Driven: Mini Clubman & ConvertibleComment on this story
Johannesburg - Hot on the heels of the international unveiling, Mini’s new range – now condensed from eight to five key models – is poised to play a major part in the global shift to premium compact cars.
By Mini’s estimations, this market will constitute 25 percent of global volume by the year 2020, meaning Mini needs more than nostalgic appeal to have a slice of the action.
Mini chose to do the simultaneous launch of its Convertible and Clubman in South Africa last week. Despite this stark model contrast there remains an undivided family unity between them and that Mini character gives the surrounding air a buzz of electricity.
Rivalling the Citroën DS3 cabrio and Opel Adam Rocks for honours in this trendy but shrinking segment, the new Mini Convertible has added a semblance of practicality and the inflated dimensions don’t go by unnoticed with a confident stance and improvements to rear legroom.
Criticisms about the previous car’s lack of boot space seem a distant memory with a segment-competitive 215-litres made all the more accessible thanks to the flexible split-tailgate and folding rear seats. Like before the folded roof clumps behind the rear headrests – a bittersweet solution because while boot space is only marginally affected, rear visibility and general wear is a drawback.
A compact convertible that seats four in comfort is still not the Mini’s true calling and while the fabric roof keeps the cabin better insulated than before, with it retracted that newfound maturity is briefly sidelined. Not confined to a lifestyle accessory, under the skin the new platform and engines combine to entertain the talented driver whose bones are still malleable enough to cope with a firm ride.
There is a negligible trade-off in performance because of the added weight of chassis reinforcements and the electronic gubbins that operate the roof, but with your senses exposed to so much more, truthfully they’re hard to measure. Mechanically identical to the hatch, each Convertible model still feels energetic on its larger footprint – the standout in the range is once again the 100kW and 220Nm 3-cylinder 1.5-litre turbo with a slight off-pattern thrum and good balance with efficiency. The 2.0-litre turbo with 141kW and 280Nm provides the audio fireworks and 0-100km/h in 7.1 seconds – for the automatic – but this engine doesn’t offer much other than a meaty mid-range punch and a trace of torque steer.
Whereas other models offer higher performance through John Cooper Works, a low demand for it in the Convertible model will see JCW fitment restricted to an aerodynamic kit, a chrome package and discreet interior change.
PRICES: MINI CONVERTIBLE
Cooper manual - R368 000
Cooper auto - R385 310
Cooper S manual - R435 360
Cooper S auto - R452 539
The Mini formula is stretched further in the new six-door Clubman which has undergone its own set of revisions which touch on SUV practicality. More quixotic than its BMW sibling, the Active Tourer, the Clubman has morphed into the largest Mini currently on sale, outgrowing the Mini 5-door in crucial areas.
Conventional rear doors now replace the impractical asymmetrical design of the previous generation but the barn-style doors for the boot remain the car’s striking feature. Although certain visual elements are profoundly different, Clubman successfully incorporates unmistakable cues and the designers have flattered the Clubman’s upsizing to create a hunkered down and sporty look that the bigger Countryman fails to pull off.
On the right occasion this look manifests itself in handling with the Clubman displaying an eagerness to hide its size when diving into corners and owing much of this agility to a low centre of gravity. For the bulk of commuting on less than smooth surfaces, a comprehensively redesigned suspension layout imbues the Clubman with a newfound suppleness that’s not apparent in the rest of the Mini family.
Engines mirror those of the Convertible but enabled by larger packaging, Clubman is the first Mini to receive the economical eight-speed gearbox while the Cooper Convertible offers the six-speed auto along with the manual.
From slightly obscure models in the beginning, Mini’s newest members are knocking on the door of genuine mainstream success. If that’s the case, Mini’s exhaustive customisation will still make it feasible to stand out from the crowd.
PRICES: MINI CLUBMAN
Cooper manual - R343 513
Cooper auto - R361 513
Cooper S manual - R417 872
Cooper S auto - R436 346