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BMW's Mini division introduced the Mini Cooper in 2002 as a premium subcompact car. The Mini Cooper gets rave reviews for its go kart driving dynamics, but the small size and lack of cargo space are issues for some buyers. Now comes Mini's answer to that dilemma: the Mini Cooper Clubman.
The Mini Cooper Clubman is 9.4 inches longer than the regular Mini Cooper and it rides on a 3.1-inch longer wheelbase. That extra room translates into added rear seat and cargo space. While the base Mini Cooper's rear seat is quite restricted, the Mini Cooper Clubman's second seating row is a viable space to put two adults. Be aware, however, that even with the extra size, the Clubman is still a small car, and as such the rear seat isn't exactly cavernous. Basically, it will work for adults provided the occupants up front aren't 6-foot, 5-inch small forwards.
The main concern for potential buyers and Mini engineers alike with adding more room is maintaining Mini's fun-to-drive character. We're glad to say that is not a problem. The Clubman is just as fun as the Mini Cooper and is actually a bit more stable in long, sweeping turns. Plus, the added length helps the Clubman iron out bumps better, improving upon a notorious problem for the Mini Cooper, especially the S.
Like the standard Mini Cooper, the Clubman has precise steering and confident braking. It changes direction quickly, though not quite as sharply as its little brother, and is easy to maneuver in and out of traffic. Most importantly and like the regular Mini, the Clubman puts a smile on your face every time you get behind the wheel.
The view from the front seat is the same as it is in the Mini Cooper. Only the tachometer is located in front of the driver and a larger round speedometer is featured at the top of the center stack, to the driver's right. The radio is a bit odd to use, as the tuning and volume knobs are located about eight inches apart. The window switches are also located on the center stack instead of the doors. The whole layout takes some getting used to.
The Mini's high roofline leaves plenty of head room in the driver's seat, so even though the Clubman is a small car, big guys will fit. As mentioned above, the rear seat is hospitable for adults, and it folds down to create a flat load floor. The Clubman's cargo volume is 32.8 cubic feet versus 24.0 cubic feet for the regular Mini.
The Clubman costs about $2000 more than the standard Mini. Its combination of a smoother ride, more room, and similar handling make it an easier car to live with on a daily basis and the better choice for drivers that regularly carry passengers and cargo.
The 2008 Mini Clubman is offered in two models, Mini Cooper Clubman and Mini Cooper S Clubman. The base Clubman comes with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 118 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 114 pound-feet of torque at 4250 rpm. The S also has a 1.6-liter four, but it is turbocharged and makes 172 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. Both engines come standard with a six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic ($1250) with a manual shiftgate and paddle shifters.
Standard equipment on the base Clubman includes leatherette upholstery, air conditioning, interior air filter, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, trip computer, AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input jack, height-adjustable front seats, split folding rear seat, power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, AM/FM/CD player, cooled glovebox, theft-deterrent system, and P175/65R15 tires on alloy wheels.
Options are available in Mini's "popcorn pricing" structure at $100, $250, $500, $750, $1000, $1500 and $2000 price levels. For $100, customers can choose hood stripes, chrome exterior mirror caps, and rear fog lamps. For $250, you can get an anthracite headliner, various interior trims, a universal garage door opener, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a center armrest, fog lamps, automatic headlights, and sport seats. For $500, you can have HD Radio, heated front seats, rear park assist, automatic climate control with an interior air filter, xenon headlights, Bluetooth hands-free cell phone link with USB port, metallic paint, sport suspension, wood steering wheel with audio controls, alarm, power folding exterior mirrors, Comfort Access keyless starting, and the Mini HiFi sound system. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels cost $750. A sunroof, cloth and leather upholstery, and Sirius satellite radio with a lifetime subscription cost $1000 each. Leather upholstery runs $1500, and premium English leather upholstery and a navigation system are $2000 each.
The Clubman's Premium package ($1500) comes with a dual sunroof with a fixed glass rear panel, automatic climate control, and the Mini HiFi sound system. Also offered is a Sport package ($1500) with sport suspension, 16-inch wheels with performance tires, sport seats, fog lamps, and white or black hood stripes. The Cold Weather package ($500) has power folding outside mirrors, heated washer jets and heated front seats. And the Convenience package ($1500) has a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, Comfort Access, a universal garage door opener, a center armrest, automatic headlights, and a Bluetooth hands-free cell phone link with a USB port.
