Strictly speaking, Clubman should have been the Countryman, or Traveller. In 1960 those last two names were bestowed on the Mini estate in Austin and Morris form. Names are difficult, though, and in 2007 when BMW launched the estate version of the Mini, it didn't own the Countryman name. Production schedules wait for no patent lawyer, so Clubman it was.
JAN 09th 2017
Review: Mini Clubman John Cooper Works
BMW has never made any secret of its desire to push the Mini brand into new and different areas although an estate was a more logical step than the unlamented Paceman or the strange looking Countryman, an Austrian-built sports utility. But Mini is deemed in Munich to be 'quirky', so first-generation Clubman had an odd suicide side door arrangement on the wrong side for RHD markets. This year's gen-two revamp, however, has conventional four doors, with twin wardrobe-style rear doors – strictly speaking, this is a six door. Until the launch of next year's Countryman, this is the largest Mini you can buy and having launched the cooking versions earlier this year, Mini is now offering the hottest John Cooper Works edition which is on sale now with prices starting at £29,345, rising to £30,945 for the automatic version we drove.
As befits a go-faster Mini, the Clubman gets new, duct-festooned front and rear bumpers and red highlighted wing mirrors and brakes. If the standard Clubman looks a bit bulbous and heavy, this one looks pretty hot, although the side view isn't quite as exciting as its designer intended and the kicked-up rear disappears almost completely. The car runs as standard on 18-inch wheels, but 19-inch rims are available at an extra £2,000 if they are ordered with the Chilli pack with heated seats and a wide choice of upholstery materials.
That JCW cabin is fairly funky in its own right, however, with unique quilt-trimmed sports seats, and special sill covers, steering wheel, gear lever, and pedals. The seats are certainly figure-hugging but lack cushioning, so you get a numb bum over long distances. The rest of the facia juts in with almost too much design input: flick switches, circular central touch screen (an option) and a steering column crowded with dials as it meets the facia. Fortunately, there's an effective head-up display for crucial speed and sat-nav information. It's all remorselessly plastic but well made and seems sturdy.
In the back, the bench will seat three adults at a pinch and two in some comfort with head and leg room to spare. The twin rear doors open up onto a 360-litre boot, which expands to 1,250 if you tilt the seats.
The hepped up engine is 228bhp/258lb ft, 2-litre, 4-cylinder, with a Mitsubishi twin-scroll turbocharger, also fitted to the JCW versions of the Mini hatchback and convertible. It delivers 39bhp more than the standard Cooper S and uses a bigger cooling radiator and inlet-charge cooler to maintain boost in high temperatures. There's also a more free flowing and louder exhaust system. Two transmissions are offered: six-speed manual and an eight-speed automatic. All JCW Clubmans have the All4 4x4 system, which uses an electronically activated multi-plate clutch in the rear axle to clutch in the rear wheels if the fronts lose traction. MacPherson-strut front and multi-link independent rear suspension is tuned up with optional variable rate dampers which are changed according to the driving mode selected, and the brakes are bigger Brembo items with four-piston front calipers.
Such is the confusion of switches, it's actually pretty difficult to find the starter (Oh where have all the ignition keys gone?), once found and fired up, though, the engine idles with a distinct warble that at times sounds like a couple of cylinders have given up the ghost. Like all twin-scroll turbo units, the urge from low revs is impressive, but unlike others, it doesn't continue into the top end of the rev counter. The performance statistics might be fairly impressive, with a top speed of 148mph, 0-62mph in 6.3sec and Combined consumption of 41.5mpg, it's just that it doesn't feel like it. And we managed just 29mpg, although that was charging up and down the Alps.
The automatic gearbox helps disguise the engine's lack of go, segueing between ratios, with only the engine's rather frantic cacophony at the top end betraying just how hard it is working to haul almost 1.6 tonnes up the hill.
On Pirelli Sottozero winter tyres, I expected a ride like that of a tea tray on a snowy hill, but in fact, it wasn't bad. True, the lack of side wall meant the wheels crashed through the bigger potholes, but on badly frost-damaged roads the ride was confident and stable, although the long wheelbase probably helps here.
The handling doesn't have the sharpness or the manic responses of other JCW Minis. Electronically assisted steering is accurate but too light. The nose tries to turn in fast, but the Pirellis lose the plot and want to go straight on. Ease it into the turn and there's respectable grip, and the Clubman feels brisk and nicely balanced, but it lacks the edge of the competition, most notably that of the Volkswagen Golf R estate, but also the considerably cheaper Ford Focus ST estate. Oh, and the brakes are woeful, with a soft and spongy pedal, little initial bite and only marginal stopping power.
So is this Mini too heavy and under powered? Rauno Aaltonen attended the launch. This former BMC works driver won the 1967 Monte Carlo rally in a works Mini Cooper S with Henry Liddon as his co-driver and these days he runs his own ice driving school in Finland, but consults with BMW on Mini development.
Over supper, we mused over the fact that the original Mini was 3,054mm long and weighed 617kg, while this model is 4,253mm long and weighs almost 1.6 tonnes. The wily champion wouldn't be drawn: "I have to be careful," he said, "I am a guest of BMW."
We changed the subject and I asked how he met his wife. "At a dance," he said, "I was a good dancer." Then he gave me a lurid wink. "So on the subject of our last conversation, I would say that I cannot dance with a woman who weighs more than 58kg or I lose all control."
Nuff said really.
Photography by Guenter Schmied
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