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The 2020 Mini John Cooper Works Clubman.

The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

  • 2020 Mini John Cooper Works Clubman
  • Base price: $41,090
  • Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder
  • Transmission/Drive: 8-speed automatic/All-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km; combined): TBA
  • Alternatives: BMW X2 M35i, Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Veloster N, Mercedes-AMG GLA 45, MINI JCW Cooper, VW Golf R

Fun fact about the Autobahn, the network of high-speed thoroughfares in Germany: It’s not always an unlimited-speed situation. Certain stretches have permanent speed limits owing to traffic or less-than-ideal road conditions. Other parts have restrictions based on the time of day (in other words, at night) or on less-than-ideal weather (when the surface of the road is wet). The A45 on the outskirts of Frankfurt has no such restrictions.

The Germans know exactly what they’re doing when they make highways – and when they make recommendations on how to use said highways. Thus, when a rainstorm strikes the A45 in a valiant effort to offset what is a record-setting heat wave, you can be confident that the conditions require increased caution, but no real degree of fear. In fact, the 2020 Mini John Cooper Works Clubman soaks up the conditions without missing a single step.

Although this model, in automotive parlance, is merely a “mid-cycle refresh,” the refreshment is profound. The JCW Clubman is powered by a revised four-cylinder turbo engine with significantly more power and torque. The body, engine mounts and chassis are all reinforced for increased refinement and stability. The all-wheel-drive system is reinforced to compensate for the increased output of the engine. A new eight-speed sport-minded automatic transmission is now fitted with launch control.

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More importantly, given the inclement weather, the transmission is linked to a locking differential that helps with traction in uncertain conditions, working in conjunction with the AWD and stability-control systems. That’s why we find ourselves blasting along the damp A45, navigating long and sweeping turns at speeds in excess of 180 km/h. To the casual observer, this may seem a reckless pursuit. But at the controls of the JCW Clubman, everything is composed, sure-footed and surprisingly relaxed.

The occasional ripple in the road reveals that the suspension is stiffly sprung – something the optional air-suspension system would address, in part – but not so much as to send the back end hopping into the next lane. All things considered, the way the JCW Clubman sticks to the road and tracks around corners is remarkable for such a modestly sized vehicle.

On the secondary roads that travel into small towns and the surrounding countryside, the car proves even more entertaining. As I shift through the gears using the paddle shifters while in sport mode (one of three driving modes available), I find that the car responds to driver inputs with gusto. For those times when too much gusto is applied, the revised and more powerful braking system is ready to assist.

For some time, it seemed as if Mini had lost its way. It had too many different models, with too many of them veering away from the brand promise of big driving fun in a small package. If the 2020 Mini JCW Clubman is any indication, Mini has its groove back – the car offers serious levels of performance and is priced very well compared to the competition.

Looks

The true aesthetes out there may pine for the original Mini of yore or even the new Mini from the start of the 21st century. But times change and things get bigger: The Clubman is bulkier than the version that debuted in 2008 and the move to six doors from five in 2015 stripped away some appeal. But there’s enough sheer aggression going on here to make up for the lack of cuteness. (Pro tip: Order the optional taillights with Union Jack design.)

Interior

The JCW model features an all-black interior, multi-function steering wheel, shift lever and anthracite headliner.

Handout

With more interior space than the Mini Cooper, there’s room for five modestly sized adults in a very tight squeeze. With four adults aboard, there’s acceptable breathing space for everyone, but foot room for rear-seat passengers under the front seats isn’t great. Visibility is excellent in all directions. The power-operated club doors at the back open to reveal a modest cargo hold. The JCW model features an all-black interior, special sport seats, multifunction steering wheel, shift lever and anthracite headliner.

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Performance

The new model offers a big jump in performance over the previous version, courtesy of a bigger turbocharger, revised air intake and cooling systems, and strengthened components for the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine. For the time being, the JCW Clubman is the most powerful road-going Mini ever offered, with 301 horsepower (+73 over the previous engine) and 331 lb-ft of torque (also a gain of 73 markers).

Technology

The Mini brand has long focused on incorporating the latest technology and the new JCW Clubman feels like a well-sorted car in this respect. The large central screen houses most of the car’s functions and can be operated by touch or through a rotary dial in the centre console. The optional navigation system worked seamlessly and the heads-up display made focusing on the road ahead a snap.

The verdict: 8.5

An appealing not-so-little package with surprising levels of performance.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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