The MINI Clubman has always been a weird car. The first iteration of MINI’s effort to provide more versatility that one could get with the “original” MINI two-door (itself a BMW reworking of a classic British car from the 1960s). Enter in the mid-2000s an offbeat design that feature a small, additional pair of gate-swinging doors to provide rear access, along with a wagon-y back featuring old-school saloon-style doors rather than a hatch.
Yup, odd. But distinctive and consistent with MINI’s eye-catching, go-your-own-way, design-intensive approach to carmaking.
The second-gen Clubman, rolled out in 2015, gained proper rear doors and was outfitted with optional all-wheel-drive (the first-gen was front-wheel only), transforming it into a sort of wagon-cum-crossover, albeit a low-slung version. Like all MINIs, it was decidedly sporty, calculated to be able to out a smile on you face and successfully complete grocery store excursions or short getaways with luggage.
BMW-owned MINI had another level to take the Clubman to — the John Cooper Works performance treatment — and has now done so, creating the JCW Clubman All4. Think of it as the Clubman with an added wild streak, because that’s what the JCW mods typically do: They make your MINI into a bonkers thing, as I found out when I sampled the insane two-door MINI JCW.
The car was introduced last year, and we got our hands on a tester just as the Northeast was being slammed by its (maybe) last snowstorm of winter (we’re enjoying much balmier weather now). Price? A cool $45,000. Here’s what we thought:
The 2017 John Cooper Works MINI Clubman All4 — Whew! That’s a lot of name! — landed in the snowbound driveway of our suburban New Jersey test center before spring sprung. Color: Rebel Green, chaps!
We wondered if the Clubman JCW would be a terrifying as the last JCW MINI we, um, enjoyed. That car scared the living bejeezus out of us. What a savage little thing!
Read the review here if you dare.
The MINI Cooper S Convertible was rather more chill. Basically, the perfect MINI.
Here’s the review for that one.
The Clubman ALL4 was out first MINI with four doors.
Not to mention that famous — or infamous, depending on your perspective — set of bi-swinging rear doors.
They’re the Clubman’s signature feature.
What lies within?
Well, a decent amount of cargo space. But nothing too impressive. The Clubman is just about adequate to carry a week’s worth of groceries for a family of … let’s call it three. I have three kids, and for us the Clubman would demand extra weekly jaunts to the market. Unless you use the vehicle’s extra seating space or drop the rear seats.
MINI badging is modest on the exterior.
A dash of JCW identity, plus a shout-out to the all-wheel-drive system, which turned out to be fairly capable in the snow.
The real deal with MINIs, of course, is the overall eye-catching design of the vehicles. Check out that hood scoop! JCW MINIs are the high-performance version of the cars.
Those adorable bug eyes!
Step inside, past a tad more JCW badging, spiced up with contrasting red and a checkered-flag motif.
The front seats are snug, well bolstered, and covered in “Carbon Black” leather.
The steering wheel is also leather-wrapped, topstitched in red, and purposeful. It feels good in the hands.
You have to accommodate yourself to all the offbeat MINI stuff, as far as the controls go. The push-to-start in many vehicle here becomes a red toggle switch. When fired up, the JCW Clubman’s 228-horsepower turbo inline-four-cylinder motor emits a satisfying bark, followed by a pleasing, blatty growl.
No manual (there’s a six-speed available), but the sport automatic allows for a manual mode, and there are paddle shifter behind the steering wheel. Overall, the transmission and engine combine nicely to deliver spirited power delivery in all driving modes, even the eco-friendly gas-saving selection.
The infotainment system is housed in this big round console. It’s based on MINI-parent BMW’s iDrive, and it gets the job done. Our tester had satellite radio, a decent quality six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, and AUX/USB ports.
The system is operated using this cluster of buttons and a knob. Once you sort of internalize the positions, you can navigate the infotainment interface without taking your eyes off the road.
A head-up display rises from the dashboard and projects speed and a tachometer.
Yep, the rear is snug. What we’re dealing with essentially is a compact station wagon.
However, the dual sunroofs are a great touch. The rear of the Clubman is flooded with light.
So what’s the verdict?
The Clubman package is exactly what it’s supposed to be — an oddball, slightly stretched two-door hatchback that doesn’t have a hatch. You used to be able to call it something like a pocket shooting brake, but with the additional rear doors it’s now more of a proper wagon. It’s too low-slung to be an SUV or a crossover, although it offers some of the versatility of those popular vehicles, with a design that’s much groovier (if getting somewhat long in the tooth, with the whole retro-car craze receding in the rearview).
Adding the All4 all-wheel-drive system makes the Clubman a better bet for those who suffer Northeastern weather, as we learned. It also gives the Clubman a more surefooted, rally-car-type grip when the horsepower is bumped up by the JCW treatment.
Ah, the JCW treatment. Well, let’s give it to you straight: The JCW MINI is bonkers and frankly rather demanding to drive. The JCW Clubman is far more domesticated.
That might sound as if we’re saying that the JCW Clubman is boring. Actually, we are saying that the JCW Clubman is more boring — if you’re frame of reference is its insane little brother. So be it. It’s a good thing. All the wildness of the JCW MINI in a larger package that isn’t going to keep you awake at night, a tremble with memories of mad forays into the freeway. This car is a heckuvalota fun to drive. Versus, you know … terrifying!
Seriously. The JCW Clubman agile and peppy, with a satisfyingly burpy exhaust note, backfiring in all the right places. The nearly 230-horsepower turbo motor blasts the JCW Clubman from zero to 60 mph in scooch under 7 seconds, all while serving up an EPA-rated 23 mph city/31 highway/26 combined, which is very respectable for a vehicle that’s this much fun.
Admittedly, the MINI design concept — an upgrade of a Swinging London idea that was fresh a few decades back and has now slipped into icon status — isn’t what it used to be. But it continues to stand out, with adherents, admirers, and aspirants alike continuing to show enough enthusiasm for the look to prevent BMW from jettisoning the brand (a move that would be very angrily meet by MINIstas).
As far as a target buyers goes, we figure its stylish couples, perhaps with a pet. Maybe with a child. One child. A family larger than that and the Clubman’s limitations will become too glaring. Beyond that demographic, we’re taking empty nesters, groovy retirees, and people who already have a MINI Cooper and wants a second MINI.
When it comes to the JCW aspect, all those categories narrow and you have to ask yourself if you need to performance boost. I say, why not? But in that case you are adding an extra $10-$15,000 to the price tag. And anyone who balks that that might want to have a look at a VW GTI, which gets you 227 horsepower in a less design-y presentation — or so says BI’s Ben Zhang.
You won’t be sorry if you do go for the MINI when it’s time to do a bit of that old-school MINI motoring. Fun costs, but it’s worth it.
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