The first-generation Mini Clubman was a bit too quirky for its own good, but this new version, based on the Mini five-door is way more practical. But is it worthy of the Cooper S badge?
The first-generation Mini Clubman was a bit too quirky for its own good, particularly with those suicide doors mounted on only one side of the car – unfortunately the wrong side for right-hand-drive markets like Australia.
Based on the Mini five-door, this latest iteration is altogether more grown up and a far more practical proposition.
For the last six weeks I’ve been using the new Clubman as a proper lifestyle vehicle, transporting various sized surfboards and beach gear up and down Sydney’s Northern Beaches in search of the perfect wave.
So, just how practical is the 2016 Mini Clubman in real life?
At 4274mm it’s the longest Mini ever, growing by nearly 315mm over its predecessor and by a massive 1220mm over the original 1959 Mini hatch. It’s also wider by 117mm and while it might look comparatively long compared with its three-door Mini siblings, it’s actually slightly shorter than a Volkswagen Golf five-door hatchback.
Those barn-style rear doors can be opened remotely via the key fob, or by kicking a leg under the rear of the car – it works sometimes. Failing that, there are touch-sensitive buttons behind the door handles. So there’s easy access for loading, but don’t expect a big space to work with back there.
The 60/40 split-fold second row seating folds almost flat, so boot space expands from an unreasonably small 360 litres (that’s 20 less than the Golf) behind the rear seats, to a more useable 1250 litres, allowing for gear like surfboards and golf clubs.
Mind you, not without reworking the interior space to accommodate my default board at the moment – a super-wide 6’8” Takayama Scorpion. I also managed to flat load an 8.0’ softy, but it wasn’t exactly easy. On both occasions, I had to remove the front headrest, recline the front seat, and fold half the rear seat in order to secure it, while maintaining acceptable vision and space for driving.
Not overly convenient, but I guess roof racks would be the go if you were to own the car.
Rear-seat legroom is much better, with enough space for comfortable seating, even for larger frames, as well as enough room under the front seats to slide your feet under – important for passengers in the back for longer journeys. However, middle seat comfort is compromised by a fairly intrusive transmission tunnel.
Up front there’s plenty of storage space for things like phones and wallets, while larger one-litre water bottles will fit in all four side-door pockets.
It’s also a beautifully designed and finished cabin, with lots of intricate details that make it feel premium – understandable given its $42,900 (plus on roads) price tag.
But it’s still as quirky as ever in here.
There’s the trademark oversize roundel that serves as the infotainment screen, of which the surrounding bezel radiates like a coloured aura depending on which mode you’ve dialled up. It could be seen as a tad gimmicky, but at the same time it’s kind of cool.
I’m a big fan of the Clubman’s new media Interface, which looks and feels like BMW’s easy-to-use iDrive system. The large rotary dial also acts as a touchpad, and there’s a series of shortcut buttons that make life easier when switching from music streaming to the nav.
And who doesn’t love those classic Mini toggle switches – they’re a nice retro touch, with the red one on the centre serving as the start/stop button.
Typical to many press vehicles, there are a bunch of options and packages added to this tester including the well-worthwhile Multimedia Pro Package, which gets you the larger 8.8-inch screen, head-up display, a quality Harman Kardon sound system and DAB Digital radio.
The Cooper S version of the Clubman might be the quickest in the model range, but don’t expect it to deliver anywhere near the kind of hot-hatch fireworks that you’ll get from its three-door Cooper S sibling.
While it uses the same turbocharged, 141kW/280Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine from the hatch, on-road performance is compromised by the Clubman’s extra heft. Tipping the scales at 1465kg (with the eight-speed auto) makes it 290kg heavier and noticeably less spritely.
While the Cooper S hatch can go from 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds, the Clubman version needs all of 7.1 seconds, and it feels very much that way from behind the wheel. Give it some beans, and it feels genuinely sporty and there’s some crackle and pop from the exhaust that all adds to the driving experience.
All that’s fine, but without the benefit of a quick-shifting dual-clutch gearbox, it never fully satisfies the enthusiast in me - feeling more like a warm hatch than a genuine hot-hatch. It continually left me wanting a bit more and I’m not sure that’s good enough from a car wearing the storied Cooper S badge – Clubman or not.
But never mind the straight-line speed. Like Minis of old, it’s always been the handling that excites more. Our tester was equipped with the optional adaptive dampers and in the Sport setting things firm up and the car corners dead flat, even when you’re pushing. There’s more weight in the steering too, but not overly so – perfect for the kind of cornering pace the Clubman is up for. And I’m a big fan of the JCW steering wheel, it’s beautifully moulded and standard with the Clubman Cooper S.
In the Normal suspension setting though the ride softens and is able to absorb more of the bumps while not unsettling the car, even riding on these optional 18-inch alloys shod with run-flat tyres, which tend to ride firmer than their standard counterparts.
Like most front-wheel-drive cars, the Clubman has a tendency to understeer should you approach a corner carrying too much speed, so as long as you’re patient in the tighter stuff it’s still plenty of fun.
The brakes feel sure-footed too, like the rest of the chassis, which simply gives you the confidence to really enjoy the extra punch of the Cooper S. Good thing that the leather sports seats have been designed with a nice balance between bolster and comfort – a necessity for the daily commuter.
So it’s still very much a Mini, with all the usual quirks and it’s got more room than any other Mini, but there are still a few fail points.
Rear visibility is compromised by the barn-style doors, the elliptically-shaped rear-vision mirror and as we’ve discovered, the car is not as big as it looks.
Performance-wise, despite its significant extra heft over the three-door version, the Clubman Cooper S still delivers plenty of fun, but without genuine hot-hatch excitement. Enthusiasts will want more, and hopefully that will come in the guise of a John Cooper Works version down the track.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Christian Barbeitos.
2016 Mini Clubman Cooper S Date acquired: December 2016 Odometer reading: 5471km Travel since previous update: 3878km Fuel consumption since previous update: 12.2L/100km