Dy­na­mite in a not-so-small pack, but what would John Cooper say?

LAUNCH NEWS

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS - Mark Smyth

John Cooper never made a per­for­mance ver­sion of the clas­sic Mini Club­man. Per­haps he sat there one evening, drink­ing a warm ale and pon­der­ing whether he should. Who knows whether he de­cided it was a silly idea and poured an­other ale.

BMW, how­ever, had no reser­va­tions and has re­cently in­tro­duced not just a John Cooper Works (JCW) ver­sion of the Mini es­tate Club­man, but the Coun­try­man too.

Ac­cord­ing to Ed­ward Mak­wana, the PR chap at BMW and Mini SA, the JCW ver­sions are “non­con­formist, for those who want a step up from nor­mal Mini mod­els”.

Fair enough and for those who do not want to stretch to the full JCW ver­sions, the com­pany will in­tro­duce per­for­mance packs late in 2018.

We headed down to the West­ern Cape to ex­pe­ri­ence both JCW ver­sions on tar­mac and gravel moun­tain passes near Ge­orge and Kn­syna.

First up was the Coun­try­man ver­sion, which in full Sport auto guise car­ries a whop­ping price tag of R636,510. For that you get the All4 all-wheel-drive sys­tem, which has the po­ten­tial to push 100% of torque to the rear axle, al­though most of the time it will stick with front-wheel drive.

That torque fig­ure is 350Nm with power of 170kW. There is no deny­ing it is a po­tent lit­tle ma­chine, but we use the word lit­tle loosely here be­cause a Mini th­ese days is any­thing but mini.

I was ex­pect­ing plenty of un­der­steer on the gravel as the turbo pushes all that torque to the wheels and the car scrab­bles for grip. Ex­cept it didn’t. It felt com­posed with the only an­noy­ance be­ing a ten­dency to be un­cer­tain about which gear to be in as the de­mand for power un­der foot failed to match the level of grip the tyres had on the loose sur­face. Slot it into man­ual and use the pad­dles and this was re­duced slightly, but hon­estly it was only a small is­sue.

Most of the time, the Coun­try­man JCW im­pressed with its level of ride com­fort. Let’s face it, the JCW ver­sion is en­gi­neered not so much for gravel roads but for tar­mac, where the all­wheel-drive grip can pro­vide a higher level of con­fi­dence as it tack­les twisty bends. Even then, most peo­ple will rarely ex­plore the lim­its of their JCW model, es­pe­cially a Coun­try­man ver­sion, in­stead choos­ing the model be­cause they want a “step up from nor­mal Mini mod­els”.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the Club­man JCW felt more at home on the Outeni­qua Pass. Ac­tu­ally, it felt very at home on the pass. It stuck to the road well and never fal­tered even when pushed hard. The en­gine re­sponse was bril­liant, al­low­ing it to point and squirt be­tween each cor­ner.

It felt bet­ter bal­anced than the reg­u­lar Mini JCW model and I was happy to risk the wrath of the PR peo­ple and ditch the launch route they had cho­sen and go up and down the pass rev­el­ling in the fun fac­tor that is well en­gi­neered into the model.

If only the Club­man was not such a point­less car. You get more boot space, but those twin doors at the rear have a pil­lar be­tween them that ob­scures your view of what is be­hind you. The car looks over­stretched. It all seems wrong, no mat­ter how much fun it is be­hind the wheel.

The Coun­try­man is less strange. Its price tag is ridicu­lous but if you want a pack­age you can per­son­alise, that of­fers 170kW and can take to SA’s back roads then go for it. I’m not go­ing to judge. John Cooper might, but I sus­pect he gave up turn­ing in his grave long ago.

The Mini Coun­try­man JCW of­fers per­for­mance and a sur­pris­ing amount of gravel road abil­ity. Below: The Club­man JCW makes less sense but is a proper pocket rocket on a moun­tain pass.

The in­te­ri­ors get the lat­est JCW treat­ment and Mini Con­nected is also a stan­dard fea­ture.

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