The S model adds sport seats, fog lamps, sport suspension, and P195/55R16 tires to the base model's standard equipment. It also has all the same option packages as the base model, but its Sport package ($1500) has 17-inch wheels instead of 16s and adds xenon headlights. S-exclusive options consist of a limited-slip differential ($500) and 17-inch alloy wheels ($750).
In addition to a 4 year/50,000 mile standard warranty, all Minis have free maintenance for 3 years/36,000 miles.
Safety features include dual front airbags, seated-mounted front side airbags, curtain side airbags that cover both seating rows, a tire-pressure monitor, antilock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, traction control, electronic stability control, and brake cornering control. Hill Start Assist is standard with manual transmission models. The only safety option is rear park assist.
Austin and Morris merged under the umbrella of the British Motor Company in 1952 and produced the original Mini Cooper, known as both the Austin Mini Cooper and Morris Mini Cooper, starting in 1961. A car called the Mini Clubman followed in 1969.
BMW acquired the rights to the Mini brand in 1994, and introduced a new Mini Cooper in the United States for the 2002 model year. The new Mini Cooper Clubman is very similar in design to the current Mini Cooper, but it features a pair of split rear doors inspired by the Austin Countryman and Mini Traveler of the 1960s.
The Clubman is identical to its little brother from the front bumper to the back of the doors. Of the 9.4 inches of added length, 3.1 inches are located behind the doors and in front or the rear wheels, thus lengthening the wheelbase by an equal amount. Another 6.3 inches are found behind the rear wheels, but the Clubman still manages to keep a wheels-pushed-to-the-corners look.
The two biggest changes from the regular Mini Cooper are the addition of a rear access door on the passenger side and the use of split rear "barn" doors at the back. The right-side access door, what Mini calls the "Clubdoor," is a small door that doesn't open independently of the front passenger door and is meant to provide easier access to the third row. At the back, the handles for the split rear doors are placed together where the doors come together. The rear glass does not open.
Like its little brother, the Clubman comes with two-tone paint. The accent color found on the roof is carried over to the rear C-pillars, and it also extends down through the taillights and onto the rear bumper. Accent hood stripes can also be ordered.
Like the standard Mini, the base and S Clubman models have their differences. The base model has a three-bar chrome grille, while the S's is black mesh. The S also has a larger lower air intake, also with a black mesh insert, a forward-mounted front hood scoop, larger wheels and tires, a chrome gas cap, and dual exhaust versus a single exhaust. The Clubman S also has two rear air intakes, while the base Clubman has none.
Hop in the driver's seat and the first thing you notice is that the Clubman has the same avant-garde interior as the Mini Cooper. The tachometer is placed on the steering column in front of the driver and a large round speedometer is located in the center of the dash. The tach also displays a digital speed readout as well as trip computer information. The radio readout bisects the speedo face and the audio controls are located below it, still within the large round face. Unfortunately, the volume knob is located about eight inches lower than the rest of the radio controls, just above the climate controls. The available navigation system, which comes with real-time traffic, is also located within the large round speedometer housing. It has a 6.5-inch screen. The design works, but it looks out of place.
The climate controls are uniquely designed, but like the radio, they sacrifice form for function as the fan and temperature wheels are awkward to use. The window switches are also located on the center stack, as are door lock button, fog light switches, and seat heater switches. The whole layout takes some getting used to.
Below the center stack are two cupholders that are tight even for 12-ounce soda cans. There is no center console, but a center armrest is available. The glovebox is of average size, but the Clubman also has a top bin hidden away behind the dash panel. Overall, the Clubman doesn't have many convenient ways to hold small items.
The Clubman's interior materials are well chosen. Though there are many plastics, they have a quality look and feel. The same goes for the base upholstery, which is leatherette instead of cloth. Three leather seating options are available, a cloth and leather combination, a fully leather option, and higher end English leather. Mini allows customers to choose from numerous interior trims to give each car an individual character.
Front seat occupants will find plenty of room. The high roofline offers lots of headroom and the seats move back far enough to allow tall guys to fit. We spent about six hours in the Clubman on the launch event in California, and found our backs were no worse for wear after the trip. The seats are nicely bolstered to keep you in place when you inevitably hustle through the turns. The available sport seats are even better. Visibility from the front seat is good as well, though the line where the rear doors comes together is a bit of a distraction in the rearview mirror. Buyers in warmer climates might want to avoid the optional sunroof, as the shade is mesh and might not block out enough sun during the hot summer months.
