While MINI cars are no longer the small and affordable cars they were created to be, their evolution over the years since BMW acquired the production rights has been a steady progression of cool. The cars have gotten a lot bigger, but engines, drivetrains and tech have evolved to match. The longer, 4-door Clubman has been popular thanks to the extra space afforded to it, and with the John Cooper Works division having a chance to tweak and tune one, it’s become an attractive option for a daily driver. The entry-level trim features a small capacity 3-cylinder engine and pricing starts at $24,800, but it’s at $28,450 for the MINI Cooper Clubman S where you should start shopping.
While the name is MINI, the cabin actually has good space in front and back, and with the station wagon-like body shape there’s a lot more cargo space than in a regular MINI. MINI prides itself on having a funky look and feel, and the bulbous speedo and oversized tachometer behind the multifunction steering wheel are exactly that. In the middle of the dash is a large circle that’s home to the infotainment screen, an optional 8.8-inch touchscreen, and associated controls. Below that you’ll find more retro-looking buttons and switches. Trim panels can be color-coded to match the exterior paint, or in a different color that you prefer, but classic Piano Back is always a good option – custom configurations are almost endless. The top trim is the John Cooper Works version, and in this the seats are proper sports seats with integrated headrests and high bolsters and they feature thick, comfortable leather if optioned; the same goes for the steering wheel. In either spec, a family of four with weekend luggage (there’s 48 cu ft.) should comfortably fit in a MINI Clubman.
MINI has always been known for great handling no matter what the model, and in the MINI Cooper Clubman S, things have been stiffened up and tweaked to make for a much more rewarding driving experience. Wheels can be upgraded to 19-inch, but the 18-inch options will likely offer the best drive feel. When you talk MINI, you talk go-kart-like handling, and this is thanks to a few things that are enhanced over the base trim. The Cooper S is available in both front an all-wheel drive, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell which was fitted just from driving. In the all-wheel drive only Clubman JCW you can have more control over the drive with things like Performance Control that allows adjustments to driving dynamics while the electronic aids like DSC and DTC help keep things sane but kick in later. Dynamic Damper Control allows further adjustments to the suspension to suit the situation at hand. This car behaves perfectly under all conditions and is easy to predict handling; steering is responsive with good feedback. In either guise you’ll find yourself making excuses to take the long road, and you’ll make sure there are plenty tight bends on the route to “test the handling”, that’s how fun these cars are.
The performance of a regular MINI is good enough for some, but others will need the JCW badge in their lives. Under the short hood of the MINI Cooper Clubman S you’ll find a twin-turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 189 hp and 207 lb-ft available which equated to a 60 mph dash in 7.0-seconds with the 6-speed manual transmission or 6.9-seconds in the 8-speed automatic. In the JCW tune that same engine is tuned to create 228 hp with 258 lb-ft of torque, which at release this was the most powerful MINI ever. This trim also features a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission, and the 8-speed automatic now comes with paddle shifters. In both instances the 0-60 drops to 6.0-seconds dead but the top speeds of both are electronically limited to 142 mph.
Being essentially a BMW product means safety and tech is good, but also that a lot is option-only so you need to be sure what you want versus your budget. The right combo can always be found and features include the likes of a head-up display, and 8.8-inch touchscreen with navigation, Apple CarPlay, wireless charging, parking assistant, a Harmon / Kardon audio system and a rear-view camera. All manner of driving aids are found as standard an in the event of the worst, there’s an array of 8 airbags; 2 front, 2 side-impact, 2 knee, and 2 ceiling mounted side curtain airbags. The main safety systems are the same through the MINI Clubman range but the driver aids and convenience features is where things differ, like the Active Driving assistant that uses video to monitor and automatically adjust speed to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead, and even dim your high beams when oncoming traffic approaches.
If you choose The MINI Cooper Clubman S or the JCW, know you have a really good all-rounder on your hands. They’re modern cars with brilliant technology crammed in and the overall package looks great, also with the amount of available options you’re able to spec one to be completely unique – some options even have extra options built-in. The JCW-tuning on the suspension, transmission and engine makes the small-ish wagon become quite the little firecracker, that 2.0-liter twin turbocharged motor has good power and is responsive and smooth, and both auto and manual transmissions are really good which makes the choice a bit of a conundrum. In both trims the drive and handling is brilliant, responsive and firm for fast driving and pliant enough to be a daily-driven family car.