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If product planning and development was a field dedicated solely to logic, the Mini Clubman John Cooper Works All4 would not exist. And yet this fact does not necessarily preclude it from being a well-sorted car.
The Clubman is essentially the co-flagship of Mini’s range alongside the Countryman crossover, positioned above the three- and five-door Mini hatch derivatives that are most synonymous with its brand.
Selling points across the drivetrain options are nostalgic retro style with equal doses of useable practicality and a resolute failure to conform. Nowhere is Mini more intransigent.
And in flagship JCW guise it’s hard to name a new vehicle on sale today more niche than this six-door, all-wheel drive (AWD) lowered miniature wagon with a VW Golf R-matching price tag.
Golf R you say? The Clubman JCW costs $54,990 before on-road costs, so yes. This places it neatly between the Countryman JCW and three-door JCW hatch, and $11,000 above the Clubman Cooper S. So it’s not cheap, not even close.
Reassuringly, the car has a lot of proportion-driven presence, with people often seen craning their necks to take in the low-and-wide body with tiny overhangs, big black alloy wheels at each extremity, loutish twin pipes, and body stripes.
It’s also got the performance credentials promised by the John Cooper Works badge. It’s the equal-most powerful and torque-rich Mini with a 170kW and 350Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine promising to elicit the Clubman’s Golf GTI-beating zero to 100km/h sprint time of 6.3 seconds and fuel use of 7.8L/100km (we got 9.6L/100km).
The engine is punchy indeed, but more importantly it’s characterful. Despite peak torque on tap from 1450rpm, the engine is happiest singing up near the rev-limiter, encouraged by our car’s optional quick-throw six-speed manual gearbox with a pre-programmed auto rev-matching system that mimics a throttle blip to accompany your downshifts.
An eight-speed auto with paddle-shifters is available at no cost.
Flick the little tab next to the gear stick and you can change into the car’s sports mode and the throttle response is sharper and you get ostentatious exhaust crackles and burbles on lift-off. This is not – and could never be – a car for people who like blending in.
Modern Mini has based its brand on dynamism, and once again the Clubman JCW has the right ingredients. There are three configurations to choose from: 19-inch wheels with fixed dampers, 19s with 10mm-lower sports suspension, or non-run-flat 18s with two-stage adjustable dampers built into the sports mode.
Our car had the latter, with a comfort-biased setting taking the ride from stupidly firm to just a bit firm, all the better for daily driving. Blatting about with the suspension softened but with the drivetrain still in sports setting was our predominant choice.
Like the Countryman, the Clubman JCW uses Mini’s All4 all-wheel drive system that sends torque to the rear axle on demand electro-hydraulically, giving better traction off the line and through corners than FWD versions such as the JCW hatch.
Stomp the throttle off the line on a greasy road and the Michelin-shod Mini just squats and goes, bereft of axle-tramping or any bogging-down. Meanwhile, it says flat and predictable through lateral inputs, maintaining ideal body control with well-weighted electro-assisted steering.
Somehow, despite being almost 4.3 metres long (about an old-world foot longer than a Mini 5-Door) and weighing a portly 1475kg without a driver, the Clubman manages familiar Mini agility through sequences.
Naturally, the Clubman JCW is moderately flawed as a daily proposition, given its stiffness, relatively high levels of road noise intrusion and squat stance, but we hardly needed to tell you any of that, did we? And yet it’s never offensively, overtly narrow in its focus.
Up front, the cabin is familiar Mini, with a fascia dominated by a large circular frame containing various LED lighting settings, inset with with an 8.8-inch touchscreen also controlled by a BMW iDrive-style rotary dial that falls more easily to hand.
Below this is a handsome stack containing various toggles – including the signature red starter tab – and large knurled dials. The instrument binnacle perched atop the steering column is complemented by a flip-up glass head-up display (HUD) while the steering wheel is large and chunky.
Nobody could mistake the look for anything else, nor could you find too many flaws with either the ergonomics or build quality. This latter area is vastly improved over the previous-generation Mini family. Most surfaces suit the tactile, and are well finished.
JCW touches include an anthracite head-lining, red stitching, ample use of stainless steel, plus glossy black and faux carbon contrast finishes. Leather seats are standard but you can also get red-trimmed buckets with suede inlays. There’s the typical BMW adjustable under-thigh support, plus fixed headrests and hard-shell backing for some theatre.
Equipment levels aren’t exactly scarce. Mini being Mini there’s an options list as long as your arm, much of which comprises various cabin trims, body stripes and other stylistic add-ons, but the JCW comes with a lot of high-end stuff as standard fit.
This includes adaptive cruise control (works up to 140km/h, has stop-and-go, and a speed-limiter), autonomous emergency braking, park assist, rear-view camera, speed-limit information, keyless entry, LED headlights with auto high-beam, and six airbags.
There’s also a 12-speaker harmon/kardon sound system, digital radio, Professional sat-nav, that HUD, leather seats, JCW styling additions, changeable LED interior ambient lighting and an illuminated Mini logo that projects from the mirrors onto the pavement.
Our test car counted among its options that panoramic sunroof with two panes to maintain body rigidity, which costs $2400 as part of a pack that also bundles in bum-warmers (heated seats).
Back seat passengers will love this option so long as they’re short, because headroom for anyone south of 180cm, not to mention legroom, is minimal. Certainly below what you’d get even in a budget hatchback such as the Honda Civic.
The symmetrical Clubman’s party trick is its (technically) six-door layout, comprising two doors on either side and twin outwards opening rear barn doors, that ping out when you press a button on the lollipop-shaped key fob.
They liberate a 360-litre cargo area, which again positions the Clubman between the hatch and Countryman (450L) and about matches a Golf hatch, growing to 1250 litres with the back seats folded flat on a 60:40 basis. Payload is 530kg.
Okay, this is no über practical wagon, because despite being big for a Mini, it’s still 200-300mm shorter than your average small-segment hatchback, but it’s liveable. Notably there are some clever storage nooks such as the under-floor cubby, the neat back door pockets, plus various bag hooks and nets, and great night lighting.
We’re going to wrap this review up here, for one obvious reason. We could sit here all day and talk about what the Clubman JCW isn’t. It’s isn’t cheap, overly spacious or unusually powerful. It isn’t overly comfortable, and while it’s a hoot to drive, so are all Minis.
But let’s not pretend that logic has a single thing to do with the Mini Clubman JCW. The reality is you’re either here to have a laugh, or to make sure the car isn’t totally terrible before signing up. It’s not terrible. It’s actually generally good. Baffling, but good.
I’ll show myself out…
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser