New MINI Clubman JCW 2017 review

The MINI Clubman John Cooper Works now has ALL4 four-wheel-drive and 228bhp. Enough to challenge the hot hatch hierachy?

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

Ultimately, the new MINI JCW Clubman suffers at the hands of its super-talented rivals. A Ford Focus RS is infinitely more rewarding to drive, while a VW Golf R is easier to live with day to day. Unlike the smaller JCW hatch, the Clubman has to contend with its portly kerbweight, feeling less agile and not as fast. If you simply have to have a fast MINI with room for five, then save some cash and opt for a standard Cooper S.

The letters JCW have long been synonymous with MINI’s most extreme models. They represent the best of the brand’s go-faster know how, sharpening the already entertaining Cooper S variants with various mechanical and aesthetic upgrades.

Over the past decade we’ve seen John Cooper Works versions of everything from the standard three-door hatch, to the lairy two-seat Roadster and jacked-up Countryman. But now MINI has injected its VW Golf-rivalling second-generation Clubman with some JCW magic – and we’ve driven it for the first time. 

• Best hot hatchbacks to buy now

Unlike the old model, the new car has been fitted with MINI’s ALL4 four-wheel drive system. It’s the same part-time setup as found on other MINI models, meaning most the time the JCW runs using only its front wheels. 

The pumped-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 sprint of 6.3 seconds, too. 

However, on the road, the 1,550kg Clubman feels lethargic. Where the three-door is agile and playful, the estate is more reluctant to show its wild side. Grip is good, but the steering isn’t as sweet as in the hatch, either. Plant your right foot and it builds speed effectively, but it never feels fast – allowing you to watch the revs rise without any real haste. It’s the same problem we found in the standard Cooper S ALL4, in fact, but we expect things would improve with a manual box.

Like in other MINIs, there are three drive modes: Eco, Mid and Sport. Using the most aggressive settings sharpens the throttle response, weights up the steering and turns the exhaust up a notch. The exhaust offers the biggest transformation, turning the Clubman from a humdrum Golf-rival to a boisterous hot hatch. It’s a familiar noise – popping and cracking every time you lift from the throttle – and allows the 2.0-litre turbo to remain one of the most characterful four-cylinders on sale.

Unfortunately, our twisty Alpine drive highlighted failings in the car’s Brembo brake setup. While they felt sharp enough on flatter sections, on the lengthy downhill stretches the JCW’s four-piston callipers didn’t offer sufficient bite. As a result, a VW Golf R would leave it standing through a series of tight bends.

The ride disappoints, too. Even on smooth Austrian motorways, the JCW sought out even the smallest 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 get worse on rutted UK roads. The figure-hugging sports seats are comfortable, though, and the cabin offers all the usual MINI luxuries.

All cars come with sat-nav, stainless steel pedals and special sports seats. The rest of the interior is lifted from the Cooper S almost unchanged, however, with the same intuitive infotainment system, ambient lighting and retro toggle switches on the dash. MINI will boast about the sub-£30k starting price, but in reality, few cars will leave the factory without options – pushing it clear of much faster rivals such as the Golf and Focus RS.

Externally, the changes are subtle, mimicking the smaller three-door JCW. Each car gets wider bumpers and an aggressive bodykit, and the wheels are exclusive to the JCW, too. Look closely and you’ll notice the upgraded exhaust and special badges as well.

Most Popular

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra teased for the first time
Vauxhall Astra teaser 1
Vauxhall Astra

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra teased for the first time

The new Vauxhall Astra will get electrified powertrains and a more premium image
8 Jun 2021
'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'
Toyota Mirai opinion
Opinion

'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'

Mike Rutherford says hydrogen-powered cars could still be a frequent sight on UK roads
13 Jun 2021
‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'
Gearknob
Opinion

‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'

Want to drive a manual car? You need to take your test in a manual car. So what happens once all driving-school cars are automatic EVs?
8 Jun 2021
'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'
Car manufacturing
Opinion

'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'

Steve Fowler points out the fresh issues facing global car manufacturing
9 Jun 2021
New Porsche Macan facelift prototype review
Porsche Macan prototype - front
Porsche Macan

New Porsche Macan facelift prototype review

We get behind the wheel of a prototype version of the facelifted Porsche Macan SUV
13 Jun 2021
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport vs Cupra Leon 300
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport vs Cupra Leon 300
Car group tests

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport vs Cupra Leon 300

The capable Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport goes up against its new Cupra Leon 300 sibling in this hot hatch battle
12 Jun 2021
UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars
Electric car charging
News

UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars

Analysis reveals lithium refining takes 65 per cent of Chilean region’s water, while 40,000 child miners dig for cobalt in DRC
14 Jun 2021
New 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid launched with 1,006bhp
Tesla Model S facelift - front
Tesla Model S

New 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid launched with 1,006bhp

Range-topping version of the Tesla Model S officially unveiled, with a sprint time of 0-60mph in less than two seconds
10 Jun 2021
New 2021 Volkswagen T7 Multivan replaces Caravelle
Volkswagen T7 Multivan - front
Volkswagen Caravelle

New 2021 Volkswagen T7 Multivan replaces Caravelle

The Volkswagen T7 Multivan MPV switches to the MQB platform and adds plug-in hybrid technology
10 Jun 2021
New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review
Skoda Enyaq iV 80 Sportline - front
Skoda Enyaq

New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review

The new Skoda Enyaq iV is the Czech firm’s first bespoke electric car and we've tested the full range on UK roads
10 Jun 2021
New 2021 Lexus NX arrives with firm’s first plug-in hybrid drivetrain
Lexus NX - front action
Lexus NX SUV

New 2021 Lexus NX arrives with firm’s first plug-in hybrid drivetrain

The new Lexus NX 350h features a standard hybrid set-up, while the NX 450h+ gets a plug-in hybrid powertrain capable of 40 miles of pure electric powe…
12 Jun 2021
'GM taking over Honda would be a disaster'
Honda opinion
Opinion

'GM taking over Honda would be a disaster'

Mike Rutherford is worried about Honda's future, despite its recent motorsport success
6 Jun 2021
Audi updates line-up for 2022 with new tech and trim features
Audi S5
Audi

Audi updates line-up for 2022 with new tech and trim features

Almost every car in Audi’s line-up has received a tweak, with major updates including Amazon Alexa integration and a Sonos stereo
11 Jun 2021
LEC launches affordable EV conversion for classic Mini
LEC MINI Electric
MINI

LEC launches affordable EV conversion for classic Mini

The conversion sees the Mini’s A-Series engine replaced with a dinky electric motor and a 20kWh battery for a range of 70 miles in the city
10 Jun 2021