MF Garage: 2000 Miles Behind the Wheel of the 2017 JCW Clubman

JCW Clubman

Last year we put 20,000 miles on a Clubman Cooper S (manual) and came away convinced it was one of MINI’s best products to date. Despite some a few small issues, it felt as if MINI had finally nailed the larger format. It just needed more traction and a bit more power. Enter the 2017 JCW Clubman.

Within the first mile the JCW made it known that it was a different animal. Shifting into 3rd (gargles and pops emitting wildly) I immediately knew the year ahead would be a special one. Pushing aside the transmission differences (which we recently wrote about) our new JCW Clubman has already proven a lot. After 2,000 miles this is the Swiss Army knife of the automotive world – just as we had hoped.

Over the next twelve months we’ll be bringing you our thoughts on the car and how it compares with other MINI products and a few competitors. We’ll be road-tripping, commuting and eventually even tracking our JCW bringing you the highlights along the way. But first let’s talk about the initial 2,000 miles.

JCW Clubman

Suspension Dynamics

Our car came equipped with the dynamic suspension which allows for a sport plus level of body control at the flip of a switch. While it’s not quite as aggressive as the standard passive sport suspension on the JCW (MINI has told me that it’s about 10% less aggressive) it is perfectly judged in this Clubman. Where our previous front wheel drive, standard suspension Clubman pitched, rolled and lost traction, this new JCW feels continuously tied down, delivering every bit of its 258 ft lbs whenever called upon.

That last bit should be interesting to anyone with a front wheel drive Clubman (or Countryman). To put it bluntly the current crop of larger MINIs aren’t the most adept cars at delivering their power. While All4 is an answer to that it also robs the Cooper and Cooper S of some torque and ultimately speed – which in turns make them feel a little less responsive than their less grippy front wheel drive brethren. The JCW All4 solves both problems with all wheel drive and a dramatic increase in power and torque.

Pushed hard into the corner (in dynamic mode) you’ll feel understeer creep in but in a much more planted and controlled way than I’ve ever felt in a MINI. Lifting off in normal conditions simply brings the car back inline. Lifting off in more extreme situations can provoke some mild and easily controlled oversteer. In other words this is a car that is planted and confident – much more so than any MINI I’ve ever experience.

JCW Clubman

The Engine

The single biggest difference between our Clubman S and our new Clubman JCW is the extra 39 hp and 51 ft-lbs. And in real-world driving that extra power is mostly felt in the mid-range. Accelerating from 2-3-4 is what makes the JCW feel like a truly quick car – not the 0-60 time. In talking to MINI engineers this was by design. While they wanted to create a car that focused on being quick, they we’re more concerned about it delivering performance in usable way. The JCW 2.0L four cylinder does that and (thanks to a little acoustic trickery and a great exhaust) sounds great in the process. It does this all the way to just below the redline where the engine (like in Cooper S form) trails off and gets a little gruff.

JCW Clubman

The Day to Day

There is no other MINI that I would rather be driving as a daily. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought that during commutes, road-trips or on the way to kids soccer practices.

Many of you might look at this car as too large to be a MINI. In reality the Clubman is incredibly small for what it’s capable of. It can swallow vast amounts of luggage and humans while still feeling shrinking around you in the corners – a very MINI trait to us.

Through plenty of urban commuting our JCW is sitting right where our Clubman S ended at – 26.5 MPG. The only issue we’ve found around efficiency is that the gas tank is simply too small – we’d love to have a range of over 350 miles. Clearly MINI designed the Clubman (and its fuel tank) knowing that the more efficient models would be the primary sellers.

Is It Worth $47k

MINI doesn’t sell JCWs in mass quantities because the number of folks that can answer the question above (definitively) is rather small. But after 2,000 miles behind the wheel, we think it is.

MINI has ever been about raw performance and clearly the JCW Clubman can’t win against the Golf R or the Focus RS on a track. But where it does win is in the total package. Everyday usefulness, efficiency and unique design, our new JCW is blends what we love about the Clubman shape with the performance of the JCW brand.

In some ways the JCW Clubman is perhaps a better comparison to BMW 330i wagon with the M Sport package or an older Audi S4 in its overall ownership experience – two cars well over $60k moderately equipped. And yet the JCW is more unique. There’s a playfulness to the JCW that those higher-priced and higher-performance cars don’t have. Add to this its ability to be had with a manual (sadly not something our car has) and the JCW Clubman becomes a very interesting option and in our opinion, worth it.