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2020 Mini Clubman JCW First Drive: More Bite to Back Up its Bark

2020 Mini Clubman JCW
Photo: B.Charette
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Benoit Charette
Fingers crossed that reliability is as improved as the performances are

Frankfurt, Germany - Regarded as the sportiest of all Minis, the John Cooper Works editions have too often lacked bite to back up their bark. Mini decided to solve this problem once and for all for 2020 by injecting a serious dose of adrenaline under the hood, so both the Clubman and the Countryman will receive a new mechanical setup that increases power from 228 to 301 horses. The Clubman will now be able to keep slugging against mighty models like the Golf R, Audi S3, Mercedes AMG A35, Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai Veloster N.

The surgery extended beyond the guts of the car as well. Mini took the opportunity to review the silhouette of the Clubman. You still have the unique 6-door style with the two swing doors at the rear that open onto a 360-to-1,250-litre trunk, depending on your needs. The radiator grille now extends to the entire bumper and is lined by a thin frame made of one piece. You have larger air intakes to provide more oxygen to the more powerful engine.

The outlines of LED headlights in the front are in piano black finish. The front section is characterized by the hexagonal grid instead of the horizontal struts. You also have LED lights in the back that are now integrated into the double doors. The graphic structure of their light sources traces the abstract motif of the Union Jack.

Photo: B.Charette

With its striking lines, the flag motif is a distinctive form of identification, both day and night. The brake light is now also generated from this newly designed light unit. Specific features of the JCW version include the optional red accent paint for the roof and mirror caps, an individual design for quarter panels and the John Cooper Works logo on the grille and tailgate. The central air inlet has a honeycomb structure. A red cross divides the new grille.

What does $41,000 get you?
Standard equipment includes push-button start, 6.5-inch touchscreen display and redesigned graphic display with a multi-colour halo. There’s also a choice of drive modes that includes Eco, Normal and Sport but no individual mode that would allow you to put the engine and steering in Sport mode, but keep suspension in comfort mode if you're on the highway, for instance.

Built-in connected media equipment provides access to many online services with the Mini Connected app and Apple CarPlay. You also have the choice of optional equipment including connected navigation with its easy-to-use routing and additional infotainment options, as well as another connected navigation system with a larger 8.8-inch display. The sport seats provide a very good comfort with an ideal driving position.

Photo: B.Charette

Over 300 horses
While the engine is still a 4-cylinder 2.0L turbo, its power has increased significantly. In fact, you have 73 more horsepower in the new version of the JCW Clubman for a total of 301. Torque is similarly improved, going from 258 lb-ft to 331. Getting from 0-100 km/h takes all of five seconds.

To accompany this boost in power, Mini has also included a new exhaust system with more advanced sound characteristics that adds to the car’s more-boiling temperament. The Mini ALL 4 transmission is standard, helping upscale the Clubman JCW’s driving characteristics. You also have a new 8-speed Steptronic sports transmission with integrated mechanical differential lock for the front wheel. There is no manual transmission, but there’s a manual mode to the automatic gearbox via the paddle shifters - a kind of consolation prize, if you will.

MINI has also reviewed the braking system, the brakes of which are bigger and more efficient. Plus, the entire chassis structure has also been revised with extremely rigid motor connections and fasteners.

Photo: B.Charette

At play on the Autobahn
There are very few public roads where you can put to the test the real potential of a sports car. The Autobahn in Germany is one of those places. And so it was that Mini let us loose on departing the city of Frankfurt to put the new Clubman to the test. Before we left, we were able to see the systematic reinforcement of the body structure and the greater rigidity that help ensure maximum driving precision. Also worth mentioning is the sound of the exhaust at the end of the twin turbo that sounds a lot like those on rally cars and adds to the experience.

Once on the road, the 4-cylinder were put to the grind, and we had no problem getting quickly to 150 km/h and stay there for a few minutes, noting in the process that everything was quiet on board. With relatively few people on the road on this Saturday morning, we pushed the car to over 200, then 220 km/h, still maintaining a good level of confidence. The highly rigid structure, the 10-mm lowered body and the stiffer suspension configuration with our optional 19-inch tires and all-wheel drive ensure you stay firmly grounded.

These are all the little performance details that were missing from the previous JCW version and that now make the model much more relevant. The direction is fast and precise, and power is present at all levels. The automatic transmission with its sport configuration is more responsive and keeps pace with the engine. Even the paddles shifters deliver quite bit of driving pleasure. That said, I persist in maintaining that the offer of a manual gearbox would have been interesting.

Photo: B.Charette

Mini is making a big statement in the small sports car segment with this Clubman JCW, the performances of which are now in line with the best in that market. Let's hope now that this new version is more reliable than its predecessor.

The base price of $41,000 is comparable to that of the competition and the first models will arrive this fall.

We like

Fun and powerful
Eye catching style

We like less

Unknown reliability
Little trunk space for 4 passengers
No manual gearbox

Photo: B.Charette

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2020 Mini JCW Clubman and Coutryman pictures
Benoit Charette
Benoit Charette
Automotive expert
  • More than 30 years of experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 65 test drives last year
  • Attended more than 200 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists