We've put the updated Mini Clubman through its paces on the spectacular roads of Mpumalanga. Also in the mix was the John Cooper Works derivative, which delivers eye-widening performance... along with boatloads of attitude.
The Mini Clubman elevates the definition of "niche model" to an entirely new level and, whereas the concept of a van/estate Mini may not be to everyone's taste, the cabinet-doored Clubman is unlike anything else on our roads. As it stands, the Mini portfolio comprises a diverse selection of models... There really is a Mini for everyone: traditionalists can opt for the 3- or 5-door hatchback, or the cheeky, stylish convertible, or, if practicality is high on their list of requirements, the Countryman. But what if you want to broadcast your individualism? Well, for that, there's the Clubman!
What has changed?
These Union Jack tail lights may be an extra-cost option, but they're really funky.
The Clubman's life-cycle updates are subtle; they include a new-look front end with a redesigned radiator grille, LED headlights, plus LED fog- and tail lamps (the latter of which can be ordered with a Union Jack motif). There are new colours available (such as the Indian Summer red shown here), plus new alloys, a sports suspension (which lowers the car by 10 millimetres) and, on the inside, updated finishes and leather trim.
At launch, there are 3 derivatives available: a Cooper, Cooper S and, for those who crave compelling performance, a John Cooper Works version, but more on the range-topper later. All versions are equipped with automatic transmissions and feature turbocharged petrol engines. The Cooper has a 1.5-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine with 100 kW and 220 Nm. This may be an entry-level motor, but its performance is more than adequate (Mini claims a 0-100 kph sprint time of 9.2 seconds for the Cooper). By virtue of being a 3 cylinder mill, it happens to emit a pleasingly rorty exhaust note.
The Cooper S, meanwhile, features a 2.0-litre 4-pot engine and it's decidedly faster, courtesy of its 141 kW and 280 Nm outputs (it'll hit 100 kph from standstill in about 7.2 seconds, which is brisk). At the top of the pile is the Clubman JCW with a 2.0-litre turbocharged motor churning out 225 kW and 450 Nm. The first 2 derivatives are front-wheel driven, but the JCW features all-wheel drive and will reportedly scoot to 100 kph in 4.9 seconds.
The key differentiator of the Mini Clubman is its outlandish 6-door bodyshell – this is no run-of-the-mill compact hatchback. You gain access to the load bay via 2 split doors, which makes loading/unloading items simple. There's a modicum of practicality: the claimed luggage capacity is 360 litres, which can be expanded to 1 250 litres, but despite its van-like packaging, the driving position is still "quintessentially Mini", so you sit quite low.
The Clubman's cabin is funky, modern and well assembled.
What is it like to drive?
Having recently driven the 3-door and 5-door Mini hatches, we were pleasantly surprised by the Clubman Cooper S' ride quality. Its suspension feels comparatively softer (in other words, more pliant and comfortable over indifferent road surfaces), but without losing that addictive driving feel that Mini fanatics know and love. What's more, driver involvement is the order of the day: the Mini begs to be hustled along. In an era where near autonomy is being touted as the motoring future, it's refreshing to get behind the wheel of a car that encourages playfulness and performs eagerly.
The Clubman is a touch softer compared to the Hatch, but it doesn't lose any of the enthusiastic driving traits.
Our driving route included spectacular driving roads in and around the Sabie/Graskop/Lydenburg area. On this melange of fast, sweeping bends, the Cooper S felt right at home; its 2.0-litre turbopetrol engine fizzed away merrily – what an eager-to-please motor it is – and it delivered plenty of in-gear shove to get past the slow-moving logging trucks, which are so plentiful in the area. The brakes are more than up to the task of performing sudden deceleration manoeuvres, especially when you come through a corner only to find yet another logging truck climbing a hill at walking pace.
The middle-of-the-range Clubman's steering is direct, with decent feel and it doesn't feel like you're going to slide unless you're really careless. We do note, however, that the ride can be a touch firm if your vehicle is equipped with the larger optional alloy wheels, so be mindful when configuring your vehicle. Road noise will also rear its head if you go for the larger wheels, but this really depends on your pace... and the quality of the tarmac.
The Clubman JCW
The view most people will see of the Clubman JCW. It's a proper little tarmac weapon.
We were duly impressed by the performance of the Cooper S, but if you want some real zest (and thrusting performance) with a macho image, then it's best you look to the JCW. Packing a thumping 225 kW/450 Nm 2.0-litre turbo motor shared with the new BMW M135i xDrive, this is the most hardcore iteration of the Clubman. Mini claims a sub-5-second 0-100 kph time, which we tried out a few times with the factory-fitted launch control.
Come to a stop, engage the Sport driving mode and traction control setting, depress the brake and accelerator pedals and, once the revs build, let go of the former. The Clubman JCW will scoot off the line as its 8-speed transmission rifles through the ratios... It feels particularly eager in 1st and 2nd gear, and would surely prove a good rival to something like a Volkswagen Golf R. The best part of the JCW Clubman is the all-wheel-drive system, which provides incredible levels of grip. The mere fact it's there encourages you to press on without fear that the car will become unruly.
The cabin of the Clubman JCW; the sporty seats look and feel the part.
We spent the majority of our time on the launch with the Clubman Cooper S; it's arguably the pick of the litter. While we would have liked to spend more time with the JCW, we anticipate it would be devastatingly quick in the hands of a capable driver on a mountain pass (we're keen to give it a full review soon). The Clubman comes with all the convenience features you'd expect at over R500 000 and you can go to town with additional packages and personalisation options. It's a fun and quirky vehicle, but it still does the fundamentals right, and we like those at Cars.co.za...
Should you buy one? Well, Mini is a niche brand at it is and the Clubman is even more niche (if that was even possible). It's not going to be everyone's favourite Mini, but if you want to live that "Mini lifestyle" to the fullest and don't need to go the Countryman route, then give "the 6-door" a second look. We think you'd be pleasantly surprised by its versatility and practicality; besides, it has lost nothing of its endearing, playful nature.
The Clubman is a fun and funky addition to the Mini family, with a surprisingly useful load area.
Mini Clubman Price in South Africa (November 2019)
Clubman Cooper R433 000
Clubman Cooper S R511 000
John Cooper Works Clubman R642 000