The new-for-2016 Mini Cooper S Clubman isn’t really that “mini” anymore. Unlike the original, unveiled for 2007 and based on the regular Mini Cooper, the new Clubman rides on its own chassis and is significantly larger: 10.9 inches longer, 2.9 inches wider, and with a wheelbase stretched by 4.0 inches. The rear-hinged third door on the passenger side is gone; the new car features four full-size front-hinged doors. Three adults can now fit in the second-row bench, and getting back there no longer requires any sort of Cirque du Soleil contortions. While the more conventional layout means the new Clubman has lost some of the original’s élan, the four standard doors and greatly enhanced cabin space make it a far more versatile and accommodating automobile.
As in all Minis, style reigns supreme. I’d bet hardly any buyers are going to cross-shop one of these against, say, a VW GTI. They want the seemingly limitless customization options (racing stripes, wheels, mood lighting, etc.) and “designer” flair (especially in the cockpit) that only Mini provides in this class. Performance almost seems a secondary consideration.
My test car arrived dressed to thrill. Options included Melting Silver metallic paint ($500), Pure Burgundy leather ($1,500), a tech package ($1,750, with nav, rear-view camera, and park-distance control), a premium package ($1,800, with keyless entry, panoramic moonroof, and a beefy Harman/Kardon audio system), plus a few other niceties (including $1,000 worth of LED headlights). You can get a lot wilder with the options if you like, but the bottom line climbs fast. As equipped, my tester checked in at $37,000. A base VW Golf R, with 292 horsepower and all-wheel drive, starts for less. Then again, the VeeDub doesn’t offer 255 colors of customizable ambient cockpit lighting.
The Clubman is a pleasant car to drive, not a thriller. Power in the Cooper S edition is provided by the same 189 hp, 2.0-liter turbo four as the regular Mini Cooper S. It motivates the Clubman well enough (peak torque comes on tap at just 1,250 rpm), but a 7.0-second 0-60 mph time isn’t going to make you reach for your string-back driving gloves. The chassis is more game to play, tackling corners with a firm bite and steering with an agreeably solid feel. Three driving modes are available: Green, Mid, and Sport; choosing the latter quickens throttle and steering response (and lets in a little more engine-exhaust noise), while Green optimizes fuel efficiency. My test car was equipped with the standard six-speed Getrag manual shifter—and being able to slice through the gearbox myself was a welcome change from today’s near-universal automated transmissions. In all, this isn’t a “hot hatch,” but the DNA of parent company BMW is palpable in the Clubman’s solidity and mannered control responses.
And I’ll admit it: The Mini “style” is charming. You start the car with a red toggle switch. The central dash display is a big, round screen framed by the kind of “cool” lighting you’d find in a chic nightclub. The steering wheel is a fat three-spoke design that feels great to the fingertips. Open the door, and the driver’s side exterior mirror projects the Mini logo onto the ground. Yeah, these are frills, but the overall takeaway is that the basic package is refined, comfortable, and functional.
The competition—VW, Ford Focus ST—offers more driving excitement and, arguably, more distinctive exterior styling. The Clubman counters with its distinctive interior, myriad conveniences, and plenty of room (open the split, rear side-hinged doors, and with the rear seats folded down the Clubman will swallow almost 48 cubic feet of cargo.
As I noted, those shopping for a hot hatch will look elsewhere. But the new Clubman will definitely attract another target audience: buyers who need a small wagon but want to hide that fact in a dressy, charismatic wrapper that says, “Wagon? No wagon here.”
2016 MINI Cooper S Clubman Specifications
|Price:||$28,500/$37,000 (base/as tested)|
|Engine:||2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/189 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 207 lb-ft @ 1,250 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback|
|EPA Mileage:||22/32 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||168.3 x 70.9 x 56.7 in|
|0-60 MPH:||7.0 sec|
|Top Speed:||142 mph|