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The Mini Clubman is definitely not the car for everyone, but when it comes to standing out it certainly ticks all the right boxes.
One way to find out is to spend a week with a Mini Clubman S. First impressions may be dismissive as the Clubman is really engineered for left-hand drive markets - the third door is on the driver's side meaning it faces traffic if parked on the street. How enjoyable it will be to get passengers (especially kids) in and out of the illogical side of the car is an interesting question.
No doubt the car's door design wasn't meant for our market (ironically, also neglecting Mini's home country of Britain) hence the door is actually meant to be on the passenger side, which makes significantly more sense for getting people in and out of a car.
Alas, if you can excuse the Clubman for that rather obvious design 'feature', it's a very enjoyable little thing to punt around. It measures 240mm longer than the standard Cooper, 77mm of which has gone into rear legroom. This Mini is made to be a little more practical.
Much like any other Mini with an S badge in the lineup, the Clubman accelerates with a ferocity uncharacteristic to a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine. The BMW-Peugeot developed engine delivers 135 kW and 240Nm (260Nm on overboost) of torque in this application, which results in a 0-100km/h time of 7.5 seconds – roughly half a second slower than the standard Cooper S.
From the outside the Mini Cooper S Clubman (as it's officially known) is a good looking thing. The new and updated 2011 model is now 99mm longer than before and Mini has added numerous changes to modernise the look of all Mini Coopers.
The front is traditional Mini with air intakes on the bonnet and front apron. The rear gains LED tail lights (first time) with Brake Force Display (brake lights increase in intensity if the car is braking hard). Looking at the Clubman's right side, you can spot the infamous little "Clubdoor" that opens backwards. There is a handle inside that easily unlatches the miniature-door but it only works when the driver's door is already open.
There is a whole lot of character to the Clubman's interior. From the traditionally gigantic speedometer located right in the centre, to the blue (customisable) interior LED lights that elegantly light up the cabin. Soft touch plastics on the dash and a beautifully crafted steering wheel do a lot to justify the Clubman S's $43,800 starting price.
Although the stereo does have Bluetooth phone support it doesn't have audio streaming, which is rather annoying given a $13,900 Hyundai Getz comes standard with it. Nonetheless it will play natively from your iPhone/Pod with the right adapter.
The speakers have great bass and clarity with little distortion even at deafening volumes. If you want to pay a little more, the Chilli variants get a Harman Kardon audio system.
The interesting thing about the third door on the driver's side is that it provides no easier access to the rear seats than from the other side (having put the passenger seat down). One, because you still have to open the driver's door to get out (nearly defeating the purpose of a third door), so it's not like it's more convenient for the driver. Two, because of the way the rear door works it's still a bit of a pain if you're 160cm or taller and the driver's seat is fully upright.
The split-doors to the boot open up like barn doors allowing for easy access to store bulky stuff. Once you fold the rear-seats flat you have 930L of cargo capacity, which will make IKEA your new favourite destination. There is even a button on the Mini key remote that will automatically open one of the doors for your. Which makes putting in shopping bags a breeze. You must close the left door before the right one will close.
If all you care about is the driver's enjoyment, then the Clubmas S is, for lack of better words, simply awesome. Despite the occasional torque steer (generally on a straight line under full acceleration) the actual driving dynamics are very rewarding. You can still power out of corners like you would in an all-wheel drive and taking corners at maximum velocity becomes rather addictive.
The best feature is feedback through the steering wheel. Unlike say, a Lexus, the Mini talks to you through the steering wheel, letting you know how much you're already pushing and how much further you can push. It's an engaging driving experience that I suspect most people ever take full advantage of.
Speaking of people, the Mini Cooper Clubman found a mere 184 buyers last year, of which 82 went for the “S” model. So if you're looking at buying a Clubman, you'll be joining a very exclusive club - which is apart of the car's appeal.
The other and perhaps Mini's biggest appeal has always been about customer customisation. The idea of being able to get your car in the exact way that you want it with all the right colours and features is by no means cheap, but if uniqueness-factor is built into your personality than it's hard to resist. If you're wondering, safety is also top notch with ABS, Electronic Stability Control and six airbags as standard.
Overall, the updates to the engine, exterior and interior of the 2011 Mini Cooper Clubman S has enhanced an already enjoyable package. If you can look past the third door being on the wrong side, this little Mini brings practicality and fun together for the first time.