Extraordinary lengths: Mini Clubman reviewed

4 February 2016

Mini Clubman Cooper S front-side view

Mini Clubman
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Good: roomy interior, classy materials, agile and comfortable
Bad: not as practical as it looks, awkward boot, disappointingly heavy
Price: from £19,965
It’s easy to get the new Mini Clubman all wrong. When I first clapped eyes on the show-car concept, two years ago, I mistook it for a stretched out, estate-car version of the latest Mini hatchback. The long silhouette, three-pane glazing and upright rear end all send out strong I’m-an-estate signals.

Had I looked more closely I might have noticed the short rear overhang. And had I been able to peer into the Clubman’s modestly sized boot at the time, the estate mistake would have quickly been corrected. This is not a load lugger. Much of the extra length is between the axles, there for the benefit of people and limbs, rather than luggage, bicycles and dogs.

Mini Clubman side view

The other big mistake I made was to assume the incoming Clubman would be much like the outgoing one – a 3-door Mini at the front, with extra sheet metal stuck on at the back. Nope. The latest Mini hatchback and the 2016 Clubman might share a strong family resemblance, but they don’t have a single panel of bodywork in common. And even under the skin the new Clubman is different, having more in common with the 2-Series Active Tourer, another front wheel drive BMW. By way of a clue, the 2-AT and Clubman have exactly the same track and wheelbase.

In fact the Clubman is much bigger in every direction than a 3-door or even 5-door Mini hatchback. It’s just over 9cm wider than the 3-door Mini and 43cm longer, with an extra 17.5cm between its axles. It’s actually longer and wider than the Mini Countryman, with a bigger boot, though it’s not nearly as high off the ground.

Mini Clubman rear view

The Clubman’s size is enough to lift it clean out of the supermini sector and into the same category as a Volkswagen Golf. Glue a £1 coin to the front bumper of a Clubman and it’ll exactly match a seventh-generation Golf in length from end to end. The Mini is a little lower, a little wider, and about 3cm longer in the wheelbase than the VW. In terms of boot space, the Golf beats a Clubman by only 5%, at 380 versus 360 litres. The Clubman is, however, about 95kg heavier. Imagine a Golf with a rugby player permanently on board and you’re in the same ballpark.

Plonk a Clubman next to a 3-door Mini and you’ll quickly see differences in styling. The additional width changes the proportions of the car’s face – for the better, to my eyes. The Clubman’s curvaceous front wings feature a noticeable crest that runs along the crown of the wing towards the car’s shoulder – a line that’s entirely absent on the hatch. Large vents low down behind the front wheel arch are also unique, and aren’t just for decoration. They combine with slots in the front bumper to funnel air crisply around the front wheels, as an aid to aerodynamics.

Mini Clubman front view

Compared to a Mini 5-Door hatchback, it’s pretty clear which one is the ugly sister. The Clubman is by far the better balanced and more cleanly resolved of the two designs. The 5-door’s clutter of pillars and door frames are a mess, a mile from the designer’s intended illusion of a roof supported by a wraparound layer of glass.

On the new Clubman, the blacked-out pillars continue around the rear of the new car, providing a much cleaner look than the old Clubman, which had contrasting rear uprights that looked like gateposts. The vertically split van doors carry over, however. The two doors overlap in the middle, meaning one has to open before the other. Gas struts ping each door smoothly open to 90 degrees – you can also open them remotely, one by one, with a couple of prods of the keyfob. If you tick the right options, they’ll open for a wiggled foot under the back bumper.

Mini Clubman boot doors

The doors do demand a little more clearance at the back than a conventional hatchback, which may occasionally be a pain in the rear end.

The big, lozenge-shaped rear lamps are part of the back doors, so there are repeater lamps mounted below, in the bumper. They’ll keep you legal if you need to drive with an unassembled chunk of Ikea poking out the back. The secondary lamps look a little vulnerable to me, sitting there at the corners of the bumper.

Also worth noting at the back is the shark-fin roof antenna, which is topped off by a red LED. That’s the car’s alarm warning lamp, the winking of which should prove helpful when it comes to finding your Clubman in the ranks of airport long-stay parking.

