Mini. It’s German-owned but the heritage and design sensibility is inarguably British. A history of cleverly packaged cars with notable performance, despite their diminutive size.
Contemporary Mini might trace similar styling details to the original Alec Issigonis cars, but they’re no longer that small, or cleverly packaged. Fiddly ergonomics and slightly claustrophobic interiors aside, Minis are amazingly engaging compact performance cars.
In South Africa, the brand’s perception is still afflicted by a notion of Mini being an effeminate, hipster city car. More style icon automotive accessory than actual driving tool. But that’s exactly what it is: a superlative driver’s tool, especially in John Cooper Works configuration.
The new JCW Mini Club- and Countryman five-doors are now available locally and below the daring design elements, lurk a range of very accomplished cars. If you desire pseudo-SUV gravel road capability, you can go for the Countryman – though its additional 24mm of ground clearance is lightly undone by the low-profile 18-inch tyres.
Both Country- and Clubman share similar drivetrains, with a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmissions shifting outputs of 170kW and 350Nm to all four wheels from the 2-litre turbomotor. If you are a Mini acolyte, you’ll notice that these JCWs don’t have fog lights, a concession to the presence of additional radiator capacity to manage the thermal heat gradient of the 2-litre engine’s larger turbocharger.
Although the JCWs are theoretically AWD, they default to FWD, with torque to the rear axle as accelerometers and sensors register wheel slip at the front axle. Performance numbers are keen (0-100kph in 6.3 seconds for the Clubman), deceleration absolutely mega thanks to four-pot Brembo brakes and then there’s the issue of Mini’s fabled agility.
JCW cars have a giant-killing motorsport history. They shocked the world with their rallying performance in the 1960s and have always been respected for very agility-biased wheelbase to track ratios. The new JCWs are no different, combining a terrific driving position with stupendous power delivery, excellent traction and very low centre of gravity (in Clubman form) to deliver one of the most engaging drives to be had under R600k.
Note that we used R600k as the benchmark, effectively splitting the JCW range. Lower, with more harmonised proportions, the Clubman is a much truer driver’s car and style icon than the gravel travel able Countryman. If, like us, you believe that the station wagon performance car agenda is one which requires promoting – or reviving – in South Africa, the JCW Clubman is a great poster child to that end.
Clubman John Cooper Works R558 612
Clubman John Cooper Works sports auto R584 516
Countryman John Cooper Works manual R610 726
Countryman John Cooper Works sports auto R636 792