MINI Clubman review

MINI's second generation Clubman is the latest and biggest model from the British-based brand, setting its sights on premium hatchbacks like the Mercedes A-Class and Audi A3. And thee's the option of 4WD too. What do the experts at Car & Driving make of Clubman motoring?

Ten Second Review

The Clubman was launched in 2007 as the first truly practical MINI but came with one key drawback: you couldn't have two rear passenger doors. This second generation model not only corrects that oversight but is also smarter, better equipped, higher-tech and more efficient, plus there's the option of four driven wheels. But it joins a range that, in the Hatch 5-Door and Countryman models, already boasts similar design of this type. Can it stand out?

Background

It's hard to think of a modernday motoring success story to rival that of BMW's MINI. The Bavarians took the 60s design concept, super-sized it and made it the ultimate automotive fashion accessory for the early years of the 21st Century. But the car's cheeky compact size was both its greatest draw and its only real limiting factor. If the same design could be produced with a dash more practicality, couldn't many more customers be persuaded to join the great MINI Adventure? The prospect was tempting, but the problem for the German designers was in creating a truly versatile family car that kept the original three-door model's essential MINI-ness. They'd already watched rivals Mercedes struggle - and fail - to develop the smart brand in the same way. What they eventually came up with in 2007 was this model, the MINI Clubman, an estate car, but not as we knew it. Curious, quirky and thoroughly individualistic, it was a perfect fit for a brand that has always been all those things. Now, it's time to evaluate that car's successor, the MK2 model Clubman. With five proper doors this time round, a smarter look, extra space and all the MINI brand's latest technology, it's an intriguing prospect.

Driving Experience

MINIs have always been known for handling excellence and this MK2 model Clubman should be no exception. Based on the same 'UKL' platform as the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer and measuring the same distance between the wheels, it offers sophisticated suspension with what is promised to be the highest level of ride refinement ever for a MINI. There's a familiar range of engines under the bonnet. The usual three cylinder 1.5 litre 136PS petrol unit features in the standard Cooper alongside a 2.0 litre 192PS four cylinder petrol engine for the pokier Cooper S. There are three diesels; an entry-level three cylinder 1.5-litre 116bhp unit; the Cooper D diesel gets a 2.0-litre engine with 150PS; and the Cooper SD uses the same powerplant to put out 190bhp. All engines are turbocharged and offer 0-62mph in around 10 seconds or much less. The quickest option will be the Cooper S 0-62mph possible in as little as 7.1 seconds. Even the Cooper D can still manage 8.5 seconds to 62, while offering predictably cheaper running costs. Go for the Cooper S petrol or the Cooper SD diesel and the get the option of MINI's 'ALL4' AWD system. Standard with all the engines is a six-speed manual gearbox - with automatic transmission an option on all. The smallest three cylinder motor can be optioned with a 'Steptronic' auto that offers six ratios, while the 2.0 litre units both get the option of an eight-speed auto 'box that includes steering wheel-mounted paddles. There's no performance reduction if you do decide on the auto option. In fact, the eight-speed units actually reduce the 0-62mph times.

Design and Build

There's no disputing that from the outside, the Clubman still looks like a MINI, even though it's actually longer than the Countryman Crossover model. If anything, the Clubman's increased length and width helps stretch this intriguing take on MINI design language, making it to some eyes even more attractive than the basic Hatch versions. The key change that owners of the previous generation models will notice is the availability at last of two rear passenger doors, both fitted with frameless windows for a coupe (or old school Subaru) feel. The unique Minivan-style split rear doors for the loadbay remain though. What has changed here is the option buyers now have of opening them at the push of a button on the key fob or by waggling a foot under the rear bumper. The rear lights have been twisted 90 degrees and are now mounted on the rear doors, helping make the Clubman appear broader. The same effect is achieved by the wide-spaced twin exhausts on the Cooper S. There are still plenty of Mini design touches inside too, including toggle switches, lashings of chrome and a circular theme running through the cabin. For the first time, the centre console meets the main dashboard, offering increased storage - and there's an electronic parking brake too. Look down at the wheel and you'll also notice the BMW 'i-Drive' style rotary controller which was introduced in the MINI hatch, this feature promising easier navigation of the built-in infotainment system which includes sat-nav on all models. The boot size is a respectable 360-litres - or 1250-litres with the rear seats down.

Market and Model

Premium cars come with premium price tags, so it's no surprise to find that you won't get much change from £20,000 for the entry level Cooper Clubman model. Still, it will save you around £2,500 over the cost of the identically-engined BMW 2 Series Active Tourer model it's based upon. Decide on a diesel in your Clubman and you'll be looking at paying just over £22,000, with the range-topping Cooper S up at around £23,000. Go for a Cooper S or a Cooper SD variant and you get the option of 'ALL4' 4WD for around £1,500 more. Overall, the sums being asked are right around what you'll pay for an equivalent Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz A-Class or BMW 1-Series. If you're a keen driver, then the Clubman's performance and promise of go kart-like handling may be enough to seal the deal. Equipment levels are pretty generous, with the Cooper receiving 16" alloy wheels, sat-nav, Bluetooth handsfree phone connectivity, a central display with LED ring and start/stop with keyless start. You also get an 'Excitement Pack' which adds extended interior lighting and projects the MINI logo onto the ground when you open the door, just in case you forgot what you were driving. The Cooper S adds 17" wheels and sports seats and of course, there's the usual long list of options available. These include the popular 'Chilli Pack' which has been around since the original 'new' MINI was first introduced. Here, it includes part-leather upholstery with heated sports seats, park distance control, climate control, LED headlights and LED fog lights - all for just shy of £3,000 extra. Expect the usual range of MINI safety features, including ABS, stability control, traction control and optional adaptive cruise control.

Cost of Ownership

Let's get one thing out of the way first: this MINI won't be the cheapest car in its class to run. The big 2.0-litre engine you get on Cooper D and Cooper S models makes sure of that. That's not to say the Cooper D won't be frugal; official figures suggest it'll get 68.9mpg, while chucking out 109g/km of CO2. That isn't much worse than some smaller 1.6 litre rivals. If that's not good enough, then expect smaller-engined diesel Clubmans in due course. If you prefer the less powerful entry-level Cooper petrol model, then you get a smaller three cylinder 1.5 litre unit that manages 55.4mpg and 118g/km of CO2. At the top of the range, the 2.0-litre petrol Cooper S returns 48.7mpg and emits 134g/km of CO2 if you opt for the automatic 'box many will want. Those figures slip to 45.6mpg and 144g/km if choose a manual model. Buyers should expect a standard 3 year 60,000 mile warranty, with fixed price servicing under MINI's TLC scheme a worthwhile option. Residuals have always been a MINI strongpoint, so your Clubman should retain a good chunk of its value when you come to sell. Just make sure you don't go overboard on the extensive options list; the 'Chilli Pack' has most of the essentials. Speaking of options, try to keep any paint combinations on the tasteful side to maximise resale value.

Summary

The designers have done their damnedest to make this second generation Clubman a distinct and desirable model in its own right. The result is characterful but distinctly MINI - just as potential buyers will want. If you need a practical car from this brand and find the Hatch 5-Door model too small and the Countryman Crossover too quirky, then the Clubman may be for you a perfect fit. It certainly makes its BMW 2 Series Active Tourer donor car look a little bland. True, the 2.0-litre engines further up the range aren't quite as efficient as those you'll find in rivals but MINI is close enough to the pace in this regard for that not to matter very much. It all means that if you want something compact but practical and a bit different, then this Clubman will probably suit. Either way, potential owners have to be people unafraid to fly in the face of convention. If that's you, then a bigger MINI adventure beckons.