Category: Mini

We Drive the hot R56 MINI JCW GP

My afternoon with the R56 MINI JCW GP

The Police officer asked, “Sir, Do you know how fast you were going?” to which I stupidly replied “I don’t know, but a lot faster than you” – Interesting story that, but first; the R56 MINI JCW.

This was the stiletto sized hot hatch boxer with the charisma and heart of a size 12 Timberland boot. It punched so far above its weight it was silly and, well, I loved the thing. I drove it like a wasp in the summer, ready to sting far bigger and far more “manly” hatches. I also loved the silly little 1.6-litre engine and all its 155 kW and 260 N.m, the with additional 20 N.m on over-boost. It was incredibly good fun and the most fun was the warm fuzzy feeling you get after toughly annoying GTI’s and their everyman point and go DSG gearboxes. It’s a car I loved so much that I tried to buy one myself, until I found out how much they cost then I didn’t like it at all, in fact, I quite hated it – because I couldn’t have one nothing else. In my, mind MINI exists only to make me angry and as they were doing a good job of this, the only way they could improve on my frustration was to make an even more hardcore Jean Claude van Damme version, dubbed the GP2.

The GP was the JCW on anabolic steroids, an extra 5kws pushing power to 160 kW from the same 1.6 PSA motor, as well as fully adjustable coilover suspension, a rear chassis strengthening bar where the rear seats were and extra sticky slivers of rubber on a set of 17-inch light-weight bespoke wheels. All this and a set of plush yet supportive Recaros and fat brakes. This was the ultimate and the hottest version of the car I properly love for all its mannerisms and now it was even better because all of the rubbish that got in the way of the pure unadulterated driving experience was left on a shelf at MINI. I wanted one, hell I wanted simply to drive one but with only 2000 built and the hand full brought to our shores, it meant this was only a dream, until now!

Driving Impressions

Picking up the MINI from the dealer, I knew the only thing I wanted to do was spend the day beating it up and hopefully under the conditions of the exchange of my first born child, they would let me take it home forever.  Much elation came over me as I was handed the keys and eager to get going  I pushed the Stop/Start button and the GP unassumingly came life. This was an impeccable example having covered just 28 000 km’s since it left the showroom in 2013. Leaving to the car to warm up I mulled the numbers in my head, 0-100 in 6.3 seconds and a top speed of 242km/h, this was no baby hatch and the pursuit for suitable robot jousting candidates and winding roads began.

 

Initially, the picking were sparse, nobody wanted to play and although splashing Ubers in their Corollas was fun it was a waste of time. Having given up the search for a play mate I approached the three robots leaving the busy parts of town and heading towards the twisties. A quick look at the temperature gauge that read 31 scorching degrees I began to think about what I fancied for lunch, this was until a white facelift focus ST lined up to my left and the thought of food disappeared instantly – does he want some I thought? And the aggressive rev he let of said he indeed did.  Before I knew it the light went green and we both launched the cars hard, scrabbling for grip the revs climbed as I grabbed second, he edged ahead but not by much, a bumper at most, and all I could think was “Mooooonica” as the ST’s lead stayed constant until the next light. Again we lined up, this time I was far more determined and serious his 184kw was a big mountain to climb but I was keen and stupid enough to try. I turned the aircon and the radio off, held the ASC button down for the least electronic interference possible and held the rev’s at 2 and a half grand, ready. The light again went green and this time I got the perfect launch, and as he grabbed second I got my nose ahead and after a full attack of second and third we both slammed on the breaks with the ABS fighting and tugging away at the wheel violently but we got the cars to stop and lined up the third and final time.  This time no eye contact was made, it was just all seriousness and all go, Green and again a fantastic launch but sadly as I went for second all I got was rev’s and no go – Mishift! Damn. Indicating away to my winding road a friendly ‘tot’ helped me express my gratitude and away I went.  The smile was back, I knew the corners would be a great way to finish off my fun with the ST. a quick pit stop allowed me to ready myself and the car. Maximum attack mode was on again, I hit the road hard and approached each corner so quickly, I shrill would shot up my neck but each time it carried me through, perfect grip, perfect steering weight and perfect amount of brakes, it was amazing so amazing that a sweat began to break and all that could be heard in the cabin was my deep, focused breathing and the burbles and pops from the hot exhaust chasing the 6500Rpm redline on the over run.

My run was incredible and at the end of the road, I stopped for a coffee to ponder my thoughts. My initial review was as follows “ It’s amazing if you don’t have a wife or kids buy one now” the end, not all too impressive but I didn’t really wanna spend my time with the GP drinking coffee, I wanted to drive so a last stab at the road was in order.

R56 MINI JCW GP

Again I took on the twisties and again I loved every aspect of the car, quickly I got in the zone and was moving now, only slowing down to overtake rows traffic. One of these overtakes was again a white facelift ST, who I guess this time thought this was the tie-breaker and wanted his revenge. I knew this is where I would destroy him. Having driven the ST I knew I had more grip and could get onto the power far earlier.  He tried his best to stick with me but the clear white car in the reflection quickly became a blur and eventually a spec. Traffic building and the end of the run looming I slowed to a crawl to let him catch up – only to gloat and let him know he had been chopped, but like any sore loser he could only offend to get back at me, which he did, very well.

As the ST approached I notice a blue flashing coming from the dashboard, “well this is bad”, I thought, and I pulled over to the side awaiting my impending doom, The same ST that I had jousted with and later chopped was an undercover Flying Squad Police unit. The burly man approaching my window, my leg began to shake on the clutch and as I buzzed down the window a deep voice asked “Sir, Do you know how fast you were going?” to which I stupidly responded, “ I don’t know, but a lot faster than you”. Not my brightest moment but then again I’m not a bright man, now noticing all the police antenna and the lights behind the grill and windscreen.  The officer laughed and “don’t worry if I had one of these I’d drive like that too, enjoy your day” as he returned to his ST and I drove off.

