Forget downsizing and rightsizing, there’s an encouraging new trend creeping into the latest Minis. We investigate with the help of the new John Cooper Works Clubman.
Nowadays the turbo acts as temperance for fuel consumption and a firewall to CO2 emissions – not the one way ticket to laggy G-forces, whooshing wastegate noises, pulverising forward momentum and battered kidneys like it once did. Worse still, manufacturers match these downsized-turbo engines to long-ratio transmissions and ever bloating bodies, bringing with it the death of driver immersion to add insult to kilowatt injury. Well, that’s until you examine an unusual and encouraging trend from Mini that is. The British firm has gifted its top turbo motors an additional 400 cc (bringing them up to a full fat 2.0 litre) for petrol and air to spark driver enjoyment and the resultant outputs are by quite some measure the most powerful attained in the brand’s 61 years.
We travelled to the Lowveld to sample the new top of the range John Cooper Works version of the Mini Clubman, and on the evidence of that first encounter they’ve made a cracking compact sports wagon. All-new componentry includes the uprated engine beefed up by 55 kW and 100 Nm to 225 kW and 450 Nm, tweaked suspension, reinforced body structure, upsized rims, full sports exhaust and red-coated brake calipers. It’s the same TwinPower Turbo technology pioneered by BMW and available in the new 1 Series, X2, et al, meaning the trick engine features much BMW yumminess like a turbo nestled snuggly in the exhaust manifold for instant response, Double Vanos and Valvetronic variable valve timing.
It sounds the business, too, with more than a hint of growling K9 noises piped into the cabin, and gone is the torque shortfall and sometimes laggy power delivery of its weaker predecessor. Instead, the JCW Clubman is a seriously fast and fluid machine that rockets off the line the instant you depress that throttle. It has All4 all-wheel drive don’t forget and a seamless-shifting 8-speed Steptronic sports transmission. Maximum torque is available from as low as 1 750 rpm all along an anvil-flat curve to 4 500 rpm, delivering a scarcely believable 0-100 km/h sprint in 4.9 seconds. To put that into context, that’s one and half seconds faster than the last Mini Cooper JCW, a car widely regarded as the benchmark hot hatch supermini. Sadly no stomp-and-shift manual versions of the John Cooper Works will be made available this time around.
To test any vehicle’s dynamics there are no better roads than the twisting, challenging and often potholed routes around Mpumalanga. The good news is despite the extra grunt, the John Cooper Works loses nothing in the way of that typically quick Mini turn-in – or ‘maximum go-kart feel’ – as the marketing boffins choose to call it. All 4 all-wheel drive shifts power front to rear, of course, but a mechanical differential on the front axle does the majority of the hard slog to ensure all that power is transmitted cleanly to the ground while maintaining poise through the helm. On bumpier road sections the steering can err towards the nervous side, an effect you can heighten if you jump on the DSC and DTC sport mode toggles; however, on a smooth surface, the unsullied electromechanical steering loves to dart into tight corners and in faster sweeps you quickly realise you need don’t steer so much as suggest a direct change with a twitch of your palm on the wheel – it’s lovely once get into a rhythm with it.
Speaking subjectively of course, we believe the Clubman cabin to be the best in the entire Mini range at the moment. The flimsy plastics, creaks and rattles associated with its other cars are pleasing absent in the Clubman, and the unnecessarily busy ride quality of the rough-and-tumble Countryman has been smoothed off, too. Better still, more a faster, more engaging car, it starts off at R60k less than a comparable JCW Countryman. So beneath its racing stripes it’s just a bit sensible, too, making it the best hot Mini money can buy right now.
In a nutshell – Mini John Cooper Works Clubman
Seriously quick niche wagon
Look elsewhere for ground clearance
Engine: 1 998 cc, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol
Power: 225 kW @ 5 000 rpm, 450 Nm @ 1 750-4 500
Performance: 0-100 km/h 4.9 sec (claimed)
Top speed: 250 km/h
Tyres: 275/40 R20
Economy: 7.7 l/100 km (claimed)
Transmission: 8-speed auto
CO2 emissions: 175 g/km
Base price: R786 540