One serious limitation of Mini Connected is that it only works with iPhones, although we came up with a workaround. You can use an iPod Touch connected to the Wi-Fi hot spot of any smartphone. The $1,000 Mini Connected option adds an LCD to the car, positioning it in the face of the big, central speedometer. You can add a navigation system for an additional $750.
Mini's new navigation system uses flash-memory stored maps, so the response time is good. However, Mini chose a truly hideous color scheme for the maps, with freeways appearing in pink and secondary roads in fluorescent green. Although Mini might have thought those colors were fun, they actually make the maps difficult to read. Traffic data overlaid on the maps adds to the mess.
As the Mini's LCD is not a touch screen, you control the infotainment system mostly through a knob on the console. You can turn it to move up and down through menu items, or push it sideways to drill down or back up in the menu structure. Not immediately intuitive, it becomes easier to figure out over time.
Leaving out the Mini Connected option, you can still get Bluetooth audio streaming and an iPod connection, but with the LCD, you get to see album art. HD Radio is also standard. The car's basic, six-speaker audio system produces decent sound, but Mini lets you upgrade to a 480-watt 10-speaker system, which includes 5.1 surround-sound processing.
Mini Connected is available across Mini's model lineup, so what does John Cooper Works add to the Cooper Clubman? Where the Cooper S Clubman model gets 181 horsepower, the John Cooper Works model uses a bigger turbo, different engine programming, and a bigger exhaust to produce 208 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque.
These numbers may give you something to brag about, but they will make little difference in anything but track driving. Both the Cooper S Clubman and John Cooper Works versions get the same six-speed manual transmission, which shifts with European smoothness and lets you chirp the front tires off the line. From any start, the John Cooper Works Clubman requires a little pre-blip of the gas, as its low idle makes it easy to stall.
The real advantage of the John Cooper Works trim comes in the form of superior handling. The base-level Mini takes corners well, but the John Cooper Works Clubman handles turns at speeds you wouldn't think possible in this type of car. Not only does it have a better limited slip differential than the Cooper S Clubman, but it also gets a form of BMW's Dynamic Traction Control, which allows a little more play before reining in the car.
However, the John Cooper Works Clubman hits its limits pretty quickly, the stock tires losing grip and skittering on the asphalt. And when braking at speed, the car gets unsettled, requiring some corrective wheel work. The front brakes are robust, but the rear brakes may be a little skimpy when trying to keep the car grounded.
In the John Cooper Works trim, the Clubman's suspension remains comfortable for around-town driving. It gets jolted over hard bumps, but delivers a reasonably smooth ride over most pavement. The responsive steering is not too touchy for a comfortable cruise down the freeway, and proved easy to turn in parking lots.
The extra power of the John Cooper Works Clubman means a loss of a few miles per gallon compared with the Cooper S Clubman, but the EPA rating of 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway is still good. Even with a good bit of hard driving thrown in, CNET's car turned in an average of 28.1 mpg.
With direct injection, a turbocharger, and BMW's excellent engine control system, the 2011 Clubman John Cooper Works' 1.6-liter engine is a star performer. Although it shows a little initial turbo lag, it winds up quickly, delivering a healthy amount of power and good fuel economy. Its suspension is engineered well to make the car very enjoyable to drive.
The Mini Connected app vaults the car's cabin tech forward, giving it Internet-based music sources and Google search. The premium audio system works in its favor as well. The real low points of the Mini are its electronics interface, which isn't particularly intuitive, and the horrible-looking maps.
|Model||2011 Mini Cooper Clubman|
|Trim||John Cooper Works|
|Power train||Turbocharged direct-injection 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||25 mpg city/33 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||28.1 mpg|
|Navigation||Flash-memory-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Pandora, Bluetooth streaming, USB port, Internet radio, satellite radio|
|Audio system||6-speaker base, optional Harman Kardon 10-speaker, 480-watt system|
|Driver aids||Rear park sensors|
|Price as tested||$35,750|