Mini has launched its new 'family van' and drop-top in South Africa. We drive the new Clubman and Convertible in Cape Town.
Cape Town - When you’re given the keys to experience a motoring icon on some of Cape Town’s most scenic roads, passing up an opportunity like that is not an option. In this case it was the new Mini Clubman and Convertible in Cooper and Cooper S guise.
It was a typical Cape Town summer's day and I planned on ending it off on a high, this meant hopping into the Clubman first.
Design on the Clubman
In terms of design, both cars are stylish and appealing in their own ways. The Clubman has a long swooping roof line which ends in split-rear doors coupled with subtle hints of racing aero technology with side air vents behind the front wheels.
...And on the Convertible
While the Convertible Cooper S, with its shorter wheel base, tends to look like a baby's pram with its top down. This image is quickly forgotten as soon as you jump into the driver’s seat and see paddles behind the steering wheel. It immediately put a smile on my face. That and the fact that it has an actual hand-brake compared to the electronic “finger” brake in the Clubman.
The current generation of Minis are a departure from their compact predecessors. Even though we’ve seen the same trend with many other vehicles from Golf’s to 3 Series BMW’s, Mini’s issue is not its vehicle size but rather its name.It’s like having an amusing surname which you'll have to live with for the rest of your life. Truth be told, Mini is actually sticking to its heritage as the original Clubman Estate (1969 – 1982) grew more than 10cm due to customer demand.
Why a Clubman or Convertible Mini?
The premium compact market is growing rapidly and Mini hopes to grab it's slice of participating. By targeting the right market, Mini hopes to maximise the end user’s experience and reach new customers at the same time.
The Clubman is definitely aimed at the more family orientated person with sense and sensibility in mind. It’s a way to keep you driving a Mini with all your kids in the back and up to 1250 liters of luggage space if need be.
The Convertible however is aimed at a younger market - the type with lots of time on his/her hands to have fun with the top down while enjoying SA's roads.
Premium, classy, comfortable... inside, it’s very impressive.
It’s unmistakably Mini inside but it’s easy to identify the BMW influence filtering through. From the iDrive system to the additional state of the art technology which has been incorporated into the vehicles. Rain sensors, automatic lights, heated seats, 2 zone automatic aircon, panoramic glass roof, USB interface and Bluetooth hands-free phone facility, these Mini's have certainly grown up.
An interesting feature is the MINI connected system. Usable with most smart phones it allows you to stay connected with the world from tuning into your favourite overseas radio station to informing you about up to date traffic information from its real time traffic radar and weather. There are also various social media and infotainment apps available for integration into the vehicle. The navigation system is also intelligent enough to learn your route to help you perform more dynamically.
Ergonomics are not spot on, steering controls tend to get in the way during spirited driving on mountain passes, but it’s something you can learn to live with. I ended up pressing controls by accident during a long swooping curve.
There’s also a few blind spots in the Clubman the biggest being the centre pillar along the rear split doors. Fortunately, the Clubman has a reversing camera to assist when maneuvering into tight parking spots.
Engines and gearbox
Mini has kept things simple for its new range with only two engine options available; a three-cylinder 1.5 liter, powering the Cooper versions, capable of 100kW/220Nm and a four-cylinder 2 liter Twin Power turbo fitted to the Cooper S delivering 141kW/280Nm. Both units are standard with a six-speed manual though can be mated to either 6-speed steptronic and, for the first time in a Mini, an 8-speed automatic (eight gears, remember what I said about the BMW influence...)
Driving the Clubman Cooper made me feel like I was headed for my desk job at work or set to pick-up the kids from school, you know, "grown-up stuff". I never once felt the need to take it out of eco (Green) mode or drive the car too fast. It’s so refined and quiet inside, the loudest noise in the cabin will be the radio.
It effortlessly soaked up any bumps along the road and proved stable and sure-footed in corners. When I did decided to put my foot down, for scientific reasons of course, the first thought that came to mind was “Oh shame my little Mini you can do it!” The Cooper will transport you from point A to B with ease and comfort but don’t ask any more from it. Overall, it actually was impressive considering that it’s only a 3 cylinder.
Jumping into the Convertible Cooper S will completely change your persona. From being grown-up and responsible behind the wheel of the Clubman Cooper I became a boy-racer again, eager to rev the engine and play with the paddle-shifts in the sun all day long. With its top down and activating sport mode all 141kW’s beg to be released. Turbo lag is negligible and the drop-top darts from point A to B in absolute fun , what more could you ask for?
It handles well enough along sweeping bends but suffers a bit of understeer. I feel the tyres were letting me down more than anything else. Bumps in the road accentuates the lack of chassis support but it was never meant to be a weekend racer so don’t expect it to perform like one.
Conclusion & pricing
Mini has definitely put a smile on my face. Despite its practical nature, driving the Clubman was not boring at all; it took me where I needed to go in absolute style and comfort. As an everyday vehicle it would suit my needs for practicality and versatility with the added bonus of being trendy and stylish. Pricing starts from R343 513.
The Convertible injected me with a shot of playfulness and life. I felt great driving it. It satisfied my driving needs and made me feel like a trendy youngster off to the next happening beach party. Convertible prices start at R368 000 for the six-speed manual.
Mini Cooper Clubman – 6–speed manual – R343 000
Mini Cooper Clubman – 6–speed automatic with Steptronic (205) – R361 000
Mini Cooper S Clubman – 6–speed manual – R415 000
Mini Cooper S Clubman – 8–speed automatic – R434 500
Mini Cooper Convertible - 6-speed manual – R368 000
Mini Cooper Convertible - 6-speed automatic with Steptronic (205) – R384 900
Mini Cooper S Convertible - 6-speed manual – R433 000
Mini Cooper S Convertible - 6-speed automatic – R451 000