From the first time I saw a BMW-produced MINI, I wanted one.
Engine: 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder
Output: 228 hp, 258 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual; 8-speed auto
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 23 city, 31 hwy (manual)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 7.8 city, 7.4 hwy (manual)
US Price: Starts at $35,100
CAN Price: Starts at $36,900 ($44,900 as tested)
In my eyes, it was a fun and pretty cool-looking car. But back in the early 2000s, most of my income went to paying off my student loan and rent, leaving me looking longingly at cars from the window seat of a city bus.
Enough years passed and I got married, had two kids, and a MINI no longer seemed like a reasonable option. It wasn’t until recently when my trusty (and decidedly uncool) Mazda5 began to give me problems that I started thinking about a new car. While my wife and I were testing out the usual array of family vehicles, I threw out the idea of taking a MINI Clubman for a drive. Since it’s got four doors, I argued, it could be a family car.
We took a quick test drive around the city and both of us (and especially our daughters) moved the MINI Clubman to the top of our want list. But want and need are two very different things. Though my daughters were convinced it was the only car for them, my wife and I worried it might be a bit too cramped for four of us.
With this in mind, we tested a MINI Clubman for a week to see if it really could work as a do-everything car for my family of four.
While I was looking at a pretty basic MINI Clubman to stay within budget, I was delighted to find out my test car for the week was a fully equipped Clubman JCW ALL4 dressed in black with red racing stripes and accents.
While the more basic MINI Clubman is a fun if not terribly powerful car, the JCW version is on another planet. The turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder with 134 horsepower and 162 lb-ft in the base Clubman is dwarfed by the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine that produces 228 hp and along with 258 pound-feet of torque in the JCW ALL4. That extra power helps the JCW ALL4 get to 60 mph in 6 seconds, shaving a lot of time off the base Clubman’s 8.9-second time.
Normally a bit of a fuel miser, I greedily put the JCW Clubman into Sport mode and left it there for the week. I had every intention of squeezing all of the fun I possibly could out of this car.
One of the first things I noticed in the JCW Clubman was the visibility, which is quite poor out of the rear. While nice when loading the trunk, the Clubman’s split rear doors have small windows that don’t leave much room for seeing the road behind you. Backing out of my driveway onto a busy road would have been quite a challenge if not for the rear-view camera, which is surprisingly only available as part of an expensive option package. With the limited visibility from the rear of this car, that seems like an oversight, especially because the JCW ALL4 isn’t cheap even without the options. Luckily that $2,250 technology package also brings navigation, real-time traffic updates, wireless charging for devices, a parking assistant, and tracking sensors.
Shortly after picking up the car, I took my excited oldest daughter to dance class. On the way home, we took the (very) long way so I could hear her giggle as I mashed the go-pedal whenever we saw a clear stretch of road.
As much as the Clubman delighted my daughters, I was stressed out every time we stopped somewhere with cars parked on either side of us. My girls are accustomed to the Mazda5’s sliding rear doors and would swing open their doors with reckless abandon. Eventually, I had to get them to wait so I could open their doors for them. This, I’m sure, would get better with time.
My wife also wanted to get behind the wheel and took the Clubman out for a bit of fun more than once. She was pretty emphatic that she really wanted us to buy the MINI after that. You just can’t underestimate the fun factor of this car.
The big test, though, was a road trip. I packed up the kids for a three-hour drive to visit some family for the weekend. Since I was concerned about being able to fit everything in the smallish 17.5 cu-ft trunk, we all packed very lightly and ended up with far more room to spare than I imagined. It turns out you don’t need to bring every toy your kids own when you leave the house for 72 hours. Who knew?
I armed each kid with an iPad and enough shows to keep them entertained – distracted kids are happy kids! The one issue I noticed on the long car ride was my oldest daughter’s leg room. I’m fairly tall, so I like the driver’s seat set far back. She’s still in a booster and wants to stretch out her legs, which she does by pushing them against my seat. Not awesome. I moved my seat forward a little but still received an unwelcome push in the back every now and again.
During the drive, I started playing with the impressive 8.8-inch touchscreen to see what it could do. Here I found my favorite feature – the Sport Display that shows how much horsepower and torque you are using at any given time. I took great pleasure in punching the throttle and watching the gauges max out as I passed a minivan filled with a family as bored as mine would be in the Mazda5. Losers!
More fun was had by opening up all the windows and the panoramic sunroof as everybody screamed like we were being murdered. I think it’s good, wholesome family fun (and a great stress reliever), but the family in the minivan looked concerned.
Once we got off the highway, we were treated to almost traffic-free country roads with ample twisties to keep things interesting. While it’s great for taking corners more aggressively than I’d normally dare, the suspension on the JCW Clubman is a bit on the stiff side. It’s not really noticeable when the roads are smooth, but we traveled to farm country, which featured some ill-kept tarmac. It’s a bit jostling, but I’d rarely have to deal with it in my day-to-day life. Well worth the trade-off, in my opinion.
Those wide-open roads also might lead some folks to push the boundaries of good sense when it comes to speed and acceleration testing. The JCW Clubman does not disappoint when it comes to acceleration, but I found the vehicle felt a bit unsteady when the speeds really picked up. I was expecting more sure-footedness, but perhaps the car’s small footprint comes at the sacrifice high-speed handling.
The Verdict: 2017 MINI Clubman JCW ALL4 Review
Overall, I was pretty impressed with how the MINI Clubman worked as a road trip vehicle for my family. However, I don’t think it’s the right vehicle for us, at least not yet. Once both my girls are out of booster seats, the rear legroom issue should be more manageable.
Also, the fully upgraded JCW Clubman ALL4 is north of our price range and after experiencing that engine, it would be tough to go back to the lower-powered three-cylinder engine. And it seems like just about every nicety I came to enjoy in the car was part of an upgrade package. That includes everything from the abovementioned rear-view camera to the 8.8-inch touchscreen to the panorama sunroof. Throw in the need for premium fuel and the dollar signs start to add up.
Now, who wants to break it to my daughters that we aren’t going to buy the Clubman?