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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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