Nobody likes stereotypes. But there are cars with particular owner profiles. If internet memes are to be believed, then GTI drivers are gym-frequenting, girlfriend-stealing ruffians. We assume that the chap driving a Hilux has a penchant for khaki. And that the Mazda MX-5 serves buyers who may or may not own a salon. But Mini has managed to evade such typecasting. The brand is not mired by the bounds of class, with a wonderfully diverse spread of shoppers signing up for its charms.
Young upstarts are catered for with the relatively affordable Mini One. Those boys and girls with a need for speed can indulge in the might of the Cooper S or JCW, while families appreciate the versatility of the Countryman and Clubman. Then you have the Convertible for buyers who want to be seen. Cape Town set the stage for the launch of the latter duo. First up, we slathered on the sunscreen for a sojourn in the roofless compact. On the looks front, it is much the same as the regular version, except for that fabric top, which sheds faster than you can sing the first line of your favourite One Direction song.
The familiar power train choices are the same too; it can be had with either a 1.5-litre (100kW and 220Nm) or 2.0-litre (141kW and 280Nm) engine. Our stint behind the wheel was limited to the smaller-capacity unit. Having the top down accentuates the character of this motor, with its three-cylinder growl and polite burps kicking into action as the automatic transmission swaps cogs. Buyers are still offered a manual gearbox as standard on both versions. It is certainly a cheerful little thing, whizzing along with agility, and decidedly more stability, than its predecessor.
The dreaded “scuttle shake” that plagues topless cars was noticeable in the old model. And it seems Mini’s engineers have done a bit more to boost the car’s sturdiness on this occasion. As with all Minis, the scope to create a truly unique example is vast. Standard prices range from R368 000 for the Cooper to R433 000 for the Cooper S. The automatic carries roughly R18 000 more in both cases. Later, we switched over to the Clubman. It seems to have more doors than any car you can buy today. There are six of them — four entry points where you would regularly find them and two at the rear that swing open like those on a fridge.
Compared to the normal Mini, the fascia of the Clubman appears to be more subdued, with less of a whimsical theme to things — and that pretty much encapsulates the general feel of this car. It is a plus-sized Mini for the grown-up crowd. It drives in a rather grown-up manner too; there are many parallels between it and some of the offerings from parent company BMW. This is not a bad thing; it is confident under duress and cruises rather nicely. Once again, you can pick from two engines and I was surprised how peppy the 1.5litre felt, even in this heavier car. What I found most endearing about the Clubman was the price.
Things start off at R343000 — pretty reasonable when you consider that this is a premium wagon after all. The Cooper S Clubman begins at R415 000. And for the amount of space and performance it offers, I think this is pretty decent value. Moreover, it would not clash with the SUV offerings from the BMW division. A basic X1, for example, will cost R441 500 before options. While it has the off-road pretence, I am not so sure it offers as much space as the Clubman. BMW has done a stellar job with the reinvention of the Mini. And the carmaker looks set to dig in its heels further in the premium compact class.