The 2018 Mini Clubman occupies a strange place in the market. Funky styling, staggering customization options, powertrain options that span from thrifty to thrilling, and a size and form factor that’s about equal to a Volkswagen Golf makes this Mini a smart all-around purchase for consumers that can afford a price tag that tends to increase suddenly.

Best Value

Mini prides itself on building no two cars that are exactly alike. While packages are available that make customization easy, every option is available as a la carte, while a healthy array of purely aesthetic features is there to help owners stand out.

The bad news is that this customization is rarely cheap. The smart buy in the Clubman range is the middle child, the Cooper S. While we tested a high-performance John Cooper Works model, its high starting price and occasionally over-aggressive attitude might not appeal to every buyer – the Cooper S boasts most of its performance in a far more tolerable everyday character. We’d pass on the available All4 all-wheel-drive system and stick with the standard front-drive layout.

Things get tricky once those simple decisions are made. Like BMW, Mini only offers two no-cost color options – Pepper White and Moonwalk Grey – so plan on budgeting $500 for one of the more expressive paints (or $1,000 for the beautiful Lapisluxury Blue). On the bright side, Mini does offer its traditional contrasting roof (in either black, white, or Melting Silver) at no charge.

Packages make ordering easy, so we’d recommend starting there. While it’s expensive, the $4,500 Fully Loaded Package blends the Sport, Premium, and Technology Package while giving customers a $1,050 discount. Customers can select these packages independently, too, although the value here is hard to ignore. The Cold Weather Package rings up at $750, but $250 of that is for power-folding side mirrors – might as well save that and grab the standalone heated front seats.

The Mini’s cabin is a blank slate for customers – aside from the upholstery and dash trim, customers can add different steering wheels, roofliners, door panels (including neat illuminated setups), and even change up the back of the rear-view mirror. The most expensive option is undeniably the upholstery, which can range from $750 to $2,250. Other trim changes cost $400 – we’d suggest budgeting for something between that number and $1,000 for these purely aesthetic changes.

Here’s how we’d configure our Mini Clubman.

  • Model: 2018 Mini Cooper S Clubman
  • Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Output: 189 hp / 207 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • MPG: 23 City / 32 Hwy
  • Options: Metallic paint ($500), Fully Loaded Package ($4,500, adaptive dampers, head-up display, LED foglights, LED headlights, proximity entry, panoramic sunroof, wireless charge pad, 8.8-inch infotainment system with navigation, Harmon Kardon audio, 17-inch wheels), heated front seats ($500), Black Pearl Leatherette/Cloth upholstery ($750), Mini Yours Sport leather steering wheel ($250), Fiber Alloy Illuminated interior trim ($400)
  • Base Price: $29,300 (including $850 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $36,200

Performance

Mini Clubman

Golf-sized the Mini Clubman may be, but it offers a broader selection of driving experiences. The base Cooper model and its thrifty turbocharged three-cylinder is a peach (134 hp and 162 lb-ft), a great reminder that a car can be just as much fun at low speeds as it is at higher ones. Abundant low-end torque gives this engine a diesel-like character, although like a diesel, power fades quickly as the revs rise.

The Cooper S really is the sweet spot, with 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. Plenty of low and mid-range torque make it easy to exploit the Clubman’s still-small footprint to make nippy passes at urban and suburban speeds. On the freeway, the willingness of the Cooper S’ 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder – an engine the Mini shares with a whole host of BMW models – to rev makes it an able companion. Stick with the standard six-speed manual for the most entertaining pairing.

The John Cooper Works model we tested is by far more aggressive. With 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque from the same 2.0-liter turbo-four, the JCW is quick without escalating to the occasionally scary speeds found in Honda Civic Type R or Ford Focus RS. It distinguishes itself in more ways than just power – its freer-flowing exhaust is much louder and it cracks and pops on overrun, while the throttle response is much sharper, too. Mini claims the JCW Clubman will take six seconds to hit 60 miles per hour, although it feels a bit quicker than that.

All Clubmans are available with all-wheel drive, but only the JCW comes standard with it. It adds weight and complexity, but as far as all-weather ability goes, it gives the Clubman a welcome boost in stability and capability. Still, we’d rather have a good set of snow tires over the expense and weight that comes with Mini’s All4 all-wheel-drive system.

Regardless of which Clubman we’re talking about, each trim features a quick, direct steering setup and a suspension that does its best at balancing Mini’s traditional go-kart-like feel. It fails, mostly, but the engineers did try. The firm suspension, even with the optional adaptive dampers, transmits most imperfections into the cabin. We’d strongly recommend avoiding the available 19-inch wheels in favor of a more conservative 17-inch setup, and while it’s a risky proposition, swapping out the standard run-flat tires for a more traditional bit of rubber should have a marked effect on the ride quality. But the reality is that the Mini Clubman simply isn’t as comfortable as similarly sized cars. It’s a hell of a lot more fun, though.

Minimal body roll and a lack of squat and dive mean drivers can plunge into corners at speeds that don’t seem reasonable in a small car. The current crop of Minis still don’t have anything on their predecessors from the early 2000s (let alone the Minis sold in the last half of the 20th century), but the Clubman is among the most engaging, entertaining small cars on the market.

Style

A busy tail, barn doors, double wipers, and an overabundance of badges is the exterior’s biggest downside. But because the Clubman is significantly wider than a Mini Hardtop, the brand’s current fascia design looks far more natural. It’s still not pretty, but the width deemphasizes the upright nature of the grille and headlights.

Available stripe packages, plenty of exterior color combos (remember, the contrasting roof is free and comes in three shades), and little touches like mirror cap designs allow owners to spice up and hide overshadow the Clubman’s most disappointing styling elements. We’d strongly recommend grabbing the no-cost Stealth Package, which removes Mini’s winged logo on the driver’s side and the requisite “Cooper” designation on the passenger side.

Mini’s unique interior design has been toned down over the years and borders on conventional in the Clubman. The window switches are on the door panels, rather than toggle switches in the center stack, and the speedometer has been integrated with a slim tachometer on the steering column. It’s a win for functionality but a loss for funky, bold design. Still, the ability to pick crazy upholstery (we dig the maroon and blue leather schemes offered on the Clubman) and attach fashionable cabin trims makes the Mini a fun place to spend time.

The front seats, especially the sport seats, are supportive and firm. Throw the Clubman into a turn and these chairs hold driver and passenger in place. We’d like a little more give in the cushions, though. Space in front is abundant, even for tall drivers. The Clubman is much more versatile than a Mini Hardtop, but it’s down on leg room and cargo space compared to a Volkswagen Golf. Will owners miss the extra 1.3 inches of second-row leg room or 5.3 cubic feet of cargo space found in the Volkswagen? Not likely, especially if style/performance/content is more important than practