As much as estates are universally disliked by South Africans, the Mini Clubman has become something of a familiar sight on our roads in spite of it being nowhere near as popular as the conventional hatch or the Countryman.
Like it or loathe it
At the unveiling of the original in 2007, Oxford copped extensive slack for not only the looks, but also the controversial 2+1 door arrangement with little being payed to the practicality gains over the hatch.
Now into its second generation, the Clubman nonetheless slots perfectly into the Mini line-up between the arguably more ungainly looking five-door hatch and the Countryman without the looks or indeed the door concept of its predecessor.
Facelifted two years ago, it still rates as a questionable model to wear the Mini name, especially from traditionalists or hardcore “new Mini” fans, who refuse to accept anything but a three-door bodystyle, front-wheel-drive and a manual gearbox as definitive Mini factors.
Ungainly rear taillights have been revised and now feature Union Jacks.
Likely to up the annoyance level further is the presence of the John Cooper Works (JCW) model, which not only lacks all of the above, but which represents the pinnacle of sporting Minis if you discontinue the GP model based on the hatch.
It was these factors that lodged in this writer’s head when a White Silver Metallic Clubman JCW with red racing stripes recently arrived for a shorter than normal five-day stay.
Estates look boring you say?
As much as those traditionalists are likely to decry the Clubman from still being around, what cannot be taken away is the difference the JCW paraphernalia has made to the exterior along with the subtle cosmetic tweaks.
Overly sporty 19-inch alloy wheels.
The recipient of a new front bumper and headlights, Mini has also tweaked the grille and fitted a tad more sleeker new LED taillights resplendent with Union Jack motifs, while at the same time equipping the JCW with new air inlets on either side of the lower air dam and finishing the grille off in gloss black with a red central strip.
The red theme continues in the colour of the mirror caps, roof, down the side of the doors and on the upgraded brakes hiding behind the overly sporty optional 19-inch alloy wheels.
Barn-like rear doors are reminiscent of a hearse
As much as the JCW transforms the Clubman’s looks, the biggest point of content, for some, are the barn-style doors that can be opened from the key fob or by the handles themselves, but which still resemble those from a hearse.
Still funky but dated inside
Fortunately, the opposite is true of the interior where the Clubman retains a typically high element of Mini quality and fit-and-finish despite the actual look and design being rather dated now.
Interior has bags of character but is beginning to look dated.
There is however still an element of funkiness in the round 8.8-inch display controlled by either the touchscreen or the much preferred iDrive-like rotary controller. Part of the optional Mini Connected Plus system, the setup is easy to decipher and not only comes with satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay, but also a Heads-Up Display as well as a wireless smartphone charger.
Rear legroom is good but the dual-pane sunroof impedes on headroom.
What’s more, our tester came fitted with the optional Harman Kardon sound system and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, which unfortunately encroaches on rear headroom too much despite legroom being sufficient. Another sticky point is the lack of a rear armrest with the trade-off being dual USB ports and separate air vents.
Of course, the biggest inherent gain of the Clubman is practically with the boot offering 360-litres with all five seats up.
Rear seats don’t fold down fully.
With the rears down, an additional 890-litres are freed up, yet it still seems small and somehow unable to accommodate more bulkier items mostly as a result of the seats not being able fold fully flat. Matters are however alleviated somewhat by the false floor located underneath the boot board.
Power surge anything but Mini
When it comes to the driving experience though, the Clubman is still authentically Mini. Strapped into the comfortable leather sport seats, flicking the grin inducing red starter toggle resulted in a rorty bark from the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine.
Taken from the Cooper S, Mini has upped the respective outputs to 225kW/450Nm and provided additional grip in the form of its ALL4 all-wheel-drive system. The result is a limited top speed of 250 km/h and 0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds.
The moniker that makes the difference.
Despite the Clubman’s 1.4-ton mass, the way the JCW puts its power down and accelerates belies its flaws as it goes like a Mini should. Switched to either Mid or Sport modes, the eco-focused Green being the third, the JCW sounds angry with the immediate response being backed-up by smile-prone pops and bangs from the exhaust as well as a prominent whistle from the turbo.
Not all Mini though
While still reminiscent of the typical Mini go-kart feel, the Clubman, admittedly, is not as chuckable and surprisingly doesn’t came with the same razor sharp steering as expected of a JCW despite the grip being relentless thanks to the ALL4 system.
What’s more, and not surprisingly, the ride teeters on the firm side with every bump and lump felt thanks to not only the sport chassis, but also those 19-inch wheels. As for consumption, it recorded an indicated best of 9.7 L/100 km, largely as a result of some spirited driving and prolonged spells in Sport mode.
Mini Clubman badge
Unlike in the Clubman Cooper S, the JCW employs an eight-speed Steptronic gearbox rather than a seven-speed dual-clutch. Although slick and fast to respond in automatic mode or when using the paddle shifters, heavy acceleration tended to catch the ‘box asleep, albeit only in the former mode.
As much as the Mini Clubman John Cooper Works thrills, its promise of more practically and adage as the “Mini for everyone” already resides with its sibling, the Countryman.
While cheaper at R783 940 without options, it is nonetheless still an expensive niche product and one disadvantaged by not only the sticker, but also for being the mild-child Mini only a few will take notice of.