The 2017 Mini John Cooper Works Club­man ALL4 gets souped up

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Wheels - By Charles Flem­ing

My first drive in a Mini was in Paris in the late 1970s.

It was about 5 in the morn­ing and the empty streets were damp with dew. The lit­tle car skit­tered and slid over the cob­ble­stones in a way that was pos­si­bly il­le­gal and prob­a­bly un­safe — but so much fun.

I haven’t been that amused by a Mini un­til now, af­ter a week of driv­ing the Mini John Cooper Works Club­man ALL4.

It’s a hooli­gan hot rod — with trunk space

The car I drove in Paris was a stripped-down, stick shift com­muter car. In those pre-“Austin Pow­ers” days, it wasn’t con­sid­ered par­tic­u­larly cute or es­pe­cially chic. It was just good, cheap trans­porta­tion — easy on fuel con­sump­tion, easy to drive on nar­row city streets and easy to park in jam­packed Paris.

The new Minis are but dis­tant cousins. They look like mini­vans by com­par­i­son, weigh­ing twice as much as their pre­de­ces­sors and cov­er­ing much more acreage.

The Club­mans, es­pe­cially, are par­tic­u­larly not mini. Though they still have a square go-kart stance, they stand broad and tall com­pared with their sto­ried an­ces­tors.

In­deed, the new Minis ad­ver­tise for size. The new Coun­try­man boasts more head­room than an Audi Q3 and more cargo ca­pac­ity than a Mercedes GLA 250.

The John Cooper Works line of Minis are the com­pany’s per­for­mance cars and can be had in all Mini mod­els.

This Mini is no mouse. The Club­man it­er­a­tion of the John Cooper Works ver­sion fea­tures a twin turbo 2-liter 4-cylin­der gaso­line en­gine that puts out 228 horse­power and 258 pound feet of torque.

That power is kept on the ground by MacPher­son strut sus­pen­sion on the front end, mar­ried to elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol, ABS and an elec­tronic brak­ing con­trol sys­tem that mag­ni­fies the Mini’s cor­ner­ing abil­ity.

The model I drove also had Dy­namic Damper Con­trol, a $500 up­grade.

It was also the ALL4 ver­sion, which means the en­gine and trans­mis­sion are putting power to all four wheels.

This makes the drive very, very sticky. The Mini felt glued to the cor­ners and seemed likely to go through rub­ber in a rel­a­tively short pe­riod of time.

That could get ex­pen­sive. Like the BMWs with which it shares own­er­ship, it’s fit­ted with run-flat tires, which cost con­sid­er­ably more than reg­u­lar tires.

But it also means the am­ple trunk space isn’t be­ing used for any­thing like a spare tire or tire re­pair kit. You can toss your nib­licks and mashies in the back and shred all the way to the golf course.

The en­gine is mated to ei­ther an 8speed au­to­matic or 6-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion.

The stick shift is what I had, and it height­ened the car’s hooli­gan char­ac­ter­is­tics. With very lit­tle turbo lag, in “sport” drive mode set­ting, the power came on fast and stayed strong through the rev range.

Very zippy un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion, it boxed its way around cor­ners and held the road mar­velously — un­like the skid­ding Paris Mini of my youth, but safer, and just as much fun.

But it can also be well-man­nered. On the free­way, though I stayed far, far be­low the claimed 147 mph top speed, it was sur­pris­ingly quiet and com­fort­able. In fuel-sip­ping “green” mode, the Mini ticked along at 70 mph at barely over 2,000 rpms.

At­ten­tion to de­tail

Mini Cooper has a long, proud his­tory — the first Mini was shipped in 1959 — and like other English car­mak­ers prides it­self on crafts­man­ship.

This Club­man I drove had a hand­stitched leather steer­ing wheel and at­trac­tive Al­can­tara in­te­rior up­hol­stery on the doors and dash.

It also had some tech­no­log­i­cal fea­tures that eased the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Un­like many mod­ern cars, the key fob opens all four doors with the click of one but­ton — and doesn’t re­quire ad­di­tional clicks to open the pas­sen­ger doors, a com­mon safety sys­tem I find mad­den­ing.

The key fob also swings open the twin rear hatch doors with the push of a but­ton, which is very help­ful if you’re car­ry­ing a mess of gro­ceries.

The Club­man’s man­ual trans­mis­sion also in­cludes a “hill hold” fea­ture, which pre­vents the car from rolling back­ward or for­ward when the driver is com­ing off a red light, stop sign or park­ing space on a steep hill. As the res­i­dent of an ex­tremely steep neigh­bor­hood, and the owner of sev­eral stick shift cars, I don’t re­quire this, but I do ap­pre­ci­ate it.

The car is also fit­ted with a driver’s win­dow sun vi­sor, match­ing the one that folds down to shade the wind­shield. This is a small but wel­come ad­di­tion.

The back seats of­fer a lot of head­room and legroom — for a Mini. The front seats, iden­ti­fied as John Cooper Works Sports Seats, were plenty com­fort­able around town, though I wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily bet on them for a long road trip.

The pro­lif­er­a­tion of Minis on city streets can partly be ex­plained by fi­nance. A base level Mini hard­top two-door starts as low as $21,800.

The low­est priced four-door Mini starts only a hair higher, at $22,800, with the Coun­try­man and Club­man mod­els start­ing from closer to $25,000.

The John Cooper Works ver­sions jump up from that. The Club­man JCW costs about $10,000 more than that nor­mal Club­man.

But it also costs con­sid­er­ably less than other sports cars that de­liver a com­pa­ra­ble thrill, and this Club­man com­bines play­ful power and prac­ti­cal cargo space in a way that a lot of cars can’t.


The all new 2017 Mini John Cooper Works Club­man All4.

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