The rear seat is much easier to access from the passenger side through the Clubdoor than it is from the driver's side. Occupants sit down and into the seats, leaving plenty of room for two and creating more legroom than might otherwise be available. Rear occupants will only have a problem if the front seat occupants are really tall.
The second row seat is split 60/40 and the seatbacks fold to create a flat load floor and 32.8 cubic feet of cargo volume, 37 percent more than the standard Mini Cooper's 24 cubic feet. There is even 9.18 cubic feet of available space behind the third-row seat, a 61 percent increase over the regular Mini hardtop. The Clubman's split rear doors provide easy access to the cargo area. Note that the right side door must be opened for the left side door to open as well. Both doors swing out and open 90 degrees so as not to block cargo access, and the liftover height is quite low. Smaller items can be loaded by opening just the right side door. The extra rear seat room and cargo space are compelling reasons to choose the Clubman over its little brother.
The biggest concern with building a bigger Mini is the loss of the gokart-like fun-to-drive feel of the base model. Fret not because the Clubman is just as fun to drive as the regular Mini Cooper.
That may sound hard to believe, but the Clubman's extra length may actually help in some ways. The longer wheelbase helps to smooth out some of the bumps and make the Clubman somewhat more stable in turns.
The feel behind the wheel is unmistakably Mini. The steering feels quick and responsive. The brakes are easy to modulate and provide worry-free stops. Though larger than its little brother, the Clubman still feels light and tossable. The S model has a sport suspension with harder springs, stiffer shocks and thicker anti-roll bars, and even stiffer settings are offered in the S's Sport package.
Mini gave journalists the opportunity to drive both the Clubman S and the regular Mini Cooper S on an autocross and the cars felt very similar. One journalist remarked that he thought the Clubman felt more stable, but my seat of the pants feel tells me the regular Mini was slightly more nimble and more ready to react to quick changes of direction. That's not to criticize the Clubman. If not for its little brother, it would be the most nimble car on the market in tight quarters. Both the base and S model benefit from Mini's brake cornering control, which can use the ABS to apply individual brakes to inside wheels to help get the car through a corner.
On the road, drivers will find the Clubman a little more comfortable than the base model. Since it was first released in 2002, the Mini Cooper has been known for its somewhat punishing ride quality, especially the higher performance S model. The Clubman's longer wheelbase helps to mitigate that problem, making the S model more palatable for more customers. Still, the S model's ride is not luxurious ride. It can be harsh over sharp bumps and potholes, but it's not as punishing as its shorter wheelbase sibling.
When it comes to power, the Clubman is also very similar to the standard Mini. The base engine makes 118 horsepower and can move the Clubman from 0 to 60 mph in 10.2 seconds. While that's slow by today's standards, the Clubman doesn't feel slow, and the power feels quite usable over 3000 rpm.
The S model's turbocharged version of the 1.6 puts out 172 horses and can provide 192 horsepower in short bursts thanks to programming. With the turbo, the Clubman is capable of a 7.2 second 0-60 mph sprint. That's just 0.2 seconds slower than the regular S model, which isn't surprising because the Clubman weighs only 177 pounds more. Like the normally aspirated version, the turbocharged four makes its power at higher rpm.
The turbo has little in the way of turbo lag, making it easy to live with. Both engines work well with the automatic transmission, and the S model's paddle shifters are easy to use. The automatic doesn't need to be put into a Sport mode to use them, and when the driver quits using them, the transmission reverts to drive, picking the gears itself. Despite the addition of shift paddles, the manual offers more driver interaction and lets you wring more out of the Mini's limited power. We would definitely recommend the manual for the low-powered base model. It makes the driving experience more fun.
Both models also have a Sport mode button located in front of the shifter. For cars with the manual transmission, this button quickens throttle response and chooses a quicker steering ratio. For those with the automatic, it also switches to a more aggressive shift algorithm that holds gears longer to keep more power on tap.
The addition of the Clubman to the Mini lineup will give more buyers the opportunity to experience a Mini. With more cargo and passenger room, and as much fun-to-drive factor as its little brother, the Mini Cooper Clubman is easier to live with and may actually be a better value.
Kirk Bell filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive in the Mini Cooper Clubman in Monterey, California.