What is it?
Given the axe that’s fallen on a number of Mini’s other oddball ideas (so long Paceman) it’s a wonder that the Clubman, the bread-van aping larger cousin of the hatchback, is still clinging on given that its shallow pool of buyers is presumably drawn from those dissatisfied with the regular five-door model’s boot – and simultaneously unmoved by the taller Countryman.
Yet here we are with another variant, and the costliest to boot. One suspects the constituents of the Clubman’s slender market share interested in a 228bhp, all-wheel-drive version would fail to see over a burly amoeba if Mini stacked them one on top of each other, but the John Cooper Works model launches in the UK regardless, starting at £29,345 for the six-speed manual.
As with the hatchback and Convertible versions of the JCW, the higher output comes courtesy of the reworked 2.0-litre four-pot, which features an uprated turbocharger and intercooler over the Cooper S unit. The Clubman’s quirk is to twin the petrol motor with Mini’s All4 set-up, which due to a bevel gear on the front differential and an electro-hydraulic clutch at the rear, lets the back axle share the torque distribution when the DSC system thinks it appropriate.
Naturally, the beefed-up powertrain comes with similar attention paid to the Clubman’s chassis, where the car’s already firm suspension settings have been made firmer still on standard 18in wheels (19in alloys are optional), while the brakes get four-piston calipers. Variable dampers are also on the tick list, as is the eight-speed Steptronic automatic our test car came fitted with – nudging its starting price up to £30,945.
What's it like?
There’s inevitably a lot of work to do to live up to that price tag (a range-topping Ford Focus ST-3 estate costs £3000 less) but the latest Mini interior does a decent job of showing you where the money has been invested. This is a premium product with the high-grade plastic fascia to prove it, and while the busy aesthetic is hardly an object lesson in restraint, it’s fair to say that anyone at peace with the Clubman’s exterior is likely a Mini devotee of the unconditional sort.
That’s a handy mindset to bring into the JCW as it turns out because the model is not over-endowed with objective strengths. Chiefly it suffers from the standard Clubman’s most enduring flaw: the ungainly and often irritating attempt to mimic the smaller hatchback’s positivity with a steering rack that seizes on minor inputs and translates them into suddenly rigorous direction changes.
The cooking model at least mitigates this with broader suppleness and less rim resistance – but in the severely sprung JCW there is no yielding to ease of use; in Sport mode the car simply tacks away from centre in cloying pursuit of some meaningless vector. This inability to settle might be forgivable if later it awakened, Lazarus-like, into some subsequent animation, but its inconsistency is just too much of a hindrance; as too is the unavoidable and patent sense of heaviness that taints the model dynamically.
Furnished with bigger bones and four-wheel drive, the JCW’s kerbweight edges to around 200kg more than the equivalent hatch – a lump of fatty tissue that clogs and ultimately subdues the normally healthy function of the turbocharged four-pot. Mini may claim 6.3sec to 62mph, but the cheery, chest-compressing urgency that ought to be virtually guaranteed by 228bhp is gloomily absent even in low gears. The perfunctory, stacked-up ratios and hazy upshifts of the slusher only serve to underline the mechanical strangulation going on in the engine bay; so much so that the Clubman rarely qualifies for the ancillary assistance of a driven back axle.
Should I buy one?
Its failure to generate the kind of gratifying low-end thrust typical of modern hot hatches is particularly damning as it’s the standard by which the wider segment gets graded – certainly in a value for money equation. Put simply, the car doesn’t feel quick enough for the premium Mini is asking.
Nor really is it practical enough; the boot made accessible by the double rear doors is nearly 250 litres smaller than a VW Golf R estate's. Neither feature would terminally damn it in our eyes had the JCW been suitably stimulating to drive, of course. But the Clubman’s new range-topper is tediously adequate at best.
Mini Clubman John Cooper Works Automatic
Location Austria; On sale Now; Price £30,945; Engine 4cyl, 1998cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 228bhp at 5000-6000rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 1450-4500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1565kg; 0-62mph 6.3sec; Top speed 148mph; Economy (combined) 41.5mpg; CO2/BIK tax band 154g/km, 27% Rivals VW Golf R Estate; Ford Focus ST Estate