Review: 2009 MINI Clubman S

Alex L. Dykes
by Alex L. Dykes
review 2009 mini clubman s

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.

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  • M4xatsgv M4xatsgv on Aug 17, 2009

    I drove the Fit, Focus, Civic, Soul, GTI and 4 other small cars that have at least a combined 28mpg. The Fit is ok by me but it has no class. It feels like a car built by Ikea. No personality. Same as the other cars I tried. The Mini Cooper and Mini Clubman were entirely different, they had personalities of their own,. They carry an identity no other small cars have. Not even the GTI impressed me. I picked the Clubman for the extra inches with a little compromise on the styling but I needed a small car with good mpg to complement our stable of horsepowers. We have a S80, 535i and E350. I tried the Cooper for 2 days and the Clubman for a day. It was an easy decision because the 2nd row of Clubman can fit 2 220lb 6ft guys. Driving experience is awesome for a car this size and this cost. Not to mention the the amount of "mini waves" you get everyday. :)

  • Krome Krome on Aug 26, 2009

    I bought my Clubman S a couple months ago - very heavily optioned, at $27k. It is turning in about 27-28 around town and 33 on the highway - and I do not drive in economical fashion (it does as well as the Corolla I bought for my daughter when I drove the Corolla). I've had a few 'fun' little cars through the years, this is easily as good or better than all of the others (X1/9, the original Accord, Del Sol, etc.). It is fun to drive, and it is very stylish/cool with as much distinct personality as any other car on the road. It also has a very high quality/competence feel compared to the others.

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.