Tag: Mini

The XL Italian Job – The Mini Clubman John Cooper Works

We recently got to spend a few days rapidly emptying the fuel tank of the unexpectedly fast and fun Mini Clubman John Cooper Works (JCW), a deceptive car that doesn’t look as fast as it is!

As most of our generation will already be aware, Mini’s modern day popularity can be greatly accredited to a pop culture film titled The Italian Job in the remake of a 1969 feature sharing the same name. Starring our very own Charlize Theron, her drop-dead gorgeous looks were often sidelined to the real stars of the show; the refreshed and retro-designed Mini Cooper. 

Since the film’s debut in 2003, Mini has grown their portfolio with models that have deviated somewhat from the embodiment of the brand name. In addition and contrary to Alec Issogonis original and revolutionary blueprints of a transversely mounted engine powering only the front wheels, Mini have also produced a few models with ALL4, an all-wheel-drive system that sends power to each corner of the car. 

While the recipe for some of Mini’s models has ushered in cars that seem a stretch from the characteristics that made these cars famous half a century ago, there is a market for more spacious and practical, four door models that simply could not be ignored after their takeover by profit-focused BMW. This is where the quirky, retro models like the Clubman and Countryman were intended to fill the gap. The latest generations of these models are no stranger to the world, being produced for over a decade each, they may just seem less popular than the more compact and recognizable 2-door Cooper. 

One can therefore deduce that they are lifestyle vehicles that fill a niche in the market. Sure, they still have the same funky interiors, bubbly personality and overall aesthetic of the rest of the lineup but they still lacked that purity of a Mini. The Clubman John Cooper Works is even more niche with a price tag starting from R783 840, an obese length and width of 4266mm and 1800mm respectively while its planetary mass of 1520kg is almost 3x the weight of the original Mini. 

Despite this though, our favorite Union Jack-inspired vehicle manufacturer has produced a model that feels very well powered to cope with the additional bulk and is incredibly fun to drive. This might not be the car to tackle a narrow Monte Carlo Special Rally stage but it is one that inspires confidence on a day-to-day basis of slow, tight cornering, banked highway onramps and on a loose road surface.

For this, the ALL4 system is commendable for its functionality and additional safety and assurity it offers buyers to live with everyday. But I question whether it is necessary in a car like this, as most buyers would probably never fully utilize its capabilities.

But if you do choose to head out on a spirited drive, once you flip the jet age inspired starter switch and hear the turbocharged inline-four petrol engine, it all comes to life. It is the same motor that spurs the F40 M135i xDrive forward, while the new BMW has received criticism for deviating from its lineage of in-line six motors, there are absolutely no complaints from the driver’s seat in the Mini!

The up-tuned 225kW and 450Nm is delivered via a slightly lethargic 8 speed automatic transmission to all four wheels, even in exhaust-burbling and neighbour-annoying sports mode. Cruising is an easy and comfortable task though, with engine revs below 2200rpm at the maximum national speed limit. That being said, it is also easy to make the honest mistake of going above and beyond this limit as acceleration seems as effortless as a leaf blowing in the direction the wind commands it to. 

While a combined fuel consumption of 7.7l/100km is claimed, we didn’t experience anything below 10, although sports mode dominated our time with the car. We did test its frugality in Green mode once the fuel indicator frighteningly sunk below the ¼ tank mark and efficiency was immediately improved. What remained is a comfortable car that could still pick up speed and overtake at a fraction of full throttle input.

On the inside, the narrow shaped cockpit continues the same circular theme from all other retro designed Mini’s, the part analog/part digital driver display is sufficient but small numbering on the speedometer becomes ambiguous with an illuminated display during night-time driving – a shortcoming the HUD makes up for.

There are some subtle Union Jack design cues placed on the headrests and embossed studs on the seats that give the car more of its own unique Mini identity. 

Where the second generation Clubman begins to show its age in the interior is the center console. Although the gear shifter and some of the surrounds have been updated in accordance with the more recent model years, crucial interaction points like the 8.8” infotainment screen remain unchanged from the original 2015 derivative. The reverse camera is also rather small as it doesn’t cover the full width of the screen when engaged, and the user interface seems obsolete. 

As we mentioned earlier, the Clubman John Cooper Works starts from R783 840 including a 5 year/100 000km maintenance plan but despite how much it impressed me, I remain to be convinced.

