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2020 Mini Clubman JCW review

Australian first drive

Forget about a subtle mid-life nip-and-tuck, Mini has given the JCW Clubman an extra 55kW and 100Nm for 2020.
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We're used to mid-life tweaks bringing an extra 5kW, or 10kW if we're lucky. That isn't the case with the new 2020 Mini Clubman JCW.

Rather than the usual token boost, the new Clubman JCW has 55kW and 100Nm more than the car it replaces. It also has a new one-size-fits-all 'Pure' model, which is essentially Mini with no options. No, that isn't a typo. It's a Mini with no options.

As mid-life updates go, this is a significant one – and the base price has only risen by $1000.

Despite the big changes lurking under the skin, there isn't much to differentiate the new Clubman JCW from the car it replaces.

There are bigger air intakes up front, larger exhaust pipes at the rear, and a raft of detail changes to the exterior lighting (including Union Jack tail lights) and trim, but it's still a Clubman.

That means you still get six doors, thanks to the quirky barn-door boot, and a slightly more grown-up take on the circle-heavy interior design that's defined Mini's time under BMW control.

An 8.8-inch screen with navigation dominates the dashboard, driven by the rotary controller we know and love from BMW iDrive. Apple CarPlay is standard – it's still wireless, but the subscription fee has been axed. Rejoice.

A head-up display is also standard in the JCW Exclusive ($62,900 before on-road costs), but it isn't the proper full-colour unit from the regular BMW line-up, it's a folding glass screen capable of showing speed, a rev counter, and speed limit information.

Where the base JCW Pure ($57,900 before on-road costs) gets manual sports seats trimmed in leather and 'dinamica' fabric, the higher-end Exclusive has electrically-operated leather seats, but the fundamentals are otherwise the same.

The higher-end Exclusive also gets a Harman Kardon sound system and anti-dazzle mirrors, along with a wider range of options for the interior trim.

Both models come with adaptive cruise with stop/go, autonomous emergency braking, parking sensors at both ends, a reversing camera, and niceties such as keyless entry/start and dual-zone climate control.

Boot space is 360L, and the rear seats fold 40/20/40 to accommodate long or awkwardly-shaped objects. But rear passengers will struggle for legroom behind taller drivers, and the low roof means headroom is passable, not plentiful.

It's better up front, where both the electric and manually-adjusted drop right down to the floor and slide far enough to accommodate leggy drivers.

The big difference between the two models comes on the road. Although some owners might scoff at the idea of the smaller 18-inch alloy wheels offered on the Pure, they bring with them one key advantage – adaptive dampers.

Nothing in the Mini line-up rides like a Rolls-Royce, but the fixed suspension and 19-inch alloy wheels in the Clubman JCW Exclusive make it firm by even Mini's standards.

It isn't bone-shaking or tooth-rattling, but rough country roads get your head nodding and body rocking.

The JCW Pure isn't a feather bed by comparison, but it's notably more pliant in 'Normal' mode on bumpy roads. Along with the ability to dial back the suspension, the 18-inch wheels are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres with a (slightly) taller sidewall.

If that isn't reason enough to buy the Pure, we don't know what is.

There's no trade-off in the way it drives, either. Flicked into Sport, the Clubman JCW Pure has the same keen front end and weighty steering as its more expensive stablemate.

Regardless of trim, the Clubman JCW feels relatively light on its feet – lighter than the related Countryman, and keener to turn – and happy to be thrown around.

The ALL4 all-wheel drive system, xDrive in BMW parlance, is capable of sending torque to the rear axle when required and there's a mechanical locking differential on the front axle, which essentially means you get grip, grip and more grip.

Sounds complex in theory, and is complex in practice. But the result is a car that's fast point-to-point, even if it doesn't feel overwhelmingly playful.

It doesn't feel rear driven, but you can sling it into a corner and trust the power will be sent rearward, helping the car rotate. You can feel the front differential dragging the JCW onto the next straight, too.

Even with all the complex electrical and mechanical trickery going on, the engine's hefty torque figure gets the traction control light flashing if you get too greedy with the throttle on corner exit in lower gears.

It's more pronounced in the Countryman than the Clubman – stay tuned for our review of the Clubman's high-riding sibling this weekend.

Central to its performance, of course, is the four-cylinder turbocharged engine under the bonnet (internal code B48, nerds). Like in the BMW M135i and X2 M35i it outputs 225kW and 450Nm, mated with an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission.

There's no questioning the engine's power. Despite the Clubman's JCW's fairly hefty 1550kg kerb weight (15kg down on its predecessor) it hits 100km/h in just 4.9 seconds from standstill on the way to a 250km/h top speed.

Claimed fuel economy is 7.7L/100km, we'll need to wait for the car to come through our office to see how that translates to the real world.

It's a raucous little bastard in Sport mode, with a raspy exhaust bark and whip-crack gearshifts from the eight-speeder. But it feels slightly less angry than it does in the X2 M35i, where the exhaust gets brassy and bombastic (bordering on obnoxious) when the rev needle swings past 3500rpm.

With that said, it's certainly a more characterful noise than you get from a Volkswagen Golf R or Honda Civic Type R.

Unfortunately, there's no manual option for the 2020 Clubman JCW. Blame a diminishing market for three-pedal cars, and the fact a stick shift isn't offered on any of BMW's four-cylinder performance cars.

The eight-speed automatic transmission does a good job blending around-town drivability with flat-out performance. It saunters through the gears at low speeds, intuitively sliding to a tall ratio to save fuel – but flick into Sport and it'll happily run out to the redline.

It also slams home the next ratio in Sport mode, which adds to the theatre. There are plastic paddles behind the wheel, or you're able to bash the stubby little gear lever back and forward to manually take control.

Mini offers a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty across its range. Capped price servicing is available, priced at $1425 for five years of 'basic' cover or $3795 for 'plus' cover including consumables such as brake pads and spark plugs.

There's no questioning the fact the Clubman is fun, fast, and unique. Based on our launch drive the Pure seems like the sweet spot in the line-up, with all the performance of the more expensive Exclusive and a more comfortable, versatile suspension and wheel combination to boot.

At $57,900 before on-road costs, it's actually priced in direct competition with the heavily-optioned Clubman Cooper S we drove last year.

If you're the sort of person who buys cars with your head, neither JCW Clubman makes much sense. There are plenty of hot hatches offering the same (or more) performance – not to mention more practicality – for less money, with the backing of a five-year warranty to boot.

But no Mini is a purely rational purchase, especially when it comes to the top end of the range. And if you're keen to stand out, and get where you're going pretty damn quickly, there are few better ways for this money than the Clubman JCW.

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