What exactly is the point of the Mini Clubman?
Mini as a brand has grown substantially from the days of just making cute little hatchbacks in their iconic shapes. But now with the Clubman, the brand is venturing out further than it has ever done before.
Of course, the Mini Clubman, or the Mini Cooper Clubman to give it its technically accurate name, isn’t entirely new. The previous generation lasted from 2007-14 while the original Clubman was built from 1969-82.
In reality though, the two previous cars were really just Mini hatches with longer bodies and additional doors. This new Clubman, though still sharing considerable parts and architecture with the hatch, has its own sense of identity to a greater extent.
The BMW-owned British-brand showcases the six-door aspect of the Mini Clubman as a highlight (four conventional and a split barn-door tailgate), but it’s more than just the doors that make the Clubman look so… un-Mini.
Measuring 4253mm long, 1800mm wide and 1441mm high, the Clubman is 270mm longer and 90mm wider than the Five Door hatch (same height), and its proportions do look rather different from what you'd expect of a Mini.
The rear end is entirely new and if seen in a 2D format without reference to the front or sides, it’s entirely off-brand. Which is the point, as it sets the scene for Mini’s new design direction.
The point of the Clubman, we are told, is to compete in the premium small car market against the likes of the Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and even BMW’s own 1 Series. The reason you’d pick it over those three? Non-conformity.
Looking at it without the perspective of it competitors, the Mini Clubman is a good solid premium small car. It has reasonable room in the front and for the first time, adequate rear seats for two large adults or three if needed for short drives. The boot is rather large (for its class) at 360L (up to 1250L with the rear seat folded flat) and the cabin ambience is very Mini, which in this segment of black-and-more-black is a great thing.
The range is simple with just two choices: the standard Cooper Clubman or the sporty Cooper S Clubman.
Both cars offer a classy interior with plenty of customisation options. We found the front and rear seats comfortable and usable for long trips while the (optional) 8.8-inch screen inside the iconic circular tacho dial runs the latest version four of BMW’s iDrive system, inline with all of the German brand’s offerings bar the 7 series, which runs version five. It’s easily the best and most user-friendly infotainment system in its class.
The base model is powered by a very sweet 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine delivering 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque while the S gets a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo with 141kW of power and 280Nm of torque. The standard Clubman will go from 0-100km/h in a reasonable 9.1 seconds while the S cuts that down by two seconds.
Behind the wheel of both variants, the first thing worth noting is the ride on the standard suspension, which is typically 'Mini-harsh'. That is all well and good in a three- or five-door hatch that lives for corners, but in the ‘family’ version we suspect that may get annoying.
Thankfully Mini's engineers have realised that too and offer adaptive suspension for just $700, which makes a world of difference. On the same roads with one car fitted and another not, the ride quality was noticeably different in bump-absorption and general penetration of road surfaces into the cabin.
Over 60 per cent of buyers are expected to tick the box for adaptive suspension, which is a shame for the other 40 per cent as we simply could not recommend either variant without this very affordable option ticked.
The ride aside, the Mini’s steering is a little less engaging than we hoped for, but move the dial into sport mode (or Go-Kart mode as Mini would have you think) and things get a little bit better.
Through the twisty mountainous roads of outer-Adelaide we came to appreciate the Clubman as a good blend of what the Mini DNA has always stood for with the practicality of family-friendliness in tow.
Interestingly, in our opinion, the base model with the three-cylinder engine is the one to go for. Sure it’s that little bit slower and less manic out of corners, but the three-cylinder engine has a lovely note with a very linear power delivery that we certainly think suits the character and purpose of the Clubman better than the larger engine.
There’s no denying the S, with its bigger engine and better transmission, is more fun to drive, but if its purpose is to haul the family around in style, then the extra $8000 asking price is better put to options on the base model.
Speaking of which, there are a ton of options. One of the cars we drove, a base Mini Clubman, had $19,000-plus worth of options in it, more than half the value of the car. Thankfully you won’t have to spend that much, but there are some very notable ones that you simply have to factor into the cost of the car.
The dynamic damper pack ($700) is a must and so is the Chilli Package ($3000) for bigger wheels and LED headlights, the Multimedia pro package ($2700) for the gorgeous 8.8-inch screen as well as head-up display and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system with digital radio, and lastly the climate package ($2400) for the glass roof and heated front seats makes sense.
That’s exactly $8800 and is a far better use of your money than opting for a bigger engine (though the S does come with more than just a bigger engine).
The real question, though, is why would you pick it over the BMW 1 Series?
The base-spec Mini Clubman starts at $34,900 with a six-speed automatic as standard (a $2350 reduction over its predecessor in auto) while the Mini Cooper S Clubman is down by $3360 to a new starting price of $42,900 with an eight-speed automatic transmission as standard.
In comparison, the BMW 118i is $36,900 while the 120i is $41,900. As good and as ‘non-conformist’ as the Mini Clubman claims to be, in our opinion the 1 Series is a better car. It’s rear-wheel drive (the Mini is front-wheel drive), it drives and rides better (with adaptive suspension), arguably looks better and is likely to have better resale down the line.
One thing it doesn’t do better is cheaper fixed-priced servicing, which Mini offers for a flat rate of $980 for five years. A very reasonable amount indeed.
The Mini Clubman is a very niche premium small car targeted at those that want something different, and in that regard it delivers on its brief rather well. It drives well, provides ample practicality with a gorgeous interior, but it has stiff competition from even its own parent-brand, let alone other German manufacturers, which makes it a harder sell.
For us the Mini Cooper Clubman is a solid 8/10 with the Cooper Clubman S a 7/10, making the range a 7.5/10.