For the money to be spent, there are other better equipped and equally capable cars that would feature on my purchase list before the JCW. The likes of the less upmarket Golf R for example may be significantly smaller in dimensions but has a cargo capacity of 343l which is only 17l down on the much bigger Clubman. The Mercedes-Benz A35 is probably the best bet of having a potent hatchback with refined and classy interior finishes. Mini remains a lifestyle brand that is embodied by style conscious consumers and the Clubman is the bigger, more practical version of the 5 door Cooper hatch.

MINI JCW Countryman and Clubman Experience

John Cooper Works MINI Countryman

MINI JCW Countryman and Clubman

George is a small South African town, located on the east coast of South Africa. Wedged in between Knysna and Plett, this area is one of my favorite spots to visit while experiencing its endless forests and gracious mountain ranges. It’s also pretty cold this time of year and I very quickly realised this as I stepped off the plane, unprepared. Hoping my not so tough english skin would bare the brunt was probably a long shot, but heading inside to meet my friends at MINI SA and grab a decent cappuccino certainly helped!

After the usual formalities, we brunted the cold again (well just the english lad in the t-shirt) to meet the new John Cooper Works Clubman & Countryman. A total of six cars were lined up – 3 of each variant. Two routes were planned for each model, as even though they both feature the same 2.0-litre engine with outputs of 170 kW and 350 N.m, the Clubman & Countryman have their own appeal and are suited to different kinds of adventures. What better way to experience these vehicles than driving them in a place where they are most at home.

Up first for us was the the MINI John Cooper Works Clubman. Now, I must admit, when this car was first revealed some years ago, I really was not its biggest fan. Seeing the model now, wind swept in George, featuring a new design, additional JCW styling and a 10mm drop in ride height changed my opinion of the once dubbed “MINI Hearse”. Maybe as I advance in years my taste is becoming more accustomed. Let’s be honest, the Clubman definitely has that “Hipster appeal” and I rather like it.

 MINI John Cooper Works Clubman

A dynamic route was picked for the JCW Clubman, and as we headed towards the mountains, I was slowly customising to the JCW setup. I found the Clubman to have quite a little bit of road noise and a firm suspension – even in its softest driving mode. However, I did remind myself that this is a John Cooper Works, designed for the non-conformer and based on over 58 years of racing heritage, it really should not be any other way. Anyone looking for a comfortable drive should be looking at Cooper S down.

 MINI John Cooper Works

There was much to take in on the morning drive and being an avid photographer, I enjoyed the picturesque landscapes that surrounded us. In terms of driving, I was impressed with how the Clubman performed on Robinson’s pass. It handled the tight and twisty sections of tarmac with ease and provided a very enjoyable driving experience, especially in sport mode, which also provides a lovely audio track of pops from the exhaust system. MINI’s unique All4 system, which transfers power between the front and rear axles instantly to suit the driving situation and provide as much grip as possible, worked well in getting the Clubman out of corners. We experienced the JCW Clubman in a way inline with its purpose, to explore the great outdoors while also providing a spirited driving experience.

John Cooper Works MINI Clubman

With 250 km down and with the rain starting to pour, we headed into the wonderful town of Knysna. Even with the golden and brown textures that glace the hillsides from the recent fires, it is a still a beautiful location to visit and the MINI’s stood out nicely against the backdrop. We pulled into the Turbine hotel for a spot of lunch and judging by the dirt and dust covering the Countryman’s, we were in for a treat in the afternoon.

John Cooper Works MINI Clubman

I touched on MINI’s ALL4 system earlier, but this system really stood out on our second driving route which consisted of long, rough dirt roads bending through the mountains with pretty treacherous drop offs on the side. These were the kinds of roads many probably don’t know exist and while driving and I could not help think of the many who travelled these ways many moons ago with other means of transportation.

MINI John Cooper Works Countryman

The Countryman rides higher than the Clubman and is much more suited to the cross-country, rugged terrain. Considering the fact that these JCW models are more sports emphasized, I was pretty impressed with the comfort levels across this rough terrain which was only made worse by the very wet conditions. If the front wheels lost grip and understeer was starting to occur, the ALL4 system would transfer power to the rear wheels to maintain grip and control. This system was definitely emphasized on the wet, loose conditions as traction is lost much more easily and happens in what could be described a slow-motion, allowing us to experience the system in action.

