FRANKFURT, Germany – Accommodating a new 2,0-litre turbopetrol motor that propels its metabolism 55 kW beyond its already punchy predecessor, the new John Cooper Works Clubman shares the mantle of Mini’s most powerful production model to date. But it’s a surprisingly subtle package.

Packing some punch

The 2,0-litre turbo-four has undergone a number of developments, including gaining a strengthened crankshaft, pistons and con rods, as well as a compression ratio drop from 10,2 to 9,5 to accommodate the increased charge pressure generated by a larger turbocharger. The upshot is a brawny 225 kW and 450 N.m (the latter up 100 N.m), increases of 32 percent and 28 percent, respectively, over the previous unit.

In a bid to minimise the gap between driver input and vehicle response, Mini’s engineers have incorporated such features as more direct shift mapping for the uprated eight-speed transmission, as well as converter lockup clutch that shuts immediately after pulling away. This unit also integrates a diff-lock capable of locking up to 39 percent, while the new engine features both Mini’s takes on BMW’s Valvetronic and Vanos systems which oversee variable valve and camshaft timing, respectively, in a bid to improve the immediacy between throttle input and thrust.

Speedy… 

To some degree, these response-honing measures have had the desired effect; the Clubman certainly is responsive and there’s no doubting the performance on offer. The uprated AWD system ably pastes that 225 kW of power to the road, making the claimed 4,9-second 0-100 km/h sprint time entirely believable. Toggling the paddle shifters on twisty sections of the drive is rewarded with brisk changes, both up and down.

Unleashed on unrestricted sections of Autobahn, 200 km/h was effortlessly clocked with the Clubman feeling as though it still had power to spare. Taking to twistier rural roads, the Clubman’s take on Mini’s oft-quoted "go-kart-like" driving attitude presents itself in a less darty, more measured manner than before with a fair amount of body-roll evident. It feels less hard-edged than JCWs of the past, for sure, but weighty, direct steering and plentiful grip aided by the stability system’s lateral torque vectoring and a mechanical diff lock mean it would take some foolish provocation to upset the vehicle's dynamic composure.

But a little softer

JCWs have traditionally traded on their vociferous exhaust notes and the tendency to reward a heavy throttle foot with a sometimes uncouth, but nonetheless charming, spot of shoulder-pinning punchiness and tyre scrabble. Perhaps it’s the considerable steps Mini has taken in terms of mechanical refinement and the caprices of plumbing some emission-gobbling bits into the exhaust system, but the Clubman feels and sounds more civilised than you’d expect for something wearing that Works badge.

Power delivery is swift but more of a rapid billow than an eye-widening spike, while the contrast between the snaps and rifle-fire cracks that traditionally issue forth from JCW exhausts has been pared down to muffled puffs and pops escaping the Clubman’s tail. While such softening of the Clubman’s hard-edged persona may prove divisive, it’s fair to say that the same cannot be said of the ride. Where previous JCWs often showed a tendency to wallop over road scars, the new Clubman, albeit equipped as our launch unit was with the optional adaptive damping system, rides with a pleasing fluidity, even when perched on a fetching set of 19-inch rims. 

It still looks the part

Thankfully, there’s still enough visual edge to the JCW to make it stand out. Deep skirts with meshed vents and bodywork awash with striping remain JCW staples, but are now joined by revised LED headlamps and brakelamp arrays that glow with the Union Jack stripes when the progressive but formidably capable braking system, now featuring 360 mm discs up front and 330 mm items aft, is called upon.

Better balanced, or too civilised?

Whether it’s the product of smoothing out the JCW character to appeal to a broader audience, or a by-product of impressive engineering, it feels like a markedly more mature and balanced creature than before. We’ll just have to see how this more civilised approach washes with hot hatch enthusiasts when it arrives in South Africa towards the end of 2019.



FAST FACTS

Model: Mini John Cooper Works Clubman Sport Steptronic
Price: R645 795
Engine: 2,0-litre, 4-cyl, turbopetrol 
Power: 225 kW
Torque: 450 N.m
0-100 km/h: 4,9 sec
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 7,7 L/100 km
CO2: 150 g/km
Transmission: 8-spd automatic