It's been nearly two decades since BMW reintroduced the Mini brand as a boutique hatchback with the same lovable, pint-sized character as the original. A lot has happened since then, with the standard hatchback spawning a wide range of Mini variants that have drifted further and further away from the original concept. In the case of the Clubman, that means the stretched, wagon-like Mini with more space now has four doors, while the John Cooper Works treatment endows the Clubman with a stout 228 horsepower to ensure that the extra packing space doesn't impact performance. Standard All-wheel-drive further sets apart the Clubman in this segment, but the end result is a rather pricey proposition, with the JCW's $35,900 MSRP well clear of other subcompacts, and on a par with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Still, there's nothing else quite like it, and for many, the Mini novelty factor still carries a lot of weight.
A rejigged structure within the Clubman line-up sees three JCW sub-trims being offered, each providing buyers with a bit more choice at the very top of the Clubman range. There's the basic Classic, the mid-tier Signature, and the top-line Iconic, all using the same mechanicals. Apple CarPlay (although still no Android Auto), forward collision warning, forward automatic emergency braking, and front parking sensors are newly introduced features for 2019.
Featuring three mechanically identical sub-trims, the John Cooper Works Clubman starts off with the Classic at $35,900, which is $4,000 more expensive than the equivalent JCW hatchback. The mid-range trim is the Signature at $39,900, while the fully-loaded Iconic has an MSRP of $44,900. All prices exclude tax, licensing, registration, and a destination charge of $850. An eight-speed automatic transmission is a $1,750 option on the Classic sub-trim, but available at no extra cost on the Signature and Iconic.
See trim levels and configurations:
|John Cooper Works ALL4||
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
It's a bit of a mixed bag for the JCW. Understandably tuned to provide the sportiest driving experience, the standard sports suspension has had an impact on the basic Clubman's decent ride quality. As a daily driver, this isn't the Mini to choose: road scars are transmitted through to the cabin with unpleasant regularity, and the JCW never really settles down. These characteristics are more of a concern in the Clubman than the smaller hatchback, as this car is more likely to be sought after by small families.
Of course, when the road is smooth and the bends more acute, the JCW is in its element. Turn-in is accurate, and the steering has enough heft and feedback to make the driver feel involved in the action. It's all composed and very well-balanced, the ALL4 all-wheel-drive system adding peace of mind in a variety of conditions. And yet, it's also not as sharp and kart-like as the smaller hatchback. The longer wheelbase and increased dimensions do take away the chuckable feel so revered in the smaller hatch. And therein lies the problem with the JCW Clubman - it's a contradiction of sorts. Because, where the Clubman philosophy is one of a softer, more comfortable Mini, the JCW team is still tasked with providing the sharpest and most interactive driving experience. The two ideals haven't quite come together harmoniously; the Clubman JCW isn't as thrilling as the hatchback, nor as comfortable as the standard Clubman.
The Mini John Cooper Works Clubman is a lot of different Mini parts in one, and we're not sure they all gel together as seamlessly as they should. On the one hand, the Clubman offers a softer drive to match its increased passenger and cargo room, making it a viable option for small families wanting a piece of the Mini pie. On the other hand, in JCW spec, there's a brittle ride quality to contend with and a bump up in power that doesn't seem that significant over the Clubman S. Quite simply, the JCW modifications seem better-suited to the smaller, wieldier hatchback, and those wanting truly hot performance could be better off waiting for next year's 300 hp JCW Clubman. Still, this is far from a bad car. It looks thoroughly distinctive inside and out, is a peppy performer, is well built, and still handles more sharply than most other subcompacts. But at over $35,000 for the cheapest sub-trim, there is a raft of appealing options spanning different market segments. If you want a premium and sporty drive, there's the BMW 2 Series. If performance in a family-friendly package counts, there's the VW Golf GTI. And if scalpel-sharp handling and performance in a compact car is the goal, consider the brilliant Honda Civic Type R. If, however, the Mini Clubman is a car you must have, the S variant is the better balanced overall package.
The Signature sub-trim is the sweet spot in the range. Not only does it have welcome extras like adaptive suspension and forward collision warning over the Classic, but it's pricing is also more palatable than the top Iconic trim. By opting for the Signature, you can also add in one or two of the options that appeal to you most, we quite like the $2,250 Premium Package. You'll get a host of welcome premium features while still enjoying a $2,000 saving over the top-trim variant.
Is the Clubman still a bit too mini for you? Another step up the Mini food chain is the larger Countryman, with a similar sub-trim structure and the same engine, but a higher starting price of $37,900. The Countryman isn't really trying to appear compact, with beefier proportions making it look like a Mini hatch on steroids. Inside, there's more passenger room than in the Clubman, but the cargo capacity is virtually the same. As expected, the Countryman's larger size makes it a bit less nimble than the Clubman, but both are adept handlers. The upside is the Countryman's improved ride quality, although it is also harsher than non-JCW models. Unless increased passenger space and the meaner looks are important to you, we'd save the money and go for the JCW Clubman.
For $5,000 cheaper than the base JCW Clubman, you can get into a Clubman S. Producing 189 horsepower, the S gives away 39 hp to the JCW, resulting in about a second being shaved off the 0-60 mph time so it is still quick enough for most. To cut a long story short, we think the S represents a better buy. Trim levels are generally comparable, but the S has a better balance of sharp handling and compliant ride than the stiffly sprung JCW. The initial cost saving can also be used to further option up the S, which has the same great quality cabin, cheeky design, and generous cargo capacity as the JCW. Sometimes, more isn't always more, and the S is the perfect balance of performance and practicality.
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