2009 Mini Cooper S Clubman

In addition to its riotous handling, cool looks, and increased usability, the Mini Cooper Clubman is one of the best cars in the world for driving at highway speeds with the sunroof open. It's surprisingly quiet and doesn't even let in too much cool, 50-degree air ... yet another Clubman advantage versus the Mini droptop. All Minis, however, have finicky power-window switches that are initially reluctant to kick into auto-down mode but then don't seem to stop their auto-up/down pogoing. There goes BMW again, trying to fix something that wasn't broken. The thumbwheel climate controls are very fickle, as we also found in our departed Four Seasons Mini Cooper S coupe.

More important, BMW should have found a way to better minimize the Cooper S's torque steer. After all, lots of front-wheel-drive cars (even normally aspirated ones) have more than 172 hp and manage torque steer much better than this car. Is the limited-slip differential to blame? I do have to say, though, that I prefer the Clubman's slick, quick stick shift to the rubbery manuals in some of BMW's current rear-wheel-drive products.

The Clubman's cool appearance helps distinguish it from the army of Minis already on the road. Plus, its extra length (9.6 inches) and weight (187 pounds) shouldn't hinder the car's sportiness versus the regular Mini, at least for most people in most situations. And the convenience that it adds should be worth the additional $1750 that a Clubman S costs compared with a Cooper S hardtop. Indeed, installing my daughter's child seat into the back of a Mini would have been much trickier without the Clubman's rear half-door and 2.4 inches of added rear legroom.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

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