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The yellow sign on the curve says 25 miles per hour, but the head-up display in the 2017 Mini Cooper Clubman, in John Cooper Works trim (JCW), shows 50 mph, and I feel there's room to push it further.
I can't feel this JCW Clubman's all-wheel-drive kick in, but through successive turns the tires squeal delightfully, and the car doesn't punish me for trying out trail braking and other handling strategies. This is fun.
However, I'm reminded that this new Clubman is much bigger than the generation introduced in 2007, a whole foot longer overall. While that means a cargo area that can carry more than a single roller bag, it also means a less agile car. As with the new Countryman, Mini unrepentantly brags about its new bigness.
Mini launched this new generation Clubman for the 2016 model year, offering the option of all-wheel-drive. Now, the Mini's John Cooper Works performance division got a crack at it, releasing the 2017 Mini John Cooper Works Clubman. Mini All4 all-wheel-drive system comes standard, as does the turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder engine, tuned to 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.
Mini makes a six speed manual transmission standard, and charges an extra $1,750 for an eight-speed automatic transmission. I had the latter, and frankly didn't regret it.
That can't really be said for the $2,250 Technology package, as I grew to hate the navigation system's route guidance.
The Technology package wraps in navigation, traffic data, wireless phone charging, a head-up display and ultrasonic parking distance sensors. There is a lot I like about this technology package. The head-up display does a good job of showing speed and route guidance. The infotainment system shows up on a bright, 8.8-inch display, which works through touch or a console-mounted indirect controller.
In this latest version of Mini's infotainment system, the company simplified the main menu to just six items, making it easier to use. The destination entry screen includes a quick search feature, so I didn't have to dig through points-of-interest categories or tediously enter a street address one part at a time. Sadly, the example I drove did not have Apple CarPlay, a feature coming out in the 2018 model year cars. And tough luck Android users, Mini follows its parent company BMW in not offering Android Auto support.
What ended up infuriating me about the JCW Clubman was its route planning. For example, I asked it to get me from Sausalito to San Francisco. Instead of the quick, 11 mile route across the Golden Gate Bridge, it plotted a 35 mile route through Berkeley. When I forced it to go the way I wanted, the traffic wasn't bad, and I could see no reason why it wanted the longer, less scenic route. A few other instances of weird route planning had me fuming, and I was glad I knew the area, as this navigation would be a nightmare in unfamiliar terrain.
Another infuriating thing about the JCW Clubman's infotainment system came when I listened to a podcast through my Bluetooth-connected phone. Fiddling with the navigation system restarted the podcast at the beginning. So there's me, pulling over so I can fast-forward through 45 minutes of stuff I'd already heard.
On the JCW Clubman's automatic transmission, I certainly didn't mind that choice when rolling along in stop-and-go traffic, or following a line of cars up one of San Francisco's steep hills. In its Eco and normal modes, the JCW Clubman drove comfortably, well-mannered in regular traffic. Despite its sport tuning, the ride quality felt good, and I could see it being a reasonable commute car.
My only caveat was the excessive road noise when at speed on the highway, something I partially chalk up to the JCW Clubman's standard 18-inch wheels with low-profile Bridgestone Potenza run-flat tires. That noise would become tiresome on a road trip.
As a bonus for the JCW Clubman compared to other Mini models, the engine growls louder, announcing its presence to all and sundry. And you won't pay for the extra sound and fury in mileage, as the JCW Clubman achieves similar fuel economy, at 23 miles per gallon city and 31 mpg highway, as the standard Clubman all-wheel-drive models. I came in at 24.1 mpg in a mix of city, freeway and sport driving over a mountain road.
Pushing the JCW Clubman hard in the corners makes for loads of fun, as the car handles well. However, I do feel it ride hard on the outside front wheel as I dive through the turns, its adaptive suspension not quite up to the task of keeping the car flat. The manual transmission would add to the visceral fun, although the eight-speed automatic does an estimable job when shifting to Sport mode, keeping the power up.
The jaw-dropper with the 2018 Mini John Cooper Works Clubman is the price. Although starting at $35,100, my example comes in at $45,000 total. Chalk that price boost up to the Wired and Technology packages, adding such conveniences as the head-up display and navigation system, along with the adaptive suspension, a steal at $500, and a $1,000 panoramic sunroof.
Frankly, I would start with a Cooper S Clubman, equipped with Mini's all-wheel-drive system, for $30,300. Although down to 189 horsepower, it will still be plenty fun. Mini offers the Fully Loaded package for $4,500, bringing in navigation, upgraded audio and the panoramic sunroof. Add in British Racing Green exterior paint for $500, and you're only looking at a price around $36,000 with delivery charges, almost 10 grand less than the JCW Clubman.
The JCW Clubman also faces some pretty stiff competition in the Ford Focus RS, the Honda Civic Type R and even the Subaru WRX STI. These small cars all boast high performance turbocharged engines and extreme handling. Comparatively, the JCW Clubman doesn't have the same performance credibility. However, it does bring British swagger to bear, along with more interior utility.