The raft of changes first introduced in the MINI Cooper three and five door scamps back in 2017 has finally reached both the flagship Countryman SUV and its quirky Clubman estate cousins which come in regular Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works (JCW) specification.
But not all of these MINIs get every new thing. The Countryman, for instance, loses out on the option of Union Jack style rear tail light clusters, but the pair of new cars debut new touches to their exteriors, such as a redesigned radiator grille, new colours added to the list and piano-black trim around new LED with Matrix function headlights that make it look as if mascara has been applied.
New-style alloys and LED fog lamps add to new ways of sprucing up their looks while JCW versions get the honour of ushering in a new performance engine to the range.
My test drive was in the Clubman in Cooper and high-performance JCW flavours. The drive feel in both here is low enough but the confines of the cabin are longer than in the hatch.
However most of the interior enhancements remain in a cabin that now looks and feels softer and subtler with new leather trims and a change in surfaces.
It comes fitted standard with a 16.5cm touch-operated colour screen with new graphics, a MINI Controller on the centre console and MINI Connected services. A 22cm colour screen and wireless charging for mobile phones can be optioned among a slew of digital charms.
Two passengers can sit comfortably in the rear and there’s 360l of loading space with the seats up and 1,250l when flattened, and boot access is through a pair of side-swinging barn style doors.
The Clubman appeals as a compact family car and it’s clearly now developed to fit a likely more mature audience yet still beholden to the brand’s spirit of fun individuality.
In JCW form the rectangular profile gets familiar hot hatch accoutrements like 19-inch alloys, a louder exhaust system and many body stripes. Crucially, there’s a new BMW-sourced 2.0l turbocharged engine.
Outputs are 225kW and 450Nm, which are 55kW and 100Nm more than the outgoing model but unlike Cooper S versions that are equipped with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission this stronger heart is mated to a regular, single-clutch eight-speed auto.
It suits the grown-up flagship better with wonderfully tractability in routine urban conditions as you capitalize on its (reasonably) compact dimensions to zip in and out of tight spots.
And though sporting in nature with beefed up mechanicals, it rides with reasonable comfort.
Nelspruit, Mpumalanga is a place where some of SA’s greatest driving roads can be found alongside acres of pine forests and this is where I drove the 4,266mm long Clubman JCW, which has been given monstrous grip levels through all-wheel drive, a front limited-slip differential, and a 10mm drop in suspension compared to regular models.
Pointing the mascara-clad nose of my Clubman fitted with the optional adaptive suspension set to Sport, down a road with an endless sequence of bends of different veracity, the Clubman shirks off its maturity and replaces it with the kart-like handling its maker sells.
The electric stability system enhances, rather than inhibits, successful bend eating through the braking of an inside wheel on the sharpest of curves, gently and progressively swivelling the rear end. Meanwhile the traction nanny has its arms stretched out, ready to save the day should you overdo things.
It all came together impressively for a first drive experience. The Clubman and Countryman are left-field but there’s a strong value in practicality, luxury and individualism to the concept.
The fast JCW versions mirror the practicality merits but are infused with the ability to rapidly cross borders or blow off the cobwebs of driving boredom when twisted roads appear.