SAVANNAH, Georgia — Regardless of how much we moan about its relentless growth spurt, the Mini seems destined to keep growing in size, much like some kind of surly teenager. The 2016 Mini Clubman is the biggest Mini ever, a fact that the British carmaker is quite excited to promote. And we have to admit that the 2016 Clubman is the most sensible Mini you can buy, yet it also preserves enough of the brand’s original Mini-ness to keep you smiling.
Built on the bones of the recently redesigned Mini Hardtop, the new Clubman cuts an attractive profile thanks to a low, wide stance that works with the curvaceous bodywork. Even in base trim, the Mini Cooper Clubman sports cast-aluminum wheels, evidence that this car continues to deliver a premium amount of style and equipment in a compact package, a proposition that seemed quite radical in 2001, when the Cooper version of the Mini (as distinct from the entry-level Mini One) first came to the U.S.
Bigger for adult-size practicality
The previous generation of the Mini Clubman delivered a wagon-style body on a stretched wheelbase, and it offered rear-seat access through a single, vestigial, passenger-side rear door. The longer wheelbase meant more rear-seat passenger space compared to a conventional two-door Mini coupe, plus it delivered more predictable handling and a more comfortable ride besides. The all-new 2016 Mini Cooper Clubman is still a wagon, but it ditches the ambiguous utility of the departed model with a new pair of adult-size, rear passenger doors. The new 2016 Clubman has also grown in overall length by 12.4 inches over the previous car to 168.3 inches, and it’s now wider by 4.6 inches as well.
When we tested the 2015 Mini Hardtop 4 Door, we criticized the lack of rear passenger room, and we speculated that prospective buyers who absolutely must have a Mini as their everyday people mover would be better off saving their pennies for the Clubman. And after spending some time with this big-boned 2016 Mini Clubman, we are happy to report that we were spot on. The 2016 Clubman has a wheelbase that’s 4.0 inches longer than the Hardtop 4 Door with a body that’s 10.9 inches longer. Within the cabin, you’re most aware of the increase in width, with 3.5 inches of additional shoulder room in the front and 3.2 inches more in the rear. Rear passengers also enjoy 2.0 inches of additional knee room over the Hardtop 4 Door. In addition the 2016 Clubman’s larger proportions boost cargo volume by 7.2 cubic feet.
Style that you can live with
Inside the cabin, the Clubman is far more livable than ever before, and the driver will particularly enjoy the right-side armrest integrated into the seat. (It doesn’t get in the way of shifting, either.) A larger, more comfortable seat also helps deliver a more relaxed driving position. Meanwhile the seat upholstery of tweed-style cloth and simple leatherette has lots of style, while optional leather upholstery adds premium flair. With the exception of optional backlit color-changing trim exclusive to the Clubman, the switchgear, graphics, and infotainment systems are all carryovers from the rest of the Mini lineup, including the Mini brand’s familiar graphic, “Let’s Motor,” which we have come to know and groan about.
When you do find yourself hauling passengers in the rear bench seat, they will discover the bottom cushion has a rather uncomfortable hard section towards the back, and they may be moaning after just a few highway miles. Meanwhile, the Clubman’s vertically split cargo doors afford excellent access to the cargo area, and Mini claims it’s even possible to load a washing machine back there. There’s also an option that will open the doors remotely by triggering a sensor below the rear bumper with your foot, just like you see in SUVs these days.
Now let’s motor, as they say
The powertrain choices for the Clubman are identical to the Hardtop. The base Cooper Clubman comes with Mini’s 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine, which sends 134 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. Hop up to the sportier Cooper S Clubman, and the engine transforms into a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that pumps out 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. Power from the four-pot is routed to the front wheels through the standard six-speed manual transmission or through the new eight-speed automatic.
During our drive on the rural roads of Georgia’s scenic coast near Savannah, we sampled the Cooper version of the Clubman with a manual transmission, and then spent time in a Cooper S with both the manual and the automatic. Conspicuously absent was the base Cooper Clubman equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission, a powertrain combination likely to become the most popular specification of the Clubman.
With the manual, you are able to wring the power out of the three-cylinder, rendering the base 3,105-pound Clubman reasonably peppy around town, as it gets to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds. Actually, you don’t have to wring out this direct-injection turbocharged engine that hard, as the power peaks at 4,400 rpm and the top 1,000 rpm on the tachometer offer nothing more.
Meanwhile the turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in the Cooper S Clubman pulls strongly right across the whole face of the tachometer even though the power peak arrives at 5,000 rpm. It puts out respectable power numbers and makes a great sound. The new eight-speed automatic transmission has a conventional hydraulic torque converter, so it’s smoother at city speed than a dual-clutch design, though this automatic has a surprising propensity to stutter at low speed. Even with the manual transmission, the 3,235-pound Cooper S Clubman isn’t quite as fast as the smaller, lighter Hardtop 4 Door, and it’s not on the same performance level as a VW GTI or Ford Focus ST. Even so, it still gets to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds, and it bounds across back roads with as much aplomb as we have come to expect of contemporary Minis.
Grand touring in a pint-size container
What the 2016 Mini Cooper Clubman lacks in outright speed is made up for with long-legged motoring that is just right for traveling cross-country. Thanks to its long 105.1-inch wheelbase and wide track, the Clubman is perfectly at home on the Interstate. The front seats are comfortable, and front legroom is ample, and if rear-seat passengers want to accompany you, their age need not be less than their hat size. A whole suite of infotainment toys will also keep everyone occupied.
All of this refinement doesn’t come cheap, however, as the 2016 Mini Cooper Clubman starts at $24,950. Step up to the Cooper S Clubman, and you are responsible for $28,500. Optional extras are endless, with a fully loaded Cooper S Clubman conceivably topping out around the vicinity of $45,000.
The 2016 Mini Clubman might be the least mini Mini, but its growth spurt has made this car a more reasonable wagon-style vehicle than the smaller Hardtop 4 Door. The increase in size has also made the Clubman comfortable, stylish, useable, and mature enough for those who want a slice of the Mini pie yet need something more practical. In short the 2016 Clubman is more like a real car, less like a plaything. Of course, we’re still not sure that a Mini should be practical in the first place. Maybe this is what comes of a brand that sold 302,193 cars worldwide in 2014, which doesn’t seem very mini at all.
2016 Mini Clubman Specifications
- On Sale: Now
- Price: $24,950 (Cooper), $28,500 (Cooper S)
- Engine: 1.5L turbocharged DOHC 12-valve I-3/134 hp @ 4,400 rpm, 162 lb-ft @ 1,250 rpm; 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/189 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 207 lb-ft @ 1,250 rpm
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, six-speed automatic (Clubman); six-speed manual, eight-speed automatic (Clubman S)
- Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine FWD hatch
- EPA Mileage: 22-25/32-35 mpg (city/hwy)
- L x W x H: 168.3 x 70.9 x 56.7 in
- Wheelbase: 105.1 in
- Weight: 3,105-3,300 lb
- 6.9-8.9 sec
- Top Speed: 127/142 mph (Clubman/Clubman S)