Acknowledging the fact that it’s difficult to remain an adolescent forever, Mini expanded its lineup with a longer wheelbase Clubman model for the 2008 model year. A longer wheelbase, a third entry door, and what Mini USA calls rear barn doors are the key features. As with other Minis, six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are available with two 1.6-liter DOHC four-cylinder engines: the standard Cooper Clubman is normally aspirated, the Cooper S is turbocharged and intercooled. For 2011, a mid-cycle refresh applies to the whole family of two- and three-door Minis.
Front and rear bumper fascias, a new grille texture, minor lamp alterations, and a whole new line of wheels will keep Mini watchers’ heads spinning. There’s something different to note from every angle though the only sheet metal change is a higher hood hump for the standard Cooper. Active headlamps are now optional while LED elements in back handle the parking lamp function. Five of the available eleven exterior colors are new including a lighter shade of British Racing Green.
At long last some serious attention has been paid to cleaning up the Mini’s haphazardly arrayed instrument panel. Without fiddling with the cheeky tach and pie plate speedometer arrays, surface finishes, secondary control arrangements, and the general layout are all improved. Radio knobs now live at a single elevation. The silly heater thumbwheels have been replaced by rocker switches. Seat adjusters are unassisted but that’s consistent with the lean and mean Mini theme.
The Clubman weighs nearly 200 pounds more than the hardtop so extra power is sincerely appreciated here. The normally aspirated engine gets three more ponies (now 121 hp.) attributable to revised fuel and ignition software and reduced parasitic losses. While the base engine already had Valvetronic variable intake timing and lift, that technology is new to this year’s turbo in the Clubman Cooper S. The increased maximum air flow and minimized throttling loss boost power from 172- to 181-horsepower while also improving highway efficiency by two mpg.
Suicide Entry Rear Door
Size is, of course, what Minis are all about. While going smaller and lighter rewards performance and agility, there were the inevitable whiners who were less than thrilled with back-seat access and the pain suffered by adults who actually settled there. So the wheelbase was stretched 3.2-inches (to 110.3-inches), and a third rear-hinged door was chopped into the right side. That’s a boon to legroom-4.4-inches more than in the hardtop-but it’s still not all sweetness inside the Clubman. For no good reason, there’s a cupholder impeding entry in a rear door opening that’s just barely serviceable. Since these are interlocking doors, the proper sequence must be followed-open the front first, close the rear first-to avoid dings in the sheetmetal.
The vertically split rear access doors are equally problematic. The bummer is a rear view partially obscured by door frames. The blockage is substantial enough for full-sized enforcement cruisers to hide in. These doors must also be latched in sequence so care is necessary to avoid injuring the Clubman’s sheetmetal. What’s the good news? Cargo capacity goes from 5.7 to 9.2 cubic feet with the rear seats in use and from 24.0 to 32.8 cubic feet with the plus-two perches folded.
The Clubman is definitely a pay cut down from the joys of operating a regular MINI Cooper. The extra 200 pounds and 3.2-inches between the axles take a noticeable bite out of poise and agility. Turn-in is slower, the ability to jink through an S-bend more sluggish. The extra oomph available from the turbo motor is genuinely neccessary to lift momentum to a fruitful plane.
A new infotainment upgrade called Mini Connected helps make up for the sacrifices in driving fun. Working with Microsoft, Mini engineers developed a hook-up between an iPhone and the Mini’s soul that handles a broad range of entertainment and communications functions as you go. There’s a socket inside the console box or you can use the standard iPhone cable to link up this smart phone equipped with a special Mini ap. The 6.5-inch display screen inside the speedometer ring shows play lists, phone book entries, album covers, and-if you’ve also purchased navigation-maps to your destination. You can command Connected to read email, Facebook info, or Twitter posts and responding with standard messages is also possible. There’s a joy stick to help work your way through menus and the system also responds to voice commands. Weather, news, and sports reports are available by RSS feeds.
In addition to the new Mini Connected option, there’s a base 6-speadker sound system that plays CDs, MP3 material, HD radio, and Sirius satellite radio. The optional navigation system now uses maps stored in flash memory instead of DVD-based material.
Now that a full four-door Countryman is available in the Mini lineup, the Cooper Clubman becomes the odd man out. What you gain in functionality you lose in joie de vivre. In a car that looks like a carnival ride, practical considerations such as luggage space and accessibility are not the point. But, if you’re truly hooked on Mini mindset and you really need more seats for club crawling, the Clubman is your cost-effective, conversation-starting way to go.