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What we’re driving: Mini Clubman John Cooper Works All4
What it costs: $56,900 (as tested $64,600)
Why we’re driving it: 2019 year marks the 60th anniversary of the Mini, one of the world’s most iconic automotive marque, so we thought it appropriate to take the little Brit banger for a blast.
Back in 1959, as Cliff Richards and The Shadows were roaring up the UK charts with Living Doll, Sir Alec Issigonis introduced the world to his own smash hit, a ground-breaking compact two-door called the Morris Mini Minor.
Under BMW ownership since 2000, the Mini line-up has since evolved to include hatchback, five-door and convertibles. Within the five-door Clubman line-up you can’t go further up the food chain than the Mini John Cooper Works All4, which lists at $56,900.
To this already-spicy JCW dish our friends at Mini Australia have ladled on some tasty extras in the form of Rebel Green custom paint, carbon-black lounge leather, and a combo of piano black and chrome interior finishes; the $2500 Convenience Package, which includes electric seats, alarm, anti-dazzle mirror and seat through-loading; plus a $2400 Climate Pack which runs to panoramic sunroof, sun protection glazing on the side glass, and heated front seats.
On the outside
With its squat proportions, bulging oval head lamps and clever design-detailing the Mini shouts ‘fun’ with a capital F.
From the front this version looks like any other JCW Mini, but the side view is certainly not compact Mini fare. For a start, the Clubman boasts five doors instead of three, sits on a slightly longer wheelbase, and, at 4253mm tip to tail, it’s 423mm longer overall than its stumpy little brother.
Much of that extra space goes into creating a rear seat that’s not nearly as cramped as the name might suggest...
... while the rest of it goes towards a luggage bay that, again, is surprisingly useful.
Distinctive side-hinged barn doors that spring open upon demand provide easy loading access to a compact load space that’ll easily accommodate a weekly shop or, better still several soft bags for a sneaky weekend away.
Under the bonnet
If the GT stripes and oversized red brake calipers hadn’t already given the game away, the power bulge and air scoop atop the Mini’s bulbous bonnet suggests something fizzy lies beneath.
The sporty JCW treatment sees a half-litre bump in capacity over the standard car’s 1.5-litre four-cylinder, with power and torque rising in concert by 70kW and 100Nm for impressive outputs of 170kW and 320Nm.
Sight an opening in traffic and knock the eight speed auto back a cog or two via the wheel-mounted paddles and the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot fires you forward a bullet from a rabbit gun.
The engine sounds like a swarm of angry bees as the tacho whizzes across the dial to head butt the rev limiter at 6000 rpm, the gearbox busily serving up ratios to stay in the beef of the engine’s broad torque curve, the exhaust providing enthusiastic pops and crackles on the over-run.
On the inside
The exterior design may seem instantly and unmistakably ‘Mini’, but it’s inside where the designers have really been let off the leash.
The dash is dominated by a large, high-resolution circular screen which looks like a very quirky kid’s TV.
The graphics are all fresh and fun, while other parts of the cain are lined with LED lights that pulse and change colours like a mood stone.
The driver drops down into a low, leather-clad sports seat and grips a kransky-thick steering wheel, with thumb pads and bold red stitching.
The finely-spaced numbering and red-on-black colour scheme of the analogue speedo and tacho is a tad difficult to read in daylight, but a handy head-up display shows the speed limit and your indicated speed.
An array of rally-style toggle switches – a nod to the Mini’s rallying pedigree – sits beneath the main screen, with similar switchgear overhead for the twin sunroof and map lights.
On the road
The Mini is not the plushest riding car on the planet, but unlike some rivals that give you the brutal ride without the handling benefits, this nuggetty little hero delivers in the twists.
The combination of its low body height, all-wheel drive plus decently wide track and chunky rubber gives the Clubman JCW a kart-like ability to whip around corners as if it’s tethered to the apex, the steering reacting almost telepathically to your inputs.
There is a fair bit of tyre rumble on coarse bitumen, a factor of the low profile 19-inch rubber, but they also contribute massively to the limpet-like grip.
You know you’ve caught the Mini bug when you find yourself lifting a finger in salute to other passing Mini drivers. I haven’t felt this sense of automotive camaraderie since travelling Europe in a fired up Kombi back in the ‘80s.
This is one of the few cars today that delivers a win-win by ticking the practicality boxes of a proper four seater with some luggage space, while also delivering a seriously spicy, sports-car like driving experience.