MINI John Cooper Works Countryman

The climbs and drops on these tight roads were definitely a fun experience, however, I did have to remind myself not to stare at the glorious scenery and snow topped mountain tips for too long but I learned that the Countryman is not as fragile as I thought it was, and can definitely handle itself when the going gets rough.

Tech & Systems

Technology is at the forefront on the MINI brand- the recently updated MINI connected system enables a wider and easier user experience. Vehicle data is transferred to the driver’s mobile device providing information such fuel, range and even live ETA’s to destinations and meetings marked in your calendar. It is very similar the BMW System but with a MINI spin and I enjoy the way the systems and menus are set out and designed. It is not just a menu or a graphic, it is a MINI menu, totally unique. This is consistent throughout the system and design, even through to the driving modes in which Green, Mid & Sport all have their own graphics and displays. It’s very well thought out and plays in line with the brand nicely.

MINI John Cooper Works Countryman

Overall

A very well planned day resulted in great driving experiences from two similar but very different cars. Both variants have ample space for family, luggage and anything else you might want to pack. Which car you pick really depends on your location, are you an intrepid traveller who keeps to the open road but is looking for a distinctive, eye catching vehicle? Or do you like to a live a little on the dirty side and have the freedom and confidence you can go off the beaten track whenever you feel like it? Well, only you know the answer to that, but rest assured which ever JCW you pick, your road ahead will be a fun one.

 

MINI John Cooper Works  Pricing in South Africa 

 

John Cooper Works Clubman ALL4 6-Speed Manual: R558,612

John Cooper Works Clubman ALL4  8-Speed Sports Auto: R584,516

John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4 6-Speed Manual: R610,612

John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4 8-Speed Sports Auto: R636,510

 

New MINI too mature for its own good?

Up until now, nearly every single one of my pieces on here has been a review or repost of some sort mostly cars, occasionally tech. Today, however, I write a desperate plea, a plea which I am 100% sure will go completely unnoticed by the group of people to whom it is directed…anyway!

Cult cars – people love them.The Jeep Wrangler, the Volkswagen Beetle, Fiat 500, Land Rover Defender, Mini Cooper, every single Saab, ever – the list goes on. Some of these vehicles disappeared into the abyss, only to make a retro and snazzy comeback 30 years later, except for the woeful New Beetle, while some just carried on and on and on with a bit of plastic being added to the dashboard here and there. They’re great, all of them, and each ‘cult car’ appeals to a different type of person for various reasons.

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I am a huge fan of Mini’s, and I even have one. It’s black, and his name is Sebastian, and yes he may have been made by the German’s but anyone with half a motoring brain will realise that modern MINI’s are great. Well, sort of… The original resurrection of the MINI name by BMW in the early 2000’s was a shot in the dark for them, but couple German engineering with a cheeky brand identity and you’re sure to find success. Part of this success, however, is down to how great MINI’s are at many things – they’re cute, fun to drive and have loads of appeal.

The original new MINI, the R50/R53 was BMW’s first attempt at this, so they played it safe and borrowed bits from other manufacturers. It was nippy and little and rattled a lot but golly it was a sweet looking thing and reminded us of why we loved the original Mini so. Engines from Chrysler were probably not the best idea but huge success meant that the next model, the R56, would see more BMW and less…not BMW.

Horrendously unreliable, plasticy, expensive to maintain, expensive to buy and, not to mention, VERY unreliable were certainly not the reasons why the R56 was such a success, but nobody cared. And to this day, nobody cares and R56’s are still regarded amongst MINIacs as MINI’s hay day.

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Francisco drives one too, it’s also black, and we both love how boosty and unassuming our cars are. They’re properly quick and just the right size to be thrown around, gripping in the corners just like MINI’s do., with a throaty growl and street-cred to match.

But now we arrive at the bit where I beg and plead. In my opinion, the new MINI Cooper S is too soft. The F56 is fast and reliable and finally has a BMW motor so it won’t break but it’s so big and too refined and to be honest, nowhere nearly as fun as an R56. There’s very little about the F56 that’s actually MINI and it’s a shame. As an everyday car, it’s great but having recently had the new Fiat 500 on test, I found myself lamenting in the fact that the new MINI is just too much. It’s too big, too expensive and too much (I never thought I’d ever say this) of a BMW.

