Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Road test: John Cooper Works Clubman and Countryman prove a big hit in UAE desert

The latest Mini Coopers can handle a bit of lightweight offroading

A car famous for outrunning European police in 1969 crime caper The Italian Job might not be your first-choice vehicle for venturing into the desert, but for its latest launch, Mini’s promotional team cast all doubts aside.

To celebrate the introduction of the new John Cooper Works Clubman and Countryman versions, the most powerful models in the vehicle’s history, a 10-car convoy was led out to a remote resort in the UAE’s desert. This was not a totally wayward idea as it showed these pretty, city posers could function outside an urban environment and that a bit of lightweight off-­roading wasn’t beyond them.

The top-of-the-range option is the Countryman John Cooper Works, with the most basic model being the Mini Cooper Hatch. The Clubman versions are midget estate cars and the Countryman models five-door crossovers.

The convoy’s destination was Abu Dhabi’s Arabian Nights Village, a venue best approached in a capable vehicle as the road leading to the village is covered in enough sand to make beaching a real possibility. And amid those high dunes either side of the main drag, it’s not a place you’d relish being stranded.

Even the least powerful Minis did their job on this particular journey, though, each entering and exiting the village in a competent fashion. They were subject to a little slide here and a minor skid there, but there never seemed to be any danger of having to call out the Toyota Hilux rescue jockeys.

The new Minis were also put through their paces at a driving day at Yas Marina Circuit. Forget pedal-to-the-metal track shenanigans, this was all about tearing round cones in wet or dry conditions, stopping with precision and tearing after one another in chase races.

Heading across the sands.
Heading across the sands.

In truth, this is the kind of activity through which you’ll get the best from a Mini. Zippiness over short distances, traction round corners and plenty of laughs while you’re doing it. These cars can handle other environments, but they rule in an urban setting.

The brand is German-owned, but BMW has managed to keep the whole concept as much an English design classic as fine tea and soft fruit cake. There are hints at Union flags hidden among the stylings, as well as several touches, such as the wing mirrors, that are reminders of the kind of fittings used in British vehicles in days of yore.

Despite past glories, these modern Minis are faster and more capable than ever. Frankly, if they had a trio of these in The Italian Job things would have been a lot worse for the police.

Updated: November 30, 2019 01:47 PM

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