Review: MINI John Cooper Works Clubman
The fiery MINI John Cooper Works model is at its most practical in Clubman form. Jonathan Crouch tries it.
If you want the ultimate MINI, then you want a JCW model. This John Cooper Works flagship version isn’t cheap to buy but it is affordable to run and, most importantly, seeringly quick for something this small. Here, we look at the Clubman version.
The John Cooper name is one of the most evocative ones in British motorsport and it’s indelibly linked with just one car: the MINI. It was back in 1961 that the late John Cooper, frustrated by the way the original 1959 Mini lacked the power to go with its excellent roadholding, took one and gave it a few well-chosen tweaks. The rest is history: three Monte Carlo Rally wins between 1964 and 1967 and 150,000 Mini Coopers produced before official production was halted in 1971.
But, far from ending, the Mini Cooper story was still just beginning. From their base in West Sussex, the John Cooper company continued to produce tuning kits and accessories, as demand for Minis with Cooper magic remained. So naturally, when the Mini Cooper was resurrected in 1990 for a final swansong, the East Preston firm offered a Cooper S kit to spice that up too. BMW were watching and when the Germans reinvented the MINI in 2001, they not only kept the ‘Cooper’ badge for sportier versions but gave their seal of approval to a ‘Works’ kit of go-faster parts produced by the Cooper company.
Enough of these were sold to confirm the demand for even faster MINI motoring than that provided by the standard Cooper S model. As a result, when the time came to consider tweaking the second generation new MINI in 2008, BMW purchased the John Cooper badge and brought design and production of ‘Works’ models in-house. For three-door, Convertible and even Clubman estate MINI owners, ‘John Cooper Works’ – or ‘JCW’ – was to be the ultimate sporting MINI brand.
If you’ve ever wondered what a MINI might feel like as a racecar, then you’ll find out at the wheel of one of these. The basis for this JCW model is, after all, an engine originally developed for the MINI Challenge one-make race series: I think John Cooper would have liked that. It’s based of course on the 173bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre engine used in the standard Cooper S, but benefits from revisions to the cylinder head, pistons and turbocharger, all of which boost power to a hefty 210bhp.
"It’s hard to think of anything else this small and versatile that goes this fast."
There’s also a tweaked exhaust system and when you listen to the JCW sitting at idle, it leaves you in know doubt that there’s some race car DNA under the surface. The exhaust pops and crackles like a highly-tuned competition car and its performance is just as dramatic. The 0-60mph sprint detains this MINI for only 6.8s and there’s a 148mph top speed, enough to put the frighteners on some serious performance cars – as it needs to for the money being asked.
The JCW model rides on specially tuned sports suspension which manages to provide the car with its razor sharp handling focus without proving unbearably harsh on the road. There’s also an even more aggressive John Cooper Works suspension set-up that can be ordered through dealerships and reduces the ride height by a further 10mm – but we’d avoid that: the standard set-up is quite stiff enough. You also get a slicker gearbox, uprated Brembo brakes and sharper steering. But what about the major issues any front-driven car faces in getting over 200bhp onto the tarmac?
BMW’s answer with this model has been to invest in a whole raft of electronic trickery to help it make the most of its power output. The Dynamic Stability Control and Dynamic Traction Control work in tandem, giving a certain amount of leeway before intervening. They can also be disengaged entirely, leaving only the clever EDLC Electronic Differential Lock Control system to keep you spinning all that power uselessly away. Essentially a very clever limited slip differential, this works when the car is accelerating hard out of corners, slowing the spinning inside rear wheel to give better grip and ensuring that all the available power is transferred to the wheel best able to use it. If you habitually drive your car hard, you’ll notice the difference immediately, especially in the wet.
From the outside at least, there are lots of little tweaks to let passers by know you’ve bought the ultimate MINI. Chief amongst these are special 17" alloy wheels, a more obvious giveaway than the John Cooper Works logos you’ll find on the grille, the boot and the door trim. Anoraks may also spot the chromed finish for the side indicator grilles, fuel filler cap and door handles, while the honeycomb black radiator grille and body-coloured engine scoop also add a little bling.
Inside, there’s a little less to help justify your decision to spend nearly £5,000 more on this JCW model over the cost of a standard Cooper S variant that’s just 0.6s slower from rest to sixty. The interior is finished in Piano Black with an Anthracite roof lining, while there’s a unique red gearknob and a leather sports steering wheel. There’s also an upgraded sound system with 10 speakers and an eight channel amplifier that’s almost powerful enough to drown out the JCW’s aggressive exhaust note.
For driving enthusiasts, practicality will the main reason for choosing this JCW model over something like a Lotus Elise. With this in mind, the Clubman estate version we’re looking at here makes sense, upping boot capacity from the rather paltry figure of around 160-litres you get in either the three-door or the Convertible to a more usable 260-litres. Being able to have your fun yet still justify your choice of car to your other half is not to be under-estimated.
Pricing for the MINI John Cooper Works starts at around £22,000 for this Clubman estate version, about £1,000 more than you’d pay for the 3-door variant. But is this car’s premium of nearly £5,000 over the standard Cooper S model that on paper isn’t that much slower really worthwhile? Well, there’s nothing that’s this small and versatile that’s quite as quick. On this basis, the Clubman JCW is a lot easier to justify than the 3-door model.
Standard safety equipment includes six airbgs - front, side and curtain - plus an Isofix child seat attachment at the rear and loads of electronic safety systems to keep you out of trouble. Apart from DTC (Dynamic Traction Control) and DSC (Dynamic Stability Control), these include ABS with Electronic Brake Distribution, Corner Braking Control and Hill Assist to stop you drifting backwards on uphill junctions. Remote central locking, an alarm and an immobiliser are of course standard fit.
Cost of ownership is where the JCW eekes out a clear advantage over its hot hatch rivals. Unlike the first generation supercharged version, this turbo model really can get somewhere close to its claimed 40.4mpg combined fuel return on a regular basis. Of course, this assumes that the car will be driven in a manner that would negate the reason for its purchase in the first place but it still promises the possibility of a 30mpg return in regular day-to-day motoring.
As for emissions, well, you’ll struggle to find another hot hatch able to get close to this car’s figure of 167g/km. There’s no getting away from the wrath of your broker though in buying a supercar supermini: expect your JCW to slot into group 17. At least residual values offer cheerier news. You might not match the return of up to 64% that other MINI models offer after three years or 36,000 miles, but you’ll be doing badly if you don’t at least get half of your original purchase price back after that period.
It’s hard to think of anything else this small and versatile that goes this fast. Yet it’s relatively practical and not too expensive to run. Such is the undeniable appeal of the MINI John Cooper Works, especially in Clubman form.
Yes it’s expensive, especially for the marginal performance gain you get over a cheaper Cooper S, but buy one of those and it’s easily possible to fill the price gap between the two models with extras that collectively, don’t leave you with anything like as satisfying a total package as is offered here. If he could have afforded one, I think John Cooper would have liked this car. The legend continues.