

Sitting in the cockpit, you’ll find an experience that is fun as much as it’s functional. Cockpit is truly the appropriate term in this case, because the gauges and buttons are reminiscent of an aircraft. MINI has done an excellent job at creating a unique user experience here. The main infotainment display is a huge circular unit with coloured lighting that changes as you operate various systems such as radio volume. Controls are very BMW-esque as you would expect, with the operation being handled via knobs on the lower centre console next to the parking brake. Everything feels tight and well made. My only complaint is that Bluetooth audio connectivity was intermittent. Many times the car struggled to even find my iPhone and it’s not the first MINI I’ve had this issue with.

If you’re shying away from purchasing a MINI because of its size, I would think again. The MINI doesn’t feel small when you’re behind the wheel. I would even describe the driving position as having an elevated feel, though visibility could be improved in the rear. Most smaller cars amplify the feeling of going fast; however, the opposite is true in this case. I would be cruising along the highway and suddenly realize I was going 20 or 30 km/h faster than I would have guessed. This is a testament to the build quality and engineering talent of the manufacturer.

We need to talk about the elephant in the room which is the price. MINI advertises an “all included price” of $39,595 for the JCW Clubman, which means freight and delivery charges are included. With a few options you’re in the low 40s and you’re approaching (but not quite) BMW 320i territory. You’d have to be a huge MINI fan to dish out that kind of money. It’s worth noting that the 292-horsepower Volkswagen Golf R at $40,695 performs better, is better equipped and will likely hold its value longer. But isn’t that the age-old question for these types of niche cars? Why get X when you can get Y for the same price? For MINI diehards, it’s not even a question.

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