REVIEWS: 2010 Mini John Cooper Works Clubman

April 9, 2010
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Despite having only $1600 worth of "options," this John Cooper Works Mini Clubman costs a whopping $33,300. Given a price like that, I really wonder what the fate of the Clubman will be once the new Mini Countryman, Mini's first crossover SUV, goes on sale. Because it seems that Mini buyers will split into two camps: those who want the purest, most basic Mini two-door, whether it's a hardtop or a convertible; and those who want a "bigger" Mini. And I wonder if the people who want the Mini styling and attitude but with a little more space will just skip over the Clubman and go straight to the Countryman?
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In any case, although this John Cooper Works special edition has a pretty powerful turbo four-cylinder, it's a bit much for this little car unless you're planning on doing some amateur track events on weekends. I'd be inclined to get just the Mini Cooper Clubman S, which still has 177 hp and starts at $24,750, nearly $7000 less than the John Cooper Works edition.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
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My main problem with the Clubman is the lack of a traditional hatchback door. If you're transporting larger items, you've got to open both rear doors, and there's always an unreasonably large obstruction in the rearview mirror from the door frames. I just don't understand why the designers at Mini discarded a perfectly good hatch and started from scratch to create this flawed set of doors.
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As far as the JCW upgrades go, I'm always a fan of the increased power, but I hate the ride from the performance run-flat tires and incredibly stiff suspension. The Clubman is quite a bit more civilized than a regular Cooper with the JCW suspension, but it's still too brutal for Michigan roads.
As far as the cost goes, this is just a front-wheel-drive BMW in my book, and anything from JCW is more or less equated to BMW's M division in my head. If you look at the price and think of the other cars available for $33k, it isn't entirely logical. However, Mini has done an outstanding job of building a premium brand in the U.S., and there are Mini diehards who would buy a vehicle like this even if it were $50,000.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
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Phil, I'm not a huge fan of the poor rearward visibility caused by the Clubman's split rear doors, but the reason Mini designed it that way is as a tribute to the Mini Clubman Estate models of the 1970s, which had split rear "barn doors" and were never sold here in the States. I have no problem with their function and look, though.
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The design element that does drive me crazy is the pie-plate, centrally mounted speedometer, which is about eight inches in diameter, slightly concave, and catches all kinds of reflections when you drive the car in daylight. These reflections were documented in our Four Seasons Wrap of a 2007 Cooper S and mean that I simply wouldn't consider buying a Mini Cooper, as much as I like the cars in general. Another way in which this JCW Clubman is like our departed Four Seasons test car --- or perhaps worse --- is in its torque steer. I was surprised to learn that the JCW has only 208 hp, since many other front-wheel-drive cars can manage that much or more power in a more civilized manner.
Not that any Mini, and the JCW Clubman is no exception, encourages me to drive in a civilized manner --- turn-in is so immediate, steering so direct, and handling so tightly tethered to the road that I found myself cornering faster and faster. High cornering velocities and torque steer can combine to make for some darty driving in rough corners, though.
The Clubman does offer significant extra space as compared with a regular-wheelbase Mini Cooper. Still, I think you might be better off with a Mazda RX-8 if you wanted a car in this price range that can fare well during the random weekend trackday and also haul real people in the back seats from time to time.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
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The John Cooper Works cars might just be the most fun you can have while returning fuel economy of 33 mpg on the highway (and 25 mpg in the city). That said, I agree with pretty much everything that's been said by my colleagues: the JCW Clubman is expensive, offers poor reward visibility, has a body style that's of limited value, torque steers like a banshee, and has probably more motor than most people need or want.
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That said, this is a very capable car with excellent steering and handling and solid acceleration (if you're judicious in your use of the throttle). In the end, though, it's hard to take the JCW Clubman too seriously because of its too-cute Mini styling. I'd say that I would rather save the money and buy a Cooper S or spend the money on a Subaru Impreza WRX STI, Ford Mustang GT, or Volkswagen GTI. However, I doubt there's much cross shopping for JCW buyers, as this Mini has few natural competitors.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
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I learned something while looking over the spec sheet on the John Cooper Words Clubman - that it's actually possible to spec out a Mini that has a list price of more than $40,000. That the example we tested costs "only" $33,000 doesn't really make it seem like a bargain, because one of the things that is appealing about the Mini brand is that you can get BMW-like performance and small-car economy at a fairly reasonable price. Once you breach the $30,000 barrier, you're running up against the BMW 1-series.
