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2011 Mini Cooper Clubman John Cooper Works review:

2011 Mini Cooper Clubman John Cooper Works

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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.

The color scheme on the map doesn't seem designed for easy comprehension.

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.

High-speed handling
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 John Cooper Works package adds significant handling because of its bigger brakes and BMW's Dynamic Traction Control programming.

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.

In sum
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.

Tech specs
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
Base price $31,300
Price as tested $35,750

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