Experts say the world’s best actors can be found at the Oscars. They are, of course, wrong. The best actors are soccer players. When an opponent as much as glares at one of the Beautiful Game’s glass dolls, he falls down and renders a brilliant version of the death scene from Romeo and Juliet.
Also, American wrestlers. They kick one another in the face, dive on opponents from huge heights, shoulder charge adversaries at frightening velocities and break furniture over one another’s heads. All, amazingly, without shedding a drop of blood – blood does not look good on television. Finally, useless scumbag politicians in our parliament address one another as “The Honourable” while keeping a straight face.
The new Mini, now 20 years old, is another brilliant actor. Versatility is its greatest asset, having played the roles of three-door hatch, five-door hatch, Clubman, five-door estate, two-door coupe, roadster, convertible and various sub-species of the John Cooper Works derivative.
We recently enjoyed the company of a Mini Cooper S Clubman for a week and it carried the role off with impressive style. As always, when we drive a new Mini, it is imperative to understand that Mini is a misnomer – there is absolutely nothing mini about this vehicle. It is the same size as a Volkswagen Golf in every way.
Mechanically, the Cooper S Clubman escapes the motor industry’s current obsession with “less is more” when it comes to engine size. This Mini comes with a proper two-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that delivers a healthy 141 kW of power at 5 000 rpm and 280 Nm of torque at between 1 250 rpm and 4 600 rpm.
This goes to the front wheels via a seven-speed automatic dual-clutch gearbox. It has disc brakes all round, with electronic anti-lock braking system, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, with the whole package sitting on 17-inch alloy wheels in 225/45 R17 rubber.
In its Clubman guise, the Mini officially boasts six doors, with its square back and two little rear swing apertures giving it the title of being an estate. That has little to do with practicality. Despite being hampered by one of those hideous space-saver spare wheels, the rear luggage space is no larger or more usable than that of any hatchback.
In fact, we would venture the Clubman’s layout to be mainly a styling exercise. It works, too. The test vehicle looked right, attracting reactions like “cool”, “cute” and “wicked” from people half my age and younger – the Mini’s target market audience. They were also impressed with the interior, that will accommodate four adults in comfort.
The front seats are low-slung, bucket-shaped and comfortable, while the rear offers a surprising amount of leg and headroom. The interior boasts absolutely everything that can play music, click, bang, communicate, navigate or charge.
There is also a full complement of active and passive safety features, to prevent you from crashing and to keep you safe should you still manage to hit things. One would expect that from a car that retails at over R500 000, but what came as a delightful surprise was the test vehicle’s overall “feel”.
Difficult to quantify, this relates to the car making one feel like a good driver, via predictable handling, going exactly where pointed, immediately and a turning circle of just 11.3 m. That came with a surprisingly supple ride, a steering that was perfectly weighted and the knowledge that crazy cornering speeds would eventually produce entirely predictable and controllable understeer.
Performance was brisk – Mini claim a 0-100 km/h time of 7.2 sec and a top whack of just under 230 km/h – and we have few reasons to doubt them. Most impressive was the mid-range pull, resulting from the 280 Nm of torque coming into play at around 1 200 rpm and staying all the way to just over 4 500 rpm.
In fact, we loved driving the car in that rev range, with higher engine revolutions not really aiding performance at legal speeds. The transmission was a jewel, with gear changes virtually undetectable and the brakes confidence-inspiring.
The Mini Cooper S Clubman will set you back R513 277 – a price you can further inflate via the ticking of boxes of a long options list. So, it is by no means cheap, though the price includes a five-year/100 000 km maintenance plan, plus an unlimited distance/ two-year warranty.
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