First Drive: 2011 Mini Cooper Clubman

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.

Exterior Changes
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.

Inside Fixes
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 The silly heater thumbwheels have been replaced by rocker switches.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.

More Go
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.

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Edward A. Sanchez
I'd go straight for the S. The normally-aspirated model has to be an absolute dog.

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