by Jared Rosenholtz
You don't buy a Mini because it makes the most sense - it is an emotional purchase, you buy it because you love it. Mini's higher price tags may put off potential buyers but owners know they have something special that's difficult to quantify on paper. But cars aren't driven on paper, which is why most Mini vehicles start making sense the moment you fire up the engine and go for a drive.
Within the Mini lineup, the John Cooper Works models sit at the top of the performance spectrum, acting as the company's fastest and most expensive offerings. The new 2020 JCW Clubman, along with the Countryman crossover, was just given a facelift along with a significant power boost. Despite some of its quirks, we fell in love with the JCW Clubman around South Carolina's curvaceous back roads and BMW's delivery center test track.
|John Cooper Works ALL4||
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The changes to the 2020 JCW Clubman are mostly found under the skin but Mini has made some minor cosmetic changes to differentiate it from the 2019 model. New LED headlights give an upmarket feel upfront while new LED taillights house an interesting Union Jack design. The example we drove was finished in a dark shade of Rebel Green paired with an optional Chili Red roof and mirror caps.
Mini is one of the few mainstream automakers to offer nearly endless levels of customization, meaning there are millions of possible combinations that buyers can choose from to make their car look unique. Our tester was equipped with the standard 18-inch black wheels and optional 19-inch wheels are also available. The Clubman also has the most unique design of any current Mini model with outward-opening split barn doors instead of a traditional rear hatchback. Those doors look cool from the outside but they do have some drawbacks.
The biggest change on the JCW Clubman comes in the form of a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which is shared with the BMW X2 M35i and upcoming 2 Series Gran Coupe. It produces 301 horsepower and 331 ft-lb, which is a massive leap over the 2019 model's 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque figures. All of the power is routed out to all-wheel-drive only, giving better grip off the line. As a result, the 0-60 time drops from around 6.2 seconds to under five seconds. Along with the new turn of speed, this engine makes all of the pops and turbo noises you'd expect from a hot hatchback.
There is just one downside to this new powertrain - it can only be mated to an Aisin-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. While (lamentably) no manual is offered on the 2020 model, the automatic shifts smoothly in traffic and quickly when you want to drive fast.
Since this is a performance-oriented hatchback, fuel economy was not a heavy concern and the numbers aren't great as a result. The EPA rates fuel economy at 23/31/26 mpg city/highway/combined.
Mini's endless customization doesn't stop on the outside. The company offers exotic car levels of customization in the cabin including five different seat material options. Buyers can select cloth, leather, or Dinamica (Alcantara) seating surfaces in Carbon Black, Indigo Blue, or Satellite Grey. JCW Clubmans are differentiated via sport seats with integrated headrests, a sport steering wheel with multifunction buttons, anthracite headliner, and JCW-specific gear selector.
The dashboard still houses a quirky circular element with a standard 6.5-inch touchscreen display or an optional 8.8-inch touch display, though these days the speedometer is located more conventionally in front of the steering wheel next to the tachometer. Mini's infotainment system is decent enough, performing like a watered-down version of BMW's iDrive.
Despite the obvious BMW influence, the Mini still feels properly quirky and a class above most mainstream hot hatchbacks in terms of materials. We love the toggle switches mounted beneath the climate controls to adjust the different drive modes and car functions. The only "cheap" point we found was the paddle shifters, which are made from hard plastic but are nicely sized to be easily accessible.
The Clubman is Mini's second-largest model above the four-door Cooper but below the Countryman. Some of the Clubman's added wheelbase can be felt in the back seats, which offer 34.3 inches of legroom compared to 32.3 inches in the four-door Cooper. This still isn't massive by any stretch and the Clubman is still less spacious than rivals like the Volkswagen Golf GTI. If you plan to have people in the back seat often, the Countryman offers 37.6 inches of legroom and greater headroom than the Clubman.
As with the rear quarters, trunk space in the Clubman is more generous than the company's smaller Cooper models but isn't what we'd call massive. With the rear seats in place, the trunk offers 12.71 cubic feet of space, good enough for a small suitcase plus a backpack. Folding the seats opens the storage space to 44.14 cubic feet, which is far more useful.
Opening up the trunk requires opening the right door before the left (kind of like a refrigerator). You can also just open up one door if you only need to grab a small item, which is nice when you are in a hurry. Since these doors are side-hinged, the struts open up very quickly and powerfully so they can easily knock you off your feet if you aren't paying attention. With the doors closed, there is an annoying black bar that splits the rear window, forcing you to tilt your head slightly to see what's behind you in the rearview mirror.
When we first heard the 2020 JCW Clubman would be automatic-only, we were a bit concerned Mini was sacrificing fun in the name of performance. We still prefer our Minis to have three pedals but this automatic car is still an absolute hoot to drive. The steering has a nice weight to it and the throttle feels lively when the car is in Sport Mode. As with the BMW X2, the engine is the star of the show, offering an exhaust note fit for a rally car and blistering acceleration off the line. There is some noticeable lag at low rpm but once the twin-scroll turbo has spooled, the JCW feels lightning-quick, especially from 0-30 mph. The eight-speed automatic shifts quickly enough, though it isn't quite as fast the ZF unit used by BMW's RWD models.
We expected a JCW-tuned Mini to feel stiff but the Clubman is more comfortable than many of its hot-hatch rivals. The adaptive chassis with electronically controlled dampers soaks up most of the bumps and can be configured along with the drive modes. So long as the automatic transmission isn't a deal-breaker, the JCW Clubman offers comparable levels of fun as a Honda Civic Type R or Hyundai Veloster N and is more of a laugh than a Volkswagen Golf R. Most people will never take their Clubman to the racetrack but we enjoyed the car's diminutive size and nimble nature. It could use some grippier tires to reduce understeer but the JCW Clubman would make an ideal autocross vehicle.
The JCW model sits atop the Clubman range with three sub-trim levels available. Mini charges $39,400 for the Classic Trim, $42,400 for the Signature Trim, and $46,400 for the Iconic trim. We tested the Iconic trim, which was listed on the window sticker as a $7,000 option which includes a Piano Black exterior, Panoramic split moonroof, auto-dimming mirrors, 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats, Sirius XM radio, Harmon/Kardon premium audio, a head-up display, and built-in navigation with a larger touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, and wireless charging.
Mini's Touchscreen navigation package does include some nice features but we'd gladly save the $7,000 of the Iconic trim to keep the Clubman under $40,000. Our tester also came with a far more reasonable Driver Assistance Package, which bundles park distance control, adaptive cruise control, and parking assistant for just $895.
The total cost of our tester was $48,100 with an $850 destination fee but we would easily settle for the base Classic trim with the Driver Assistance Package, which would cost $40,295. This is still expensive compared to other hot hatchbacks but the Clubman does feature a nicer interior than you will get from its Asian rivals.
Mini has always marched to the beat of its own drum, offering quirky styling and a premium ownership experience at a semi-premium price point. Some enthusiasts will be happy to save money on a Civic Type R or Veloster N, forgoing the nicer interior found in the Clubman. But others will find value with the JCW Clubman, even if it doesn't show on paper. The JCW Clubman isn't the quickest hatchback in its class nor is it the most practical. And with the high price tag, it's almost impossible to see why anyone might consider it over one of the cheaper hot hatches when you just compare them based on specs.
But we believe there is more to a car purchase than just picking out which one has the best stat sheet. Where's the fun in that? The JCW Clubman comes alive on a back road and it becomes easy to see why Mini charges a premium for it. There are plenty of silly quirks like the gap in the rear window but they didn't stop us from falling in love because much like this car, love doesn't always have to make sense.