Mini South Africa revealed the facelift Countryman and Clubman earlier this week in Mpumalanga, including the John Cooper Works models. At the launch event, I got to drive two models; the Clubman Cooper S and the Clubman JCW. The differentiation is that the Countryman is an SUV-style and the Clubman is a station wagon; both fall under the compact premium segment and they are Mini All4 all-wheel drives. My driving partner and I opted to drive the Clubman in different derivatives to see how they compare, so this time around, I didn’t get to drive the Countryman.

All the power

Mini says the new Clubman JCW is one of the most powerful models approved for public road use in the brand’s sixty year history. Well if that doesn’t excite you, then what will? Both Clubman and Countryman JCW models have a 4-cylinder turbo engine and an output of 225kW with 450Nm of torque, combined with an 8-speed Steptronic transmission. This is an increase in 55kW and 100Nm from the outgoing models. For comparison, my Cooper S is 141kW (280Nm); I felt all the extra power (and loved it).

The Clubman JCW goes from 0-100kph in 4.9 seconds, and the Countryman JCW does it in 5.1 seconds, an increase by 1.4 and 1.5 seconds on outgoing models, respectively. I also put the JCW launch control to the test and felt the acceleration offered by the all-wheel drive system. It was my first launch control, thank you Dave Taylor. (PS check out my Instagram feed for it). Did I mention how the car sounds? It’s loud(er) and incredible, you just want to listen to it, you don’t need music playing in the car! Every journo revved it when we got into the cars at the Kruger Mpumalanga Airport, because how can you not?

Let’s talk design

The 6-door Clubman has a distinct look about it, and while it is undeniably Mini, the models overall are just getting bigger. It is longer than a 5-door hatchback I drive a 3-door and it’s my favourite look of all (although I prefer the shape of the previous-gen on my F56 model), but I get that Mini wants to appeal to those who sell their hatchbacks when the family expands. A good photographer friend has been after a Clubman for years because of the rear-split doors and the ability and ease to load her heavy gear. I am a fan of the way the boot opens like a regular door instead of upwards, and it’s electric. I love the grey colour with red accents and roof, instead of a darker shade.

Let’s look inside

The insides are familiar if you own a Mini, so it was easy to change settings and the like. The seats were comfortableBoth Countryman and Clubman JCW models have the following standard features: keyless entry; LED headlamps; Driving Modes; Radio Mini Visual Boost; and a bunch of Mini Connected online services. It also comes standard with a 6.5-inch touchscreen display and a redesigned graphical user-interface. Compared to my older model, the coloured screen was a nice upgrade, as well as being touch. Felt so modern.

Extras are Connected Navigation, which we used on our route. The one thing I wished got an update, which seems so minor, is the colour of the line on the map that shows you the direction you’re taking. It’s white and doesn’t stand out while you’re driving when you glance over. I wish it was more prominent like a solid red line. You could opt for Connected Navigation Plus, which brings an 8.8-inch display to the cabin, and then others like real-time traffic info, personal concierge, and Apple CarPlay. My gripe is when CarPlay is an option that has to be paid for, when smaller cars from Kia and Ford offer it for free.

What else is new?

Given that this is a JCW model and there are certain expectations… here’s what else is new, according to Mini. This section is their words, not mine.

A newly developed cooling system for temperature management, with optimum running temps guaranteed at all times – even under extreme conditions on the race track.

The all-wheel drive was redeveloped for the two models, and has power take-off on the front. Mini says the intelligent controller of the All4 system is interconnected with the DSC Dynamic Stability Control and constantly calculates the ideal power distribution ratio between the front and rear wheels.

The long wheelbase, large track width and low centre of gravity that both models display are ideal for a chassis design and tuning aimed at consistent sports performance. 

Overall impressions

I absolutely loved driving both variants, but enjoyed the JCW more, of course. I started off with the Cooper S and it felt like driving my car. I enjoy zipping through traffic, overtaking and quickly speeding off, which is why I love my car so much. The JCW gave me that same feeling with loads more power. It was incredibly fun to drive on the S-curved roads of Mpumalanga. In true Mini style, handling is a breeze, and the grip is not something you have to ever worry about.

Both models are on the large side for me, but this is a personal choice depending on your needs. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable day on the roads in my favourite province. Unless you’re super into the JCW brand – or Mini – depending what you’re after, it’s very niche and expensive.

The Clubman JCW starts at R642 000; and the Countryman JCW is R708 000. Comparatively, the Clubman Cooper is priced at R433 000, and the Clubman Cooper S is R511 000.