Mini Convertible and Clubman (2016) First Drive

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The Mini Cooper's Convertible and Clubman offshoots are niche offerings that exude cool and funky attitudes aided by a playful chassis tuned for optimal driver enjoyment. We had a quick blast at the local launch to get a feel for the newcomers.

Topless driving

First we stepped into the Mini Cooper S Convertible with the top down on a windless day in the Cape; had it not been at the height of summer, it would have been perfect drop-top weather. The S badge means that it has the 2.0-litre turbo motor that produces 141 kW and 280 Nm. After about 10 minutes of roof-down scalp-frying, we slowed down to 30 kph and pressed the button to close the roof. It takes just 18 seconds to get the roof up or down (according to Mini).

Improved chassis

The previous-generation Mini Convertible suffered from a lack of body stiffness (because there’s no solid roof to add rigidity) and, as a result, it wobbled and shook a bit when driven enthusiastically, especially on less than perfect roads. The new one has certainly improved in this department and the Cooper S model I drove felt more tightly packaged and less prone to emit creaks and vibrations through the cabin and windscreen. The Convertible is actually bigger than its predecessor in every direction: it is 98 mm longer, 44 mm wider and 1 mm taller. The wheelbase has been lengthened by 28 mm as well and there’s more luggage room in the Mini's boot. You can load 215 litres in the boot when the roof is up and 185 litres when the roof is down.

Engine and gearbox

Mini offers the Convertible with six-speed gearboxes. You can opt for either a six-speed manual or automatic and, in the Cooper S Convertible, a six-speed sports automatic. The standard Cooper is powered by a 100 kW, 220 Nm three cylinder turbopetrol motor, but we didn’t get a chance to sample it. Driving enthusiasts will be pleased to know that the Cooper S has quite a bassy backing track. Back off the throttle and let it coast and the exhaust tips will pop and splutter until the car comes to a standstill. The Convertible still feels nimble and, quite rapid, when you drive it quickly, but the ride quality is rather stiff by compact car standards; the question of whether it will become annoying or tiresome in the long run would require a longer evaluation to answer.  

Interior comparison

The Convertible and the Clubman feature a full range of Mini’s connectivity options, including Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary input and navigation can be ordered as well. There are plenty of options to choose from as well: you can spec up your Mini with a reverse camera, park assist and a head-up display. In terms of personalising the exterior, the Convertible and Clubman are available in 15 and 12 exterior colours respectively. Wheel options are abundant and range from 16-inch to 19-inch. The Cooper S models are also available with a John Cooper Works aero kit to give them more street cred.

Clubman drive

The Mini Clubman is a strange model in the Mini lineup. It has historical significance as the first Clubman model appeared in the 1960s. In its current guise, it’s difficult to categorise, because it’s not quite a hatchback and definitely not a panel van. You must really want a Mini to choose a Clubman as a family car.

 

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Cool factor

The Clubman still manages to be cool, however. There’s something about the rear doors that open like those of a delivery van that’s different and stylish and the car's overall shape is actually quite pleasing to the eye. The rear lights on the panel doors don’t actually function as brake lights but only illuminate when the headlights are switched on. The brake lights are in actual fact those red reflectors on the rear bumper and the high-level light below the roof spoiler.

The Clubman has also grown in size compare with its predecessor. Compared with the Mini 5-door it is 270 mm longer, 90 mm wider and has a 100 mm longer wheelbase. The rear has three individual seats, while the luggage bay can accommodate 360-litres (a little bit smaller than a VW Golf) and when all the seats are folded down offers 1 250 litres of utility capacity. The rear seats spilt and fold in a 40:20:40 configuration for an added bit of extra functionality.

 

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Different gearbox available

The Clubman utilises identical engines and outputs to the rest of the Mini lineup, but because of its bigger platform, it can accommodate an eight-speed transmission. It is available as an option on the Cooper S Clubman and its main advantage is a fuel economy improvement. The claimed fuel consumption for the six-speed manual is 6.4L/100km and eight-speed 5.9L/100km. The 0-100 kph time is also one-tenth faster at 7.1 seconds for the eight-speed auto.

Driving time

The Mini Clubman’s extra size isn’t noticeable out on the road and the handling remains fun when you push on. The tyres reach their adhesion limits long before the chassis feels like it’s at its performance limits. I’m personally still not a fan of the electronic steering setup in the Mini range as the steering can feel a bit vague and disconnected from what the front wheels are doing when the going gets faster. The soundtrack isn’t as good as in the Convertible either, there’s no excited popping and burbling of the exhaust in the Clubman which, could certainly have added to the Cooper S’ fun factor.

Mini Convertible and Clubman Pricing

Convertible

Cooper Convertible 6-speed manual                       R368 000

Cooper Convertible 6-speed auto                            R385 310

Cooper S Convertible 6-speed manual                   R435 360

Cooper S Convertible 6-speed auto                         R452 539

Clubman

Cooper Clubman 6-speed manual                           R343 513

Cooper Clubman 6-speed auto                               R361 513

Cooper S Clubman 6-speed manual                        R417 872

Cooper S Clubman 8-speed auto                            R436 346

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