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2009 MINI Clubman John Cooper Works – Click above for high-res image gallery

The names MINI and John Cooper have been intertwined for more than 40 years and now they are closer than ever. When British race car and engine builder Cooper prepped the original MINIs for the Monte Carlo rally back in the 1960s, he helped cement the iconic status of the little car. When the MINI was reborn as a product of BMW earlier this decade, the Cooper model was a standard element of the lineup. A semi-official tuned John Cooper works edition was also available for the hard-core addicts. Earlier this year, BMW announced that the John Cooper Works MINI would become an official factory product analogous to M models from its parent company BMW.

The JCW edition is available on both the standard MINI hardtop and the extra-length Clubman. Having a JCW MINI means you have opted for the fastest factory MINI ever built. We spent a week with a John Cooper Works MINI Clubman in the Autoblog Garage just as winter weather clamped down on Michigan. Find out how this maximum fared in wintry Motown after the jump.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

At first glance the JCW Clubman doesn't look dramatically different from a regular Cooper or Cooper S. A pair of small John Cooper Works badges grace the lower right corners of the front grille and tail-gate. The most obvious visual distinction for the JCW is the wheels. Back when Sir Alec Issignosis created the original Austin Mini in the late 1950s it included a number of innovations like newly developed 10-inch wheels. In 2008, such tiny footwear would be laughed off the road, so the JCW gets 17-inch alloys wrapped in 205/45-17 Continental rubber.

Remember that winter weather we mentioned? Those 17-inch tires were the biggest issue with this MINI since the car came to us wearing a summer compound, totally unsuited to snow and ice. Before I began writing about cars I spent 17 years as an engineer working on electronic slip control systems like ABS, traction and stability control. These systems can do amazing things to keep you out of trouble and help prevent accidents. Unfortunately, as good as slip control can be, it can only help a driver use the maximum amount of traction available. The key there is available traction.

Here's where those tires play a bottle neck. If you run summer tires on snowy roads, slip control can't make traction where there is no physical grip between the tire and road. In my neighborhood, there is a long hill going up one of the side streets. On my way home from the grocery store I decided to go up that road and as I climbed the hill, the traction control light was flashing as the system worked feverishly to keep wheel spin under control.

All the while the car got slower and slower until it finally came to a complete stop about two-thirds of the way up. Ultimately, the MINI just would not go further. I ended up backing into a driveway, turning around and going back down the hill and taking another route home. If you have a car with high performance summer tires and you plan to drive it in winter weather, the first thing you should do is go buy an extra set of rims and a proper set of winter tires – you won't be sorry. Just swap the tires in November and March (or whenever the snow melts away) and you'll be good to go.

Having said all that, within the limits of traction, the MINI's slip control system worked great. Peddle pulsation during ABS was just enough to let you know through your foot that the system was active without being annoying. The TCS/ESC managed the speed of the individual wheels quietly without jerking the steering wheel around or even the car.

One of the particularly welcome options on the JCW is the heated seat package, which came in handy on a couple of 17-degree mornings. Regardless of whether the thermal enhancement was active, the seats were comfortable although a bit more thigh support would be welcome. The rest of the JCW interior is pretty standard MINI, although many of the trim bits are now finished in a glossy piano black. The center of the dash is dominated by the over sized speedometer, with the smaller tach sitting in a pod on top of the steering column. The integrated bluetooth connectivity worked well with our phones and the voice recognition was easily able to take commands and dial for us.

Opting for the Clubman version of the MINI moves the rear axle three inches further away from the front and stretches the overall length of the body by 9.6 inches. Any adult who has tried to climb into the back seat of a MINI hardtop will find themselves in very confined space. That extra length in the Clubman makes all the difference in the world. A pair of adults can sit in the second row in relative comfort. Access to that space is enhanced by an extra rear-hinged half door on the passenger side. In the back, the top-hinged hatch is replaced by a pair of side-hinged vertically slit doors. Frankly, we'd rather have the hatch and skip the thick central obstruction in the rear view mirror.

The heart of the John Cooper Works MINI lies under the hood where its 1.6L engine has spent time at the gym. A twin scroll turbocharger and direct fuel injection push the output to 208 horsepower and a mighty 192 lb-ft of torque, making this the only gas-engined MINI to out-torque the diesel version. Best of all, like other direct-injected turbos, this one has a nice fat torque curve peaking all the way from 1,850 rpm to 5,600 rpm.