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Having said all that, I still enjoyed driving the Mini Clubman, although I have some of the same complaints I had with our Four Seasons Cooper S, such as its absurdly large speedometer and oddly placed window controls. The Clubman's 207-hp turbocharged engine is very willing to perform but results in lots of torque steer under hard acceleration, and the ultra-stiff suspension means that you feel every bump and slight surface variation in the road. On the positive side of the ledger, the JCW Clubman exhibits an enticing combination of small-car agility and racing-bred technology. Plus, the Clubman gives you some added practicality with the extra room over the Mini Cooper.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
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As some have already mentioned, the rear doors greatly hinder rear visibility. That might be tolerable if they served another purpose (besides being a tribute to a past Mini vehicle, as Rusty pointed out) or fulfilled a function that a traditional hatch couldn't, but in my short time with the Mini Clubman, I couldn't see a benefit or a functional improvement over a rear hatch-style door. In fact, I found them to be far less user friendly because unlike a standard hatch which requires only one hand to open and close, the double doors require either two hands or two separate steps to fully open or close them. I must admit though, that they do look really cool and are a way to visually distinguish the Clubman from the shorter, standard Mini.
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The exterior design touches that the John Cooper Works package adds also look really cool, but again I'm not sure I enjoy some of the hardware upgrades. I understand the desire for the additional horsepower and the other performance tweaks that the John Cooper Works package includes, but to me the accompanying increases in NVH negate many of the positives. Even at idle, the vibrations coming through each pedal were substantial enough to leave my right leg vibrating even after I was no longer behind the wheel. And although the exhaust note was fun to play with at first, it became tiresome at low speeds where even the slightest flex of my right foot made a big noise. I got glares from parents in my neighborhood who, based on the level of noise I was making coming down my street, assumed I was driving way too fast as I passed their children playing near the street. I must say though, that the extra power from the JCW package is slightly addictive and makes for quick and easy passing. It probably wouldn't win too many long, full-out races but it excels at mid-range short sprints where the torque steer is less noticeable.
I've never been too crazy about the Mini's interior layout or ergonomics but I've accepted its design quirks and odd proportions because it was worth the exceptional driving experience. It's still great to drive but after so many years on the market with no improvements, it's getting harder and harder to overlook these shortcomings. To me, the central dash is the Mini's biggest interior design flaw. Not only is the speedo essentially useless, its exaggerated size is a waste of valuable real estate on an already seriously space-limited dash. The radio display could also use an update. I appreciate the large number of radio presets (3 groups with 12 presets in each) but the digitally displayed preset numbers are too small and the bright orange type tends to vibrate visually on the dark screen. Plus, because the plastic that protects the radio and speedometer is offset by a half-inch or so it's difficult to visually align each preset number with its corresponding button underneath. If the speedometer was moved behind the steering wheel where it's typically positioned, the radio display could be enlarged and the low-mounted controls-windows switches, heated seat controls, etc.- that are blocked when the cupholders are in use could be moved up. Now that the Mini has nearly eclipsed $20,000 even for a base model, a comprehensive redesign that addresses some of its interior flaws should be a priority for its BMW parent.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
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2010 Mini John Cooper Works Clubman
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Base price (with destination): $31,700
Price as tested: $33,300
Standard Equipment:
1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine
6-speed manual Getrag transmission
17-inch alloy wheels
Brembo front brake calipers
Anti-lock brakes
Corner brake control
Electronic brakeforce distribution
Dynamic traction control
Electronic differential lock control
Air conditioning
AM/FM/CD audio system with 6-speakers
Telescoping and height adjustable steering wheel
Anthracite headliner
Options on this vehicle:
Laser blue metallic pain - $500
Cold weather package - $500
- Heated mirrors and washer jets
- Heated front seats
- Power folding mirrors
Black bonnet stripes - $100
Bluetooth and USB/iPod adapter - $500
Key options not on vehicle:
Premium package - $1750
- Electric sunroof with twin glass
- Harmon/kardon sound system
Convenience package - $1250
- Automatic rain-sensing wipers
- Auto-dimming rearview mirror
- Universal garage door opener
Leather upholstery - $1500
Navigation system - $2000
Xenon HID headlamps - $500
Fuel economy:
(city/hwy/combined)
25 / 33 / 28 mpg
Engine:
Size: 1.6L turbocharged OHC 16-valve 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 208 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 192 lb-ft @ 1850-5600 rpm
Drive:
Front-wheel
Transmission:
6-speed manual
Curb weight: 2888 lb
Wheels/tires:
17 x 7-inch aluminum wheels
205/45R17 Continental ContiSportContact 3SSR run-flat performace tires
Competitors: Honda Civic Si, Volkswagen GTI, Mazdaspeed 3
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