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First drive: MINI Clubman John Cooper Works. Image by MINI.

First drive: MINI Clubman John Cooper Works
Is the most powerful MINI ever as good to drive as it should be?

 



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MINI Clubman John Cooper Works

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With 306hp and all-wheel drive, the new MINI Clubman John Cooper Works (JCW) is the most powerful car ever to wear the Issigonis badge. Fast and poised it undoubtedly is, but is it also sufficiently fun?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: MINI Clubman John Cooper Works
Pricing: 35,550 as tested; starts at 21,200
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Body style: five-seat, five-door estate
CO2 emissions: 161g/km (VED Band 151-170: 530 in year one)
Combined economy: 39.7mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
Power: 306hp at 5,000-6,250rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 1,750-4,500rpm
Boot space: 360-1,250 litres

What's this?

This is... well, in many ways this is a deeply silly car. So silly that you half expect The Colonel from Monty Python's Flying Circus to step out from behind a bollard, say that everything's too silly, and that we should move onto the next sketch.

In brief, it's a compact MINI estate that's roughly the same size as Volkswagen Golf packing a 306hp turbo engine, four-wheel drive, an eight-speed automatic gearbox and which has the ability to pull sub-five-second 0-62mph runs. If that's not truly silly, I'm not sure what is.

MINI has taken the existing 2.0-litre turbocharged engine from the Cooper S and the older John Cooper Works models and added a bigger turbo, tweaks to the air induction and fuel injection systems and recalibrated the software. The result is an extra 75hp compared to the previous JCW MINI, with a total of 306hp. That's backed up by 450Nm of torque, so there's no question that - thanks to standard-fit four-wheel drive - this is now a MINI that's a head-on rival for an AMG. True, it's 'only' a rival to the A 35 AMG, but even so that's still a sentence I never thought I'd write when I started my career as a motoring critic...

It also gets a standard eight-speed automatic gearbox (the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox from other MINIs can't handle this much torque), a strengthened, stiffened body, new suspension calibration and more hardcore brakes, and it rides 10mm closer to the pavement than standard.

There are also some other tweaks, which the rest of the MINI Clubman range is getting, including a new grille, new door mirrors, new bumpers, LED headlights and new brake lights with a stylised Union Flag motif. Inside, there are updated seats (the John Cooper Works car getting deep, hugely comfortable bucket seats) and an 'always-connected' infotainment system, which gets its own 4G SIM card. Structurally and mechanically, the standard car is otherwise unchanged, save for the fact that the engines now all pass the latest Euro6D Temp emissions regulations.

How does it drive?

The MINI Clubman John Cooper Works drives... slightly too well, if anything. Let me explain. With 306hp, you're clearly not going to be hanging around too much, as demonstrated by the 4.9-second 0-62mph time - a whisker behind that of the benchmark A 35 AMG. It feels fast too, that All4 four-wheel drive helping the Clubman to rocket off the line, and there's an entertaining soundtrack from the sports exhaust system, especially when you've got Sport mode switched in.

Through corners, the Clubman JCW is flat, and exceptionally grippy. As with all MINIs, the steering is full of feel, and super-sharp (without being nervous) and capable of dragging the nose down to an apex from wildly over-optimistic cornering lines. Even the ride quality's not too bad - a bit lumpy at urban speeds, but smoothing out nicely as the pace rises. On an unrestricted bit of Autobahn, we saw a stable and assured 140mph before an old Opel pulled into the overtaking lane and we had to put those uprated brakes to the test. Thankfully, they're more than up to the task.

The eight-speed automatic is as excellent here as we've found it elsewhere to be. No surprise there, then, and it's a big improvement on most rivals' dual-clutch gearboxes.

That all sounds brilliant, right? And it is, too. But... but it's just a bit too brilliant. I know, that sounds wrong - like I'm criticising it for being too good. Well, that's exactly what I'm doing. You see, just as the Mercedes-AMG boys did with the A 35, the MINI John Cooper Works team have made this car so good, so balanced, so poised, so utterly brilliant at controlling its 306hp that it's actually a little bit dull. Well, maybe not dull, but certainly not quite naughty enough.

Possibly the best way to put this is to compare it to the Honda Civic Type R. The Civic has more power (a little, anyway), but is slower to get to 62mph, by almost a second. That's because the Civic doesn't have four-wheel drive, so doesn't have the traction advantage of the MINI. What it does have, though, is a front-wheel-drive chassis that involves you in the process of driving, that feels occasionally wayward and loose-limbed, that is genuinely fun, genuinely thrilling, genuinely exciting.

The Clubman is just too well-balanced for that, too safe in the way it doles out its power. Giving it a slightly more ragged edge would, probably, make it way more fun. As it is, it's just a bit too clinical.

Verdict

Shoehorning a 306hp engine into a MINI (even one of the larger models) and making it as useable and accessible as this is really quite the engineering achievement. If MINI has, kinda accidentally, made the Clubman John Cooper Works feel just a touch too controlled, a touch too sanitised, then there is hope on the horizon - later this year, we'll get to drive the new MINI hatchback John Cooper Works GP3, which will be lighter, more focused and have front-wheel drive only.

3 3 3 3 3 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Neil Briscoe - 30 Jul 2019









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2020 MINI Clubman John Cooper Works. Image by MINI.2020 MINI Clubman John Cooper Works. Image by MINI.2020 MINI Clubman John Cooper Works. Image by MINI.2020 MINI Clubman John Cooper Works. Image by MINI.2020 MINI Clubman John Cooper Works. Image by MINI.

2020 MINI Clubman John Cooper Works. Image by MINI.2020 MINI Clubman John Cooper Works. Image by MINI.2020 MINI Clubman John Cooper Works. Image by MINI.2020 MINI Clubman John Cooper Works. Image by MINI.2020 MINI Clubman John Cooper Works. Image by MINI.








 

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