2020 Mini Clubman JCW
At the 60th anniversary of the Mini brand, Sir Alec Issigonis would likely be impressed. The late British engineer—designer of the original Mini and creator of the template for space-efficient automobiles for decades to come—might not recognize what he hath wrought.
The original Mini didn’t change much for its first 40 years, but Mini’s cars have had three full makeovers since BMW acquired the brand 20 years ago. To mark its 60th birthday, Mini will release a couple of landmark updates on its current F-series platform: what the company calls its most efficient car ever—the forthcoming electric Mini SE—and also its most powerful, fastest car ever. That would be the 2020 Mini Clubman John Cooper Works, and it’s some seriously techie, 155-mph stuff.
Still sporting its split, swing-out rear doors, the ’20 Clubman basically adapts a handful of nips and tucks, new paint colors and connectivity enhancements introduced on the shorter Mini Hardtop hatchback for 2019.
The Clubman gets new headlights with full-circle daylight-running LEDs and optional LED main beams. The brake lights have been moved from the bumper to new LED taillight clusters, and each taillight projects the obvious graphic of half the British Union Jack. There are also some changes to the Clubman’s front end to more readily distinguish it from the Hardtop, including a single-pane honeycomb grille.
The 2020 Clubman JCW gets its own set of appearance tweaks, including larger intakes to improve airflow inside the sheetmetal and side skirts and spoilers intended to reduce lift. More fundamentally, the JCW unit body is stiffened with a strut tower brace and extra bulkhead braces.
2020 Mini Clubman JCW interior
The JCW suspension now offers electronically controlled adaptive shocks, with sport and comfort modes. The ultralight 19-inch rims are fitted with Z-rated Michelin Pilot Sport tires. The brakes are upgraded compared to the previous JCW with larger rotors throughout, four-piston fixed calipers in front and higher-volume cooling ducts.
There are upgrades all over, compared to the old JCW or the new Clubman S. Yet none is as serious as those in the powertrain.
The JCW’s 2.0-liter engine block is the same as that in the Clubman S, but just about everything else in the engine is different. The turbo is bigger and the heads lower compression from 10.25:1 to 9.5:1. Injector volume increases, the exhaust tubes are bigger and less restricted, and internals are upgraded. The pistons and con rods are more rugged, and the crank and main bearings are reinforced. The radiator is larger, and both coolant and oil flow are enhanced for track duty,
The net is basically 150 hp per liter, or 301 peak hp, with 331 lb-ft of torque. That’s 113 hp and 124 lb-ft more than the 2020 Clubman S. More to the point, horsepower in the ’20 JCW is up by 73—a full third—compared to 2019, with 28 percent more torque (73 lb-ft). That’s with a new gasoline particulate filter required for the European market.
The transmission is new to the JCW, adapted from the BMW X2 M35i—an eight-speed torque-converter automatic with a lock-up clutch. The JCW’s all-wheel-drive system is upgraded with heavier-duty clutches and more rigid half-shafts. Both the gear set and mount points are reinforced, and there’s a mechanically locking differential for the front axle.
As you’d probably guess, the Clubman JCW comes with a high level of standard equipment and grippy sport seats. Production started at Mini’s assembly plant in Oxfordshire, England, in late July, and the first ’20 Clubmen will reach North American stores in as long as it takes to cross the ocean and travel from the port.
Technology upgrades and excitement don’t come cheap. The 2020 Clubman JCW starts at $39,400, before the $850 delivery charge. Options and custom packages can easily push the price past $50K. Perhaps Sir Alec is rolling in his grave.
The ’20 Clubman JCW upgrades will also be applied to the larger Mini Countryman JCW ($42,250 with destination). The smaller Mini Hardtop JCWs continue for 2020 with the previous 228-hp/258-lb-ft powertrain, which never seemed underpowered. And if none of the 2020 JCWs is moving you off the dime, you could wait for the forthcoming, 2,000-unit GP Edition that will debut at the LA Auto Show in November.
That will be a Hardtop with the 301-hp engine and wild aerodynamics developed at the Nurburgring, where it beat the sub-eight-minute lap set by the Honda Civic Type R, according to JCW engineers.
The 2020 Mini Clubman JCW comes with impressive body rigidity, great brakes and tremendous body control. It corners remarkably flat as road cars go (any road car, not just little wagons). If its steering isn’t quite as sharp or precise as JCW recollection would suggest, it’s easy to get used to and definitely doesn’t suck. Still, the most obvious difference in this new JCW is the grunt.
Make that serious grunt, the kind that delivers the same sort of head rush old-timers used to expect in a Porsche 930. In launch mode, the Mini grabs like mad off the line and shifts hard, but there’s still a heavy squawk from the Michelins on the first upshift. At all four wheels. We’d peg 0-60-mph times in the mid-four-second range (BMW says the 0-100-km time is 1.5 seconds quicker than the ’19 JCW), and that 155-mph top speed is for real, as discovered on a stretch of unlimited autobahn outside Frankfurt, Germany. Better still, even with 331 lb-ft of torque delivered through short half-shafts mostly to the front wheels, there really is no torque steer—even when you boot it flat exiting a bend. The mechanically locking front diff absolutely does its job.
The transmission works really well in sport mode, just like you want it to. It holds gears accelerating through bends. It shifts down quickly and up firmly, almost always at the right time, and without extracting too big a toll in smoothness when you’re just puttering along. As a manual, it responds as quickly as a sport-tuned dual clutch, shifting up or down.
The biggest payback is a stiff ride—probably no surprise—and the adaptive shocks don’t seem to help much. Even on relatively smooth roads in Germany, the Clubman JCW can get a little rough. In Chicago or Cleveland or around Pittsburgh, it could be hell. Committed drivers may not mind, and others may be mollified by some improvements to the Clubman’s interior.
The designers say they are trying to evolve Mini’s interminable cuteness toward something a bit more sophisticated and technical. Yet the most obvious improvement in the interior is the finish and materials—at least with all the upgrades in a loaded JCW. This Clubman has a more premium feel than some BMWs. There’s also a new steering wheel, with more control functions on the spokes, and a larger color screen. It’s all at least a bit less annoying in its cuteness.
The 300-hp, 155-mph, $40,000-plus Mini would seem to appeal to a tiny slice of buyers. You could get a lot more space and utility, or V8 power and similar speed, for less cash. Yet if the Clubman JCW’s combination of charm, fashion, thrills and reasonable efficiency stirs your drink, you’re in for a technically sound little speedster and a rousing good time.
On Sale: This month
Base Price: $40,250 with destination
Drivetrain: 2.0-liter I4, eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Output: 301 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 331 lb-ft from 1,750 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,410 lb (est)
Fuel Economy: 33 mpg combined (converted from EU certification)
Pros: The fastest, most thrilling and most technically sophisticated Mini ever
Cons: Big money for a Ford Fiesta competitor; likely to appeal to a very narrow strip of speed freaks