This is one sweet little powerplant and it never wants for thrust. On the few occasions when dry pavement was available, a stab of the throttle brought acceleration aplenty with no noticeable throttle lag. Even with all that torque available, the combination of good suspension geometry and the slip control system mean that even under maximum acceleration, the MINI goes exactly where you point it. Like other MINIs, the JCW has great steering feedback as well. Unlike so many cars with electric power steering, the MINI is one of the only examples, along with the Honda Fit, that actually allows you to sense what is happening at the front corners when you are changing direction.

On smooth, dry pavement those summer tires work well with the beefed up suspension and steering to provide excellent ability to change direction on a dime. When the pavement degrades as it so often does around these parts (actually smooth pavement is more the exception than the rule), things can get a bit jiggly. The ride quality of the JCW is noticeably harsher than lesser models.

One of the nice things about even this most powerful of MINIs is decent fuel economy. Over a week of driving in a mix of stop and go urban and highway environments, the JCW went 27 miles for every gallon of petrol. It certainly doesn't doesn't compete with the 47-mpg European spec MINI diesel we tried last summer, but if you are looking for acceleration, the JCW is the choice.

The problem of winter traction is easily remedied with snow tires. Not so easily corrected is the price tag. At a base price of $31,450 delivered ($29,200 for the MINI hardtop) the JCW Clubman is not cheap. Is it worth the price? That depends. A big part of the MINI's driving appeal is the wonderfully balanced go-kart handling that is present on even a standard Cooper or Cooper S at much lower price. The ultimate dry road grip isn't quite as high and they don't accelerate as quick, but those lesser models are still a joy to drive. If you live up one of the canyon roads in southern California, the extra performance of the JCW might be worth it to you. Only those signing the check can decide. Just don't forget the snow tires.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      This might seem silly for me to assume, but if an automaker is going to lend a journalist a car, in the middle of winter or snowy season, to review, I would assume they'd have the common sense to throw some winter tread on them.
      • 6 Years Ago
      This car got spanked in a recent C&D test by the Mazdaspeed 3, VW GTI, Chevy Cobalt SS, and Subaru WRX. To me, these JCW cars are way overpriced for what you get.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I hate the split-back rear gate. What was wrong with a lift gate or a gate that splits horizontally? It was annoying looking at it on 80s suburbans and it’s annoying now.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I own an 08 Mini Cooper S with the JCW package. The car is quick given that it only has a 1.6 liter turbo motor 172 hp and 192 lbs torque (overboost). The JCW is not that much quicker despite it having 211 hp with 207 lbs torque. It's not worth the extra money. better combo is the setup I have. The suspension kit with the standard S.

      I considered the Volvo, Mazda, and Volkwagen. They all had their downsides....which was gas mileage. I get all the performance I need without the gas penalty. I'm getting 27-29 mpg in the city...and that's with my heavy foot!

      The interior on the photos above is a base interior which is ridiculious considering the price....it doesn't even have climate control and the nice leather surfaces. Go with the standard Clubman S with decent options. The way this car handles will put a smile on your face daily!
      • 6 Years Ago
      What kind of review was that? All I got from it is Traction Control = Good and Summer Tires + Snow = BAD.
      This review seems to be written at the last minute.
      If your going to write a review on a vehicle that has performance features, then talk about them. Next review I would suggest looking a the vehicle as if you were going to buy it yourself. Features you would consider, what you liked and disliked, why the vehicle deserves our attention, and so on.....
      • 6 Years Ago
      It's interesting how car reviews change.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I just can't come to grips with the sticker shock this little stormer is saddled with. Why anyone would spend $32g + on as poor a utilitarian fashion statement as this is beyond me. Save yourself $10,000 and buy a GTI.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The R32 is overpriced, too. The GTI and basic MCS provide good value. These performance packs do not, IMO, offer enough of a tangible gain to justify an extra $10,000.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Isnt the GTI comparable to the Cooper S .... the JCW is compared with the GTI R32. I started a thread on about this on VWVortex.com

        The R32 price tag is comparable to the JCW and their performance is comparable too where the JCW has a handling advantage and he R32 has an acceleration advantage
      • 6 Years Ago
      The designer was Sir Alec Issigoniss, NOT Issignosis. :(
      • 6 Years Ago
      So this whole review and not one mention about whether a mini clubman is actually utilitarian enough to warrant buying over the standard? Nothing about the what it's like to drive the fastest factory Mini? Why not just review Summer Tires in the Winter and write about that. Nothing about what you can fit in it? Completely worthless review.