Mini Clubman front interior

Inside, the family resemblance to smaller Minis remains plain, with big items like the circular central screen carried over from the hatchback. There is noticeable extra elbow room, however, and a much improved central console. This brings the iDrive controller up from the depths between the seats to where it might reasonably fall to hand. The handbrake lever has also vanished, replaced with an electronic flap, in common with the 2 Series and indeed with the Golf. There's an auto-hold mode or you can opt to work the small switch by yourself.

Materials, fit and finish are top notch, and the styling of the interior seems less overwrought than the smaller Minis. Fewer circles probably help the Clubman to look more grown-up: the air vents are now oblong, for example.

Mini Clubman cockpit

Rear seat accommodation is a revelation. People who carp about Minis getting too big for the name should try travelling in the back of some of the older ones. There’s proper legroom for adults in the Clubman, and enough width for three abreast on short trips.

The angle of each section of rear seatback can be adjusted to liberate a little more luggage room, though this seems a poor substitute for a sliding base. I wouldn’t want to travel far sitting so upright.

Mini Clubman rear legroom

The Clubman is also a revelation on the move. While the 3-door Mini feels as frantic as a toddler’s birthday party, the Clubman resembles the calm that descends after the last sugar-fuelled rugrat has gone to bed.

It’s lovely to drive, with suspension that genuinely keeps bumps at bay without ever feeling soft or soggy. The thick rimmed wheel is quick enough to feel sporting, but not so heavy as to give you arm ache. The 3-door mini bounces into curves with the enthusiasm of Tigger the tiger, while the Clubman pours through bends like runny honey.

The £490 full-colour head-up display is marvellous and helpful, though I can’t say the same about the view out the back. Narrow, bisected, and prone to collecting bucketloads of road grime, the rear windows are not the driver’s best friends.

Mini Clubman view through the rear-view mirror

I can’t comment on the Clubman’s gearshift as I’ve only driven the automatic. Mini employs a torque-converter design rather than a twin-clutch box, but don’t imagine it’s all slushy. Neither is it one of those autos that gargles fuel while thinking about which cogs to connect. The six-speed auto offered with the Cooper and Cooper D varieties of Clubman provides identical fuel economy scores to the six-slot manual. In the quicker S and SD models, the eight-speed sports automatic improves economy on the official cycle and I’d be prepared to bet it can do the same in the real world too. For those who like to stick their own oar in from time to time, the eight-speed box provides paddles.

Mini Clubman HUD

It’s the petrol powered Cooper S with eight-speed auto that I’ve taken for spin. Not the most frugal in the range, true, but beggars are seldom choosers. Its 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine offers a fulsome 192 horsepower, will get you to 62mph in 7.2 seconds, and it turns in a combined cycle score of around 48mpg, the exact figure depending on wheel and tyre options. The CO2 rating varies likewise, from 134 to 137g/km. Prices start at £22,755, with a £1,700 premium for the sports auto.

The petrol Cooper without an S offers a 1.6-litre three-cylinder engine. It offers 136 horsepower and will be a couple of seconds slower to 62mph. Its frugal statistics come in at 55.4mpg and 118g/km. Prices start at £19,965, with a more modest £1,495 extra for the six-speed auto.

The Cooper D goes as low as 109g/km, and costs from £22,245; the quicker SD is rated at 119g/km and starts at £24,810. There are no entry-level One models for the moment.

Most variants offer a choice of driving modes, selected (rather awkwardly) by twisting a plastic ring around the base of the gearstick. Sport mode makes the steering heavier, sharpens the throttle, and delays the auto’s upshifts. Mid-mode is how the car wakes up, while Green mode softens the car’s throttle response, shifts up early and uses the bright little screen on the instrument cluster to remind you to slow down. A gauge showing power demand or energy regeneration also appears, together with a halo-polishing readout of how many extra miles you’ve gained by being sensible.

Mini Clubman badge

All told, the new Mini Clubman offers a persuasive blend of good looks, surprising space, a fine balance between sportiness and comfort, and an appealing interior. I liked it a lot. Just don’t imagine it’s a capacious estate.

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