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The time has come for MINI to make the Rocketman Concept – a little runabout with a punchy turbo motor, cheeky looks and MINI handling, not 1 Series handling. The 500 with its grumbly two cylinder motor, diminutive proportions and the reasonable asking price is an incredibly sensible town car. If your name is Fiona and you run a florist. I certainly do not fit that description, though and look ridiculous in a Fiat 500, especially in the sort of blue your gran would describe as ‘soothing’.

So please, MINI, make us a manly and sensible city runabout?

New MINI Convertible and Clubman driven.

New MINI’s added to the range for more fun and practicality

What happens when the roof of the MINI Cooper is cut off and replaced with canvas? Or when the car goes for a butt transplant and comes out with a much bigger rear? We flew down to sunny Cape Town to find out. The two cars in question was the new MINI Cooper convertible as well as the new MINI Clubman.

Already the new MINI is as popular as the car it replaced. The new vehicle definitely has a wider appeal to both men and women, whereas the previous model was generally seen as a “girly” car. We have always loved the MINI, not because of the way it looked but rather the way it felt. It’s always had this sense of “chuckability” that many hatchbacks didn’t. So starting off with the new MINI Convertible, we had to find out if the car still retained the “fizz” with the roof off.

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After an eighteen second wait the roof was down and we could admire the stunning Gordon’s Bay scenery whilst the exhaust pipes of the MINI Convertible S served as a lovely soundtrack. Accelerate for a few seconds and lift off to hear burbles, cracks and pops. Thereafter change up a gear and surprisingly the 6-Speed Steptronic gearbox obliges with ease. 141kW and 250Nm is what propels the Cooper S and despite added weight from reinforcing  the car to handle the lack of a roof, the vehicle still feels as nimble as its hard-headed sibling. Fitted with the JCW body kit, the Cooper S has great visual appeal and a sporty stance, again making it more masculine in appearance.

Enthusiasts always lament the loss of dynamic handling in convertibles versus hard tops, but you would really have to be an F1 racer to notice any real difference in the handling characteristics of the MINI Convertible against the hardtop. Besides, this car is not aimed at the “boy racer”, that’s what the JCW is for. If anything, one could say the drama of having the “wind blowing in your hair” whilst driving through Franschoek pass is more exciting. Colleagues who drove the normal Cooper Convertible also had no ill word to say about the car, in fact they loved the lively nature found in the 100kW 1.5 litre three cylinder engine.

What MINI have done with the convertible is simply give customers a different option. It’s still the same car you would buy three months ago, minus the roof of course. For those looking for a tan or perhaps looking for some attention, why not get yourself the MINI Convertible? We do have lovely weather in South Africa after all.

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Next up was the Clubman. Where the normal cooper sits, the Mini five door sits in the middle and the Clubman sits at the opposite end. This car should be called a Maxi because it feels completely different to the three door variant. Mature is the word to use for the car as it feels like the older brother of the lot. The most noticeable visual change is the rear end, with suicide doors making loading and unloading much easier. For once in a MINI there is an actual boot, one that can actually fit groceries, luggage and even a small dog. Not only is the new Clubman longer than the five door, it’s wider too. The interior is also different with a broader instrument panel creating more space inside the car.

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This time we opted for the standard Clubman, not the S version. Despite a power decrease from the S, the way that little three cylinder engine performs is very good indeed. A Clubman client won’t be disappointed if they opted for the standard version over the S.

All in all, these new additions play very different roles and speak to very different buyers. The cars are equally impressive though with the same connectivity options and technological equipment available in both cars. One nifty option (standard in the S models) is the MINI Driving Modes which give you an option of Green, Mid and Sport mode, which changes the throttle response of the car and the exhaust note (on the S model). If you’re a die-hard Mini fan, they have created a different set of the same car so that you don’t ever have to leave the brand because of circumstance. Before a MINI was just a MINI, now you can have a MINI, a bigger MINI and an even bigger MINI.

Prices:

MINI Clubman: R343 000 (Manual) and R361 000 (Automatic)

MINI Clubman S: R415 000 (Manual)  and R434 500 (Automatic)

MINI Convertible: R368 000 (Manual) and R384 000 (Automatic)

MINI Convertible S: R433 000 (Manual) and R451 000 (Automatic)

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