Product: John Cooper Works Clubman All4
Release Date: On sale now
Price: $39,400 ($48,100 as tested)
BMW, to the lament of some dealers, recently stopped selling the 3 Series wagon in America, but the Bavarian company hasn’t climbed out of the long roof game here entirely. There’s still a super-sporty, BMW-powered wagon on sale in the U.S. for 2020. Oddly enough, it’s the Mini Clubman — a car The Grand Tour‘s Jeremy Clarkson infamously called, in its first iteration, “about as desirable as a packet of dung or a can of worms.”
The current Mini Clubman John Cooper Works Edition, however, employs the same engine as the BMW X2 M35i — a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot that delivers 301 horsepower and 331 lb-ft of torque. That’s 13 more hp and 51 more lb-ft than the outgoing Volkswagen Golf R. The Clubman JCW zips from 0 to 60 mph in about 4.6 seconds, around a half-second quicker than the Honda Civic Type R. Sadly, it does lose the manual transmission offered with the previous edition, but the eight-speed automatic ain’t bad.
Sounds great, right? Well, there are two caveats. One: the Clubman JCW is expensive; my test vehicle punched in at $48,100, including a $7,000 “Iconic trim” package. Two: it’s also a Mini, with all that entails.
BMW created the Mini sub-brand in 2000. Like Volkswagen’s New Beetle, the original Mini Cooper rode in on a wave of nostalgia and adept go-kart handling. But after two decades, that nostalgia has faded. Americans, moreover, have largely stopped buying small cars. Mini, in turn has spent the better part of the past 10 years trying — and not quite succeeding — at translating its quirky style into the crossover realm. Still, sales dropped 17.4 percent in the U.S. in 2019. The Clubman, moving just 3,565 units, was Mini’s worst-selling model.
Mini’s power play with this BMW hot hatch engine is the brand’s latest attempt at a revival. If this performance gambit fails, there’s a chance it may be the last.
What We Like
That BMW 2.0-liter engine is exceptional. It gives you a deep reservoir of power and torque, and offers a rich, boisterous exhaust note, even when not in Sport mode. The eight-speed transmission was flawless, though a manual would have been more engaging. And the All4 all-wheel-drive system gives the Clubman JCW has a ton of grip. This car surprised me with how fun it was to drive; I couldn’t find its limit (safely, at least) on slick roads in February.
The Clubman JCW isn’t just for tooling around town like a hooligan. It transitions well to errands as well, thanks to a composed and well-balanced normal driving mode. The aforementioned AWD meant it could handle a couple of inches of snow without any hiccups. BMW does enjoy a stiff, sporty suspension; the Clubman JCW’s follows suit, but it’s not unbearable.
Watch Out For
The trouble with the Mini Clubman is…you have to sit inside it. Now, I grew up on The Kinks, Queen and Monty Python, and I drink a lot of tea; I can get down with some Cool Britannia. But Mini’s pure, unadulterated camp isn’t for everyone. Form does not follow function, which leads to a heavily stylized and un-ergonomic interior. The obsessive usage of circles caused plenty of annoyances: doors were harder to open; gauges were harder to read; the rear camera was harder to see; the keychain and side mirrors felt unnecessarily bulbous.
The Clubman JCW is also deceptively small. Split rear doors for loading suggest this is a practical vehicle that can haul things. That’s not the case. With only 12.7 cubic feet. of trunk space and 44.1 cubic feet with the seats down, it’s not much more practical than the Mini Cooper. It’s more of a small hatchback-sized vehicle than a wagon. I couldn’t fit all of my grocery bags in the trunk, nor a car seat behind the driver comfortably.
With the Golf R on hiatus, the Clubman JCW has two real performance rivals: the Subaru WRX STI ($36,995+) and the Honda Civic Type R ($36,300+). Both offer similar power and performance propositions, and confront buyers with unapologetically loud styling. Those two cars start a bit cheaper, however, and offer manual transmissions.
If you like the Clubman JCW but want a little (and I do mean little) more space, check out its crossover cousin, the Mini Countryman JCW($41,900), which delivers similar looks and the same engine.
The latest Mini Clubman JCW raises the ante with its BMW engine. But Mini doesn’t seem to be happy simply making a great car; it feels compelled to confront you head-on with a pastiche of Minis that came before, even at the expense of functionality and practicality. Style is the point with Mini — and what you pay a four-figure premium for, up and down the model tree.
If you dig that inveterate grooviness, go for it. You will enjoy the Mini Clubman JCW. If you’re like me and appreciate a bit less flash, wait to see what VW has in store for the new Golf R.
Mini provided this product for review.
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