The entire argument for choosing the MINI Clubman over the regular MINI: the MINI’s too mini. Compared to the classic MINI, the Clubman is 10 inches and 140lbs. more car. It’s like a breakfast cereal advert: “Five percent more MINI!” Of course, that misses the entire point of the cute subcompact, doesn’t it? And if it doesn’t, is that a problem? Yes.
From the outside, you’d swear that MINI Clubman was owned by Volvo, not BMW (who owns MINI). Until now only the Swedes had mastered the art of creating an entire range of cars (and redesigns) that look exactly the same. The brand faithful will instantly recognize the Clubman for what it is: a stretched Cooper with cargo van doors. The rest may wonder… nothing. Once again, still, round headlights, wheel arches and mirrors and the [available] color contrasting roof will convince your neighbors that you are exploring the latest in car fashion, rather than penny-pinching, or saving the environment (Prius anyone?).
Despite the cute looks and length increase, the cargo area is still too small for serious grocery-getting. Warehouse store runs should only be attempted if you are bereft of passengers. This MINI is ready for a day at the trendy shops, but your Ferragamo shopping bags won’t feel as special as they do in the back of your Merc or BMW. Tie downs? Nope. Awesome load system? Nada. Nifty nets? Niet.
Half of the MINI’s maximization takes places in the back seats, making it physically possible (though not entirely comfortable) for four 6’3”people to travel within. If you plan on carrying a quartet of American-sized dudes, go for the auto; you’ll have to slide the driver’s seat forward and there won’t be room to operate the stick. While there’s enough space in the rear for one or two child seats, inserting said sprogs is an ordeal. On the positive side, the third door makes it easier to load and unload adults. Britons will notice that the MINI Clubman’s door is on the wrong side. Everyone else will notice they can’t see squat out the back.
Of course, MINI isn’t trying to pretend to be British these days. Instead, they’re getting as much mileage out as possible of “designed by BMW.” Which is OK because I like my British cars to look British and act German (if they could be dependable like cars from the land of the rising sun I’d be in heaven). Inside ze MINI Clubman you see BMW’s touch everywhere– from the quality parts to the aggravating controls on the navigation system. While the toys abound– nav system with live traffic, Bluetooth hands-free, iPod integration, etc.– the cost of admission is BMW high. Meanwhile, haptic horrors. Seriously, my 1990s Chrysler had better mouse fur in its trunk than the MINI has for its headliner. You won’t find less convincing “silver” plastic anywhere outside of a box marked Revell.
Under the hood rattles the same Peugeot four-banger as the regular MINI in 118, 172 or 208HP flavors. This isn’t the smoothest 1.6-liter mill, but I’ll forgive it because the Germans fitted a turbo to the S model (172HP) and trained the car in the art of blitzkrieg. While 6.7 seconds to 60 may not sound fast, I’d like to see you do that in your soapbox racer. As with all MINIs, the front wheel-drive (FWD) Clubman is a far more entertaining piece of kit mit the $500 limited slip differential. In any case, the maximum MINI adds a small improvement in high-speed stability.
If driving comfort is your thing, this is not your ride. The Clubman S suffers from torque steer, wheel hop, stiff crashing suspensions. Any sharp motion on the go pedal from a stop elicits wheel spin, possible smoke, turned heads and death threats from econo-box owners (they aren’t having as much fun as you). As much as I like thrashing about a FWD car, when it comes down to the promise of sports car driving, the MINI falls well short of the bar.
I really wanted to like the MINI Clubman S. It has enough room to tempt me away from my Euro cruiser, enough panache to satisfy my brand awareness and cute enough to make my mother happy. But at the end of the day, the Clubman is deeply conflicted and hugely expensive. Starting north of $24k and ending-up firmly in the $45s (if you let your options get away from you), this little car loses appeal in a big way. Combine that with the “fast around the curves if you don’t use the throttle” nature and most of the magic vanishes. Pass with care.