(Contributing Editor: Tomasz Paluch)
Imagine a British race car designer, who in the aftermath of World War II, famously stuck a British motorcycle engine at the back of an open wheel Formula 3 car formed by melding the two front ends of a FIAT Topolino back to back.
Thus, John Cooper pioneered the transition from front to rear engined Formula and Indy race cars, enabling Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren to become storied Grand Prix champions.
In the early 1960s, with Group 2 rally racing emerging as the working man’s autosport, Cooper began a ten year collaboration with transverse engine front drive pioneer at British Motor Corporation, Sir Alec Issigonis.
The result: a Group 2 rally variant of the popular Mk. III Morris Mini Minor and homologated street versions known as Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S. First stroked then bored out engines, front disc brakes and close ratio transmissions were Mini Cooper hallmarks.
As British Leyland took ownership over Morris Cars, a Clubman model was introduced. A popular variant was a 2-door shooting brake Estate with split swing door tailgate. But John Cooper never laid his magic on the Clubman. That is until his son, Michael, did in 2008, the year that his John Cooper Works tuning firm was absorbed by BMW’s MINI brand.
The F54 Mk. 3 MINI Clubman was revamped in 2016. The longest of the current MINI stable, in the guise of an estate wagon makes a beguiling canvas for the full John Cooper Works treatment.
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WHAT: 2017 MINI John Cooper Works Clubman All4 2-Row sporty compact estate wagon F54 = 2nd generation =12.4″-inches longer, 4.5″ wider than previous R55 Clubman.
Standard Power: 2.0L DOHC 16V DI intercooled turbocharged gas I-4 = 228 hp/ 258 lb-ft @ 1450 rpm + 6-speed close ratio JCW shifter manual helical transaxle; optional 8-speed torque converter planetary automatic w/ shift paddles; optional PTU to viscous clutch differential on demand all-wheel drive.
WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE: Hood valley flat with air snorkel at front; Unadorned dark grey lower body cladding ; Oblong ovoid angel-eyes LED DRL ringed headlights have integral foglights; Hexagonal grille housing extends lower, integrating with contrasting black upper bumper cover; Grille lattice insert includes “John Cooper Works” emblem and is bisected by red horizontal bar; L-shaped darkened lower front fascia corner housings w/ cooling ducts; Fender corner turn indicator markers are short rectangles; Doors are slab sided w/ such a tall beltline; Window pillars are covered gloss black; Roof and wing mirror caps receive contrasting Chili Red color; Chrome door handles.
Split Tailgate Swing-Door accommodations: Trapezoid tailamps are set horizontally; License plate bracket embedded in bumper cover; Lower rear corner exhaust pipes housed in faux darkened diffusers. Faux lower rear fascia skid plate.
WHY: Hot rod in-house tuner “shooting brake” Sport Wagons are all the rage.
WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since Winter 2016
WHERE: MINI new vehicle dealers
WHERE MADE: Plant Oxford Cowley, England
WHERE TO: GKN electromagnetic coupling multi-plate wet clutch, open differential all-wheel drive, e-varies front/ rear traction from nominal 100/0% – to maximum 50/50%; 5.6″ clearance = stay on the pavement.
HOW ROADWORTHY: Sequential twin-scroll turbocharger = perpetual abundance of staged boost for 2.0L turbocharged DOHC DI; An aggressive exhaust rumble can be excited into abrupt accelerator release back-pressure pop; Close ratio manual gearbox shifter is precise with a light, though long travel clutch pedal; = snappy downshifter;
Running on 18″ alloys & 40-series low profile rubber, mode adjusting electronic damping & bushing rates are set up for rapid response without any abrupt deflection; Higher JCW spring rates bushings make = near Go-Kart composure though the standard Pirelli Cinturato P7 all-seasons metes out less grip than the chassis can deliver; Electric steering windup is crisp but road feel is wanting; Brembo front big brake kit bite force is wanting when cold, then becomes temperamental to taps; -1 Run-flat tire transmitted road noise, and sinister exhaust rumble do not a quiet hot shooting brake make.
HOW FAR: 23 combined miles per gallon;
HOW BIG/ LITTLE: √ Switch from dual 2nd Row buckets to 3-place split bench w/ 3.3″ legroom > previous R60 = 5 adult occupants; -1 Rear seat cushion dips, forcing knees up; back so coifs ; +1 Expanded cargo volume increases by 12%;
HOW USEFUL: √ Latching tilt cargo load floor w/ sub-floor storage; √ 3-place sliding split 2nd Row seat cushion; √ near flat folding 60/40% split 2nd Row tilting seatbacks; √ Split tailgate door pockets; –1 Forward visibility from low seat position / -1 Outward rear visibility from thick seat headrests, wide side pillars & small backlight; Tow Rating: Not Rated.
HOW SAFE: √ 8 airbags; √ Rear camera; sonar front & rear Park Distance Control, √ Roll Mitigation, √ Blind spot, rear cross traffic warning & lane departure warning.
HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY: √ Microsuede trimmed fabric heated front sport bucket seats w/ knee extension; √ √ 4 power windows w/ full up/ down express; √ Puddle lamps at each door; √ Driver’s outboard sun visor;
Cool Gizmo(s): √ Discus Keyfob; Wurlitzer/ Rockola variable color LED ringed infotainment display; √ Driver’s side MINI winged logo puddle lamp; √ Onboard feature video tutorials w/ UHD graphics √ Those split swing-out tailgate doors!
Details Done Right: √ Gated toggle switches, including glowing red illuminated keyless ignition; √ Variable color full cabin ambient lighting; √ Tilt / telescope JCW steering wheel = perforated leather rim inserts, w/ dorsal finger indentations;
Nearly Non-Descript: Thin rear seat cushions; Faux embossed dashtop stitching; Hard plastic front seat backs advertise scuffs.
HOW “APP” -LICABLE: √ 8.8″ touch LCD infotainment screen, √ Rotary dial display navigator w/ touch pad; √ Voice command hands-free communications; 3-D SD GPS navigation; √ Subscription based Sirius XM radio √ Low streaming audio amplification w/ base sound system; MINI Connected Apps; Apple Car Play (opt. 2018 MY); USB x 2, 12V x 3.
-1 No Android Auto
HOW MUCH: $40,250 = as tested 2017 MINI John Cooper Works Clubman All4; BMW-style pricey options such as not-included driver-assist tech package pushes M.S.R.P. to upper $40Ks!
WHAT’S MISSING: Wider front and more pliant seat cushions; Grippier tires; Less sensitive & deafening Park Distance Control alarm; Android Auto; +1 Cargo management; SMS messaging app.
ANY COMPETITION: Volvo V60 Polestar; +1 Power, cabin & cargo space; civility.
BOTTOM LINE: Mighty Fancy Family Go-Kart