Golf-sized the Mini Clubman may be, but it offers a broader selection of driving experiences. The base Cooper model and its thrifty turbocharged three-cylinder is a peach (134 hp and 162 lb-ft), a great reminder that a car can be just as much fun at low speeds as it is at higher ones. Abundant low-end torque gives this engine a diesel-like character, although like a diesel, power fades quickly as the revs rise.
The Cooper S really is the sweet spot, with 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. Plenty of low and mid-range torque make it easy to exploit the Clubman’s still-small footprint to make nippy passes at urban and suburban speeds. On the freeway, the willingness of the Cooper S’ 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder – an engine the Mini shares with a whole host of BMW models – to rev makes it an able companion. Stick with the standard six-speed manual for the most entertaining pairing.
The John Cooper Works model we tested is by far more aggressive. With 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque from the same 2.0-liter turbo-four, the JCW is quick without escalating to the occasionally scary speeds found in Honda Civic Type R or Ford Focus RS. It distinguishes itself in more ways than just power – its freer-flowing exhaust is much louder and it cracks and pops on overrun, while the throttle response is much sharper, too. Mini claims the JCW Clubman will take six seconds to hit 60 miles per hour, although it feels a bit quicker than that.
All Clubmans are available with all-wheel drive, but only the JCW comes standard with it. It adds weight and complexity, but as far as all-weather ability goes, it gives the Clubman a welcome boost in stability and capability. Still, we’d rather have a good set of snow tires over the expense and weight that comes with Mini’s All4 all-wheel-drive system.
Regardless of which Clubman we’re talking about, each trim features a quick, direct steering setup and a suspension that does its best at balancing Mini’s traditional go-kart-like feel. It fails, mostly, but the engineers did try. The firm suspension, even with the optional adaptive dampers, transmits most imperfections into the cabin. We’d strongly recommend avoiding the available 19-inch wheels in favor of a more conservative 17-inch setup, and while it’s a risky proposition, swapping out the standard run-flat tires for a more traditional bit of rubber should have a marked effect on the ride quality. But the reality is that the Mini Clubman simply isn’t as comfortable as similarly sized cars. It’s a hell of a lot more fun, though.
Minimal body roll and a lack of squat and dive mean drivers can plunge into corners at speeds that don’t seem reasonable in a small car. The current crop of Minis still don’t have anything on their predecessors from the early 2000s (let alone the Minis sold in the last half of the 20th century), but the Clubman is among the most engaging, entertaining small cars on the market.