The Mini Cooper Clubman is the epitome of a niche vehicle. As such, it's a car that works for some but will leave many people cold. For my part, I think it's pretty cool, but I'd have to think long and hard before I made it my primary vehicle. Of course, it's far more practical than the regular Mini Cooper, thanks to the passenger's-side half-door (a feature we've already seen in the Saturn Ion and the Mazda RX-8) and the extended wheelbase, which translates into significantly more rear-seat room and cargo space than the regular Mini. In fact, I needed to haul a 27" x 27" x 18" plywood box (to be used to elevate a washing machine) to a friend's house, and I had no problem fitting it into the back of the Clubman with the rear seats folded (see photo).
The Mini's turbocharged four-cylinder engine, mated to a six-speed manual, takes some getting used to. Torque steer is surprisingly bad, just like it was in our Four Seasons Mini Cooper S. You might think that BMW, of all car companies, could better address this issue, but the Mini's front wheels scramble for traction as you fight to hold onto the steering wheel in a variety of traffic conditions, from stoplight getaways to 75-mph freeway merging. Another similarity to our Four Seasons car is the notchy, imprecise manual shifter, which is also a surprise coming from BMW.
As far as the Clubman's packaging goes, I can live with the impeded rear vision caused by the center pillar created by the rear Dutch doors, because it's a narrow pillar and you can still pretty easily see anything behind you. And the rear seat is reasonably roomy for such a diminutive car. I love how the Dutch doors pop open on their hydraulic struts and how they have holes molded into the sheetmetal so that they fit over the taillights to complete the clamshell rear look. Very clever. As for the passenger's-side half-door, well, like all such devices, it's better than nothing for giving rear-seat occupants better ingress/egress. I suspect that most owners will use it most often for loading groceries, gym bags, and loot from the mall.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor