Suddenly we feel the thrust. At 1600 rpm, we hear a brief hissing – then the turbo forces air into the combustion chambers, the two-litre/fourcylinder engine unleashes its 306 hp/225 kW performance, and with a powerful surge, the MINI Clubman John Cooper Works ALL4 accelerates onto the track. The car is here at the BMW race track in Aschheim near Munich for a test; I am here to experience the most powerful engine in the history of the MINI in action – and also to discover for myself how well the powerhouse suits this variant of the Clubman and the MINI Countryman JCW. “We were looking not only to improve on the previous model’s output, but also to get the maximum out of this engine,” says Thomas Kazenwadel, the project manager in charge of MINI John Cooper Works drive systems. Clearly, they succeeded, because 450 Nm at speeds of over 1750 rpm now make for smooth acceleration in all gears plus the 306 hp/225 kW for the necessary extra push at high revolutions per minute. This allows the Clubman JCW to climb to the 100-kilometres-an-hour mark in 4.9 seconds, and the electronic speed limitation only kicks in at 250 km/h.
Performance is one side of the coin, efficiency the other. Despite its immense power and top speed of 250 kilometres per hour, the MINI Clubman JCW’s turbocharged petrol engine consumes just between 7.4 and 7.9 litres per 100 kilometres (based on the combined WLTP test cycle).
“The best thing of all is trying out a new engine in a car for the first time.”
The developers adapted the chassis to match the extra power. The action of engine, chassis, damper and spring mountings is significantly tighter, and the chassis has been lowered ten millimetres and reinforced. JCW drivers can feel the difference in their very first corner. “You get an even more agile and direct response than in a Cooper S, for instance,” says Kazenwadel. “The handling on country roads can be addictive!” In my head, I’m already cruising around Tuscany. It’s the engine’s tremendous power that makes it so special. The automatic eight-speed Steptronic sports transmission reinforces and channels that power, as do the drive shafts, and there’s enormous traction in each of its speeds. What’s more, this is the first MINI to feature a mechanical Torsen locking differential. It improves the car’s hold on the road when taking a fast corner and, in combination with the engine, transmission and chassis, makes for an even more dynamic driving experience.
The MINI Clubman JCW responds instantly to commands from accelerator and steering wheel and distributes its power through the ALL4 all-wheel drive system. A high-performance brake system guarantees vigorous deceleration. Its hallmark: brake callipers painted hot Chili Red. The sound made by the JCW’s distinctive exhaust flap system is also immediately recognisable. “It’s typically JCW – robust and authentic, but not over the top or obtrusive,” Kazenwadel stresses. The fastest model of them all naturally also has the look to match the Clubman’s sporty personality: a red roof with a distinctive JCW spoiler, red wing-mirror caps, a radiator grille in racing design and extra air inlets. “The design of the other engine variants is pretty cool – but we made the JCW even sharper,” says interior designer Thomas Wu. What that means in terms of the interior is, for instance: distinctive two-colour sports seats with integrated headrests, a JCW badge in the sporty leather steering wheel, contrasting red stitching and a dark roof liner.
The red racing stripes are a homage to earlier JCW models, Union Jacks emphasise the car’s origins, and both are inspired by the MINI’s racing history. “As dynamic and compact as the JCW is, it still offers more comfort and luxury that you might imagine. The MINI is simply small on the outside, big on the inside, and that goes for quality and choice of materials, too,” says 35-year-old Wu with a proud grin. A John Cooper Works is not supposed to be purely a racing car, but a very dynamic car that’s also a fun everyday drive off the racing circuit. Rolling off the track, I can only agree, although my sympathies primarily lie with the car’s sportiness. Thomas Kazenwadel gets that – he has a clear memory of his first time in the Clubman JCW. “For a developer, one of the best moments is trying out a new engine in a car for the first time. That JCW immediately put a smile on my face.” Why? “Because we had made it even more enjoyable to drive than its predecessor.” Right now, I would like nothing more than to climb behind the wheel of this little powerhouse and roar south.