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.

  • Johnny Boots

    Great to hear! I’m anxiously awaiting delivery of my JCW Clubman (with a manual!) so I have to vicariously live through these posts until that day comes…

  • Gabe, we just took a trip from PA to MA with my F54 JCW and got 35 on the way up and 37.2 on the way home. Unfortunately I caught the edge of a pothole in MA, on the way to a microbrewery, and now have egg on the outer sidewall. I contacted two dealers in the Boston area plus two Bridgestone dealers and couldn’t get a 19″ tire due to the holiday. I carefully drove it home and kept it under 65, that’s how I was able to get 37.2. I was very impressed with the mileage. This past week I bit the bullet and picked up 4 Continental Extreme Contact Sport non-rf’s.

  • countrym4n

    I think its so valid to reiterate how far MINI has progressed. I love hearing that from a fellow MINI lifer that has seen brand evolution versus reading an article that has been phoned in like so many other publications do unless it involves cars in the rarified air above $100k. MINI is working hard to stay relevant in terms of performance but you mentioning on the side that this is still a small car is SO important. Please dedicate a write-up on just how small this thing still is, because being within an inch or less to a GTI is something most consumers cannot visualize. Im surprised to read how receptive you are to the automatic, but it does allow you to enjoy the other details the car has. I look forward to see what happens when the seasons change.

    • Thanks for that. I completely agree that so many “reviews” by mainstream media are lazy in the way they cover MINI these days. Yes all of the brands cars are bigger. Thanks to constant customer feedback (that they’re a little too small) and market shifts MINI has carefully evolved over the last 15 years. So many simply can’t get past that and miss the great car right in front of them.

    • Kevin Bartlett

      It’s hard to visualize because, and I don’t know why, the Clubman looks longer than other cars that it’s shorter than on paper. I know how long it is and stil it looks longer than a Focus or GTI to me sometimes.

  • Jan Wojcik

    I would still argue that as a complete package it can’t compete with a Golf R … most automotive magazines(especially AutoCar, EVO, etc) have lauded the Golf R due to it’s overall ability to work well as a DD and on the track. The JCW still lags in power and handling and value. I like they way it looks but would prefer a Golf R estate if it were offered stateside.

  • Patrick Jefferies

    I got my JCW F54 last week. Gabe is describing it perfecting. I use it to drive my kids to and from school (19 miles each way) and it has plenty of room for the everyday things I need to do. I am getting about 32 mpg with mostly freeway driving. I left a VW Touareg TDi and I love this thing!

  • VaultDweller73

    Picked one up, trading in my 2013 JCW hatchback. Tough choice but now I fit and the ride is real smooth, less raw and animal-y. Love them both but really digging the Clubman. Had a 2012 Clubman with the 3rd door and didn’t really enjoy it, thus that hatchback. This Clubman is roomy and quiet, both of which are needed as you grow old lol.

  • Mark Lee

    While I coveted the JCW Clubman’s extra power and brakes, I couldn’t stomach the extra 10 large I would have had to pay over the deal I worked on my 17 Clubman ALL4 S. I’ve added the Dinantronix tuner for an extra 30hp which was well worth the $300. I’ve just installed the Cravenspeed short shifter and this car is fun, fast and very entertaining. Props to those that are willing to pay the extra for the JCW….