FIRST DRIVE | The 2019 Mini Clubman John Cooper Works is ballistic
Denis Droppa drives the new 225kW Clubman John Cooper Works – the most powerful Mini yet
The Clubman is so far removed from the less-is-more concept of the original, that one is at first disinclined to call it a Mini.
This bloated family version dwarfs the pocket-sized Mini that was launched in 1959 as a car that could squeeze into just about any parking space and charmed the driver with its zippy driving nature.
Thankfully, among all the stretch-out leg room and practical boot space found in today’s Clubman, the quintessential driving charm remains.
At the world launch last week, my jaunt along the autobahns and twisty B-roads of Germany revealed that size isn’t everything, and this maxed-out Mini seems to shrink when negotiating curvy roads like the ones that its progenitor conquered in winning the Monte Carlo Rally three times back in the 1960s.
The Clubman felt a little wide on the narrow B-roads when there were trucks to overtake, but there was little amiss with its fleet-footedness, and the car scampered through the turns like a rodent.
It was a rodent on Red Bull, as the John Cooper Works (JCW) version I drove has now been bumped up to a very lively 225kW of power and 450Nm of torque. That’s 55kW and 100Nm more than the previous JCW and makes it the most powerful Mini in the brand’s 60-year history.
The engine’s based on the same 2l four-cylinder TwinPower turbo petrol unit used in the Mini Cooper S but has a bigger turbocharger and reinforced crankshaft among other tweaks. Mini has also developed a more dramatic-sounding new sport exhaust system that quietens down when a relaxed driving style is adopted.
While they may have scoffed at its bloated size, Monte Carlo Rally competitors in the 1960s will likely not have been averse to the Clubman JCW’s ability to scoot from 0-100km/h in just 4.9 seconds.
So too would they have been beguiled by its 250km/h top speed, an electronically-governed velocity it reached with impressive ease and bullet-like directional stability on the German autobahn.
The numbers are cool, and great for bragging around the braai, but it’s the spontaneity of the throttle response that makes this top-dog Mini Clubman so entertaining to drive. There’s minimal turbo lag and the car displays eagerness through the rev range, very cleanly managed by the eight-speed Steptronic auto transmission — complete with the requisite steering wheel paddles.
The twisty back roads of the German countryside was where the car found its real sweet spot, and revealed a chassis that ably harnesses those hot-hatch power figures.
Mini has maximised the JCW’s driving precision by reinforcing the body structure, including a new strut brace in the engine bay, which makes for a very taut package.
All-wheel drive and a front limited slip differential ensured plenty of grip on the smooth roads, and it took robust driving to elicit even a small squeal from the tyres.
The steering has Mini-typical sharpness, another factor that makes the Clubman JCW feel more edgy and alive than its bulk suggests.
Sports suspension makes for hunkered-down handling without giving the car a particularly spine-jarring ride. The car I drove had the optional adaptive chassis with electronically controlled dampers, which allows the driver to set the suspension firmness to their prevailing level of adrenaline.
The sport brake system has also been upgraded to deal with the extra power, and the red-coated front calipers bear the John Cooper Works logo.
As part of a mid-life upgrade the entire Clubman range has been facelifted, the most striking design feature being the new radiator grille which now extends across the entire bumper.
The adaptive LED headlamps with Matrix function for the high beam are available as a new option. They offer a turning light function and can automatically adapt their brightness to the situation on the road.
Also new are LED rear lights optionally in a Union Jack design, and new optional sports suspension with the vehicle lowered by 10mm.
Inside, a new range of leather trims and interior surfaces are available as part of an expanded list of cabin personalisation options.
As before, barn-like split doors give access to a luggage compartment can be extended from 360l to as much as 1,250l with the seats folded down.
The updated Mini Clubman range will be launched in SA later this year at the following prices:
Mini Cooper Clubman — R433,380
Mini Cooper S Clubman — R511,380
Mini John Cooper Works Clubman — R645,795