The Mini John Cooper Works Clubman is a crossover with a difference. While most crossovers are hybrids of a coupe and an SUV, the Mini JCW Clubman is a compact station-wagon that feels like a hot hatchback. With a turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that produces 302 horsepower and all-wheel drive, the JCW Clubman is the “extreme athlete” in Mini’s four-door model line up.
The brand recently took the new JCW Clubman on a winter road trip through northern Finland, an ideal place to test the all-wheel-drive car’s performance, handling, and endurance attributes. The journey was also in remembrance of the two “Flying Finns” – Timo Mäkinen and Rauno Aaltonen – who in 1965 and 1967 respectively finished second and third overall at the Monte Carlo Rally driving the classic Mini Cooper S.
In 2010, the two Finnish Mini drivers were among the first batch of 26 drivers to be honoured in the newly established Rally Hall of Fame, located at the Mobilia Atomobile Museum in Tampere, Finland. No fewer than eleven of the current 26 members of the Rally Hall of Fame are Finns. Among the non-Finns is Paddy Hopkirk from Northern Ireland, the man who captured the first “Monte” with the overall win for the Mini in 1964.
There must be something in the national character of the Finns and in the driving conditions of these northern lands to have spawned so many of the greats of the rallying world, as well as other motorsports disciplines. Like so many of their compatriots, Mäkinen and Aaltonen acquired the sensitive touch in their hands and feet driving on deserted roads through Finnish Lapland that was usually covered in snow by late autumn, and sometimes also on frozen lakes.
Driving in Lapland – a region that extends over the entire northern territories of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia – requires a special skill set, even when travelling in a thoroughly modern car like the JCW Clubman. The 306 hp under the engine bonnet demands sensitive use of the accelerator pedal, even though all-wheel drive takes over high-precision distribution of the beefy drive torque between the front and rear wheels. And if high spirits take over, there’s always Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) to calm things down.
The JCW Clubman’s Lapland road trip began, appropriately, at the Rally Hall of Fame. The journey from Tampere to Lapland heads north for hundreds of kilometres along the western coast of Finland. This route allows visitors to gradually acclimatise to the region’s arctic temperatures. In Lapland, winter manifests itself in its pure form: bone-chillingly cold and with lots of snow. It is essential to be well wrapped up in warm clothing.
The JCW Clubman offers generous space to carry the appropriate apparel and luggage in its 360-litres cargo compartment. With the rear-seat backrest folding down, the volume of stowage space increases to 1,250 litres. The twin-hinged barn-door style rear doors offer convenience while loading and unloading. Additional space may be availed by attaching the optional Mini roof box. It provides extra cargo capacity of 320 litres and can be securely fixed to the car’s optional roof rails.
After a stopover in Lapland’s capital city of Rovaniemi, it’s just a short trip to cross the Arctic Circle further north. The vastness of the landscape is an invitation to simply follow the road on a journey through dense pine forests and past numerous lakes. The JCW Clubman ploughs imperturbably through the deep snow, while the icy hard surfaces present an open invitation to refine the art of drifting around bends; another Finnish speciality.
The region of Lapland encompasses the settlement area of the Sámi indigenous people, whose culture and history are documented in a museum in the village of Inari. From here, the journey continues another 400 kilometres to the North Cape, on the Norwegian island of Magerøya.
Several places along the way offer the opportunity to go on a snowshoe hiking tour or a ride in a dog sleigh to discover Arctic foxes, snowy owls, and other animals in their natural environment. Moreover, tourists from all over the world are attracted to the far north to get a glimpse of the northern lights during a long winter night. The temperatures and visibility conditions have to be just right to get to a good viewing of this natural phenomenon. To help find that perfect viewing spot, or to improve visibility on the road ahead during the night, the JCW Clubman has optional adaptive LED headlamps with matrix function for high beam illumination.
The JCW Clubman’s Lapland trek ends at Ranua Wildlife Park, located on the outskirts of the little town of Ranua, approximately 80 kilometres south of Rovaniemi. Visitors to this zoo have the privilege of seeing at close quarters the animal indigenous to northern Scandinavia, such as elk, reindeer, brown bears and polar bears, wolves, arctic foxes and lots more. Wooden tracks and bridges wind their way past the spacious enclosures. Ranua Wildlife Park was opened in 1983 and is the most popular tourist attraction in the north of Finland.
For overnight or a longer stay at the Wildlife Park, there are the traditional apartment houses, along with the region exclusive Arctic Fox Igloos. These are luxurious glass igloos that come with their own kitchenette, bedroom and private sauna. More importantly, their glass architecture offers 270-degree lake and sky view. These amenities are located on the banks of Lake Ranuanjärvi. There’s virtually nowhere else in Lapland where one can view the famous polar lights in a more comfortable or warmer environment.