R56 MINI JCW GP

MINI John cooper Works GP Pricing in South Africa

The limited numbers have meant the GP has kept its value rather well, which the few examples on the market now being very low mileage and super clean. Prices start in the Late R300 000’s and climb to the early R400’s. Honestly if I could I would buy one now, as these are hidden gems are will very likely become rather expensive as collectors given to snap them up and hide them away. I can’t yet so I hate it the GP most – Absolute legend of a car this!

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

 

The First Hybrid MINI: MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4

Hybrid MINI: MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4

The Hybrid MINI is here: MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4

Greener transport, less congestion and autonomous vehicles seem to be high on the priority list of many countries and manufacturers  in 2017. While there are arguments for all three, the former seems to be the one that you can’t  really argue with. Emissions &  increased Diesel tax is the talk of the town in many big cities and this should and is worrying many car manufacturers, such as BMW. A staggeringly high percentage of BMW cars sold in Europe are Diesel and while we love them because they provide good fuel economy, the environment doesn’t seem to have as much love.

One way this can be helped is with Hybrid vehicles, such as the new MINI cooper S E Countryman ALL4 – the first Hybrid MINI. Powering this hybrid car is a 3-cylinder turbo petrol engine and an electric motor which provides a combined power output of 165 kW. With 100 kW coming from the combustion engine and 65 kW from the electric setup which also provides 165 Nm from a standstill!  The combustion and electric system work together, with the combustion power being delivered to the front wheels and electric to the rear. This creates an ALL4 or 4 wheel drive system.

From a standing start the new MINI hybrid relies solely on electric power up to around 80km/h. After this speed the combustion engine is slowly introduced, the driver can however opt to stay on electric power with the eDRIVE switch up to a speed of 124 km/h – pretty impressive. The new MINI Countryman Hybrid has a range of 40 km which is not too bad at all.  A car which relies solely on electricity when stuck in traffic or driving around town or commuting to work sounds pretty good to us. What sounds even better is the average fuel consumption, a mere 2.3 litres per 100km.

The big lithium-ion battery is located under the rear seats to save space and will require around 2 hours 15 minutes or 3 hours 15 minutes to charge, depending on the method used.

Cars that fully rely on electric for power are probably the future but for now, range is holding them back. Hybrids are a great option  in the meantime and more manufacturers should be looking at this option. There is really no need for combustion engines around the city and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of these types of vehicles coming to market.

Is it coming to South Africa? We don’t know yet, but with the BMW i3 and i8 already here, we may have a chance.

The Bigger MINI Countryman is back in South Africa and it’s better

The New MINI Countryman is back – We attended the South African launch. 

The Countryman was the car that made MINI lovers question the brands direction. How can a MINI be a four door hatchback that wasn’t “mini” by any means? That question troubled die-hard fans that only associate the car with Mr. Bean and the overused “go-kart feel” line the brand used for many years. The reality however is that the MINI audience has changed. The people who fell in love with the reincarnated post millennium MINI, probably have different needs than they did when the brand re-launched approximately  15 years ago.

Those same MINI lovers now probably have children and need more space and comfort. Before the Countryman, those people had to move on to other brands. This wasn’t the case when the first generation MINI Countryman launched and now we’re on the second generation, which keeps the same recipe but bettered of course. For starters the exterior design has been individualised, making it distinct compared to other MINI models. This is great because all the MINI models looked the same, so some variety in design is welcome. What is most notable is the front headlights, which feature standard LED lights, giving the Countryman a modern presence. The rear sees the number plate section moved to the middle of the boot (Or trunk if you’re American) and the taillights have been revised too. The overall look of the car is fuller, longer and wider, giving the Countryman a crossover stance, which is what the cool kids want nowadays.

The chicness doesn’t stop on the outside, the inside is much roomier and dolled up too. The cramped feeling you get in a MINI is completely gone, but the signature MINI feel remains. A circular infotainment hub gives you various bits of information such as driving data and media. The choice of different screen sizes is available, with the option of navigation giving you the largest screen option and the nicest too. The rear legroom has been improved greatly and the rear seats are able to move backwards and forwards by 13cm.Nice.

Powering the MINI Countryman Cooper is the 1.5 litre turbocharged 3 cylinder engine used in the BMW 318i and other modern  MINI Coopers. This small yet powerful engine produces 100kW/220Nm. The big boy S variant uses a 2.0 litre turbocharged engine which is good for 141kW/280Nm. Both cars are available with manual gearboxes and the preferred ZF automatic gearbox. If auto is what you’ll opt for, be advised that the Cooper use a 6-Speed whereas the Cooper S uses an 8-speed Sport Automatic with paddle-shift. Both variants are very smooth compared to their smaller siblings and they also offer more refinement, something needed in this segment. We’re happy to state that sharp dynamic handling is apparent in the new Countryman, but in a more grown up way.

The vehicle still has that childish get up and go manner about it, but much more civilised. The added power of the S model is a nice to have, but the standard cooper won’t leave you sorely wanting, especially during the everyday commute. The most revolutionary model is yet to come however, this being the Cooper D, a first for the South African market. Better fuel economy and more torque will probably make this upcoming variant the Countryman of choice for many.

Overall the new Countryman is a great step ahead for the brand. The outgoing car had started to feel slightly long in the tooth, so this newer model came in the nick of time. With competition like the Audi Q2, the Countryman has got what it takes to square off with the rivals whilst maintaining a unique flair. MINI lovers needing more space can happily stay in the brand with the new Countryman. With more models on the way, we look forward to seeing how it sells in the SA market. Starting at R422 000, this price point is in not unattainable for those looking at the crossover market.