THE letters JCW have long been synonymous with MINI’S most extreme models – sharpening Cooper S variants with various mechanical and aesthetic upgrades. Over the past decade we’ve seen John Cooper Works versions of everything from the three-door hatch to the jacked-up Countryman. But now MINI has injected its Volkswagen Golf-rivalling Clubman with some JCW magic-and we’ve driven it.
Unlike the old model, the new car has been fitted with MINI’S ALL 4 system. It’s the same part-time all-wheel-drive set-up as found on other MINIs, meaning most of the time it runs using only the front wheels. The souped-up Clubman comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, while the familiar eight-speed auto tested here is a £1,600 option. It lifts the JCW hatchback’s 2.0-litre turbo engine unchanged – meaning 228bhp and 350Nm of torque. In fact, it manages an identical 0-62mph time of 6.3 seconds, too. On the road, though, the 1,550kg Clubman feels lethargic.
Where the three-door is playful, the estate is reluctant to show its wild side. Grip is good, but the steering isn’t as sweet. Plant your right foot and it builds speed -but it never feels fast. As with other MINIs, there are three drive modes. Using the most aggressive Sport setting sharpens the car’s responses and turns the exhaust up to 11. This transforms the Clubman from humdrum Golf rival to boisterous hot hatch, popping and cracking as you lift off the throttle. But our twisty Alpine drive highlighted failings in the car’s Brembo brake set-up.
While they felt sharp on flatter sections, on lengthy downhill stretches the four-piston calipers didn’t offer sufficient bite. A Golf R would leave it standing through tight bends. The ride disappoints, too. Even on smooth Austrian motorways, the JCW sought out imperfections in the tarmac. It’s stable and secure at high speeds, but potholes send crashes through the chassis – and it’s only likely to worsen on rutted UK roads. The sports seats are comfortable, though, and you’ll find all the usual MINI luxuries inside.