2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman

So the Clubman provides a meaningful extra measure of usefulness without losing any of the Mini's style. It also offers essentially the same driving experience, which is zippy and fun but not without its downsides. Naturally, the small size, relatively large window area, and very direct steering make the Mini easy to place. Slipping through traffic is enjoyable, and the punch of the well-integrated turbo in the S makes it easy to squirt through holes in traffic. The 1.6-liter engine, however, is a gruff, industrial-sounding piece, with none of the zingy, free-revving joy offered by, say, a Honda VTEC four.

We were surprised to see our test car equipped with an automatic transmission, which sort of goes against Mini's love-to-drive self-image. We couldn't fault the automatic's gear selection, but the standard six-speed manual would still be our choice.

For a car so obviously designed for the urban jungle, the Mini has a serious downfall, which is that it absolutely crashes over imperfect pavement. Blacktop edges, manhole covers, bumps of any kind aren't damped in the slightest. Our Cooper S was equipped with the optional sport package ($1500), which consists of xenon headlamps, seventeen-inch wheels, and a sport suspension. It's likely that without this package the car rides better, and any detriment in terms of a bit more body roll or slightly less immediate turn-in would be a trade-off worth making.

The Clubman is a somewhat more useful version of the Mini Cooper, particularly for those who might carry a third or fourth passenger. Like a regular Mini, it's economical (23/32 mpg), fast, and fun, but the downsides are annoying, contrived switchgear and a ride that really beats you up. Little can be done about the former, but to mitigate the latter, you might stay away from the sport suspension and go with the smallest wheels that don't offend your sense of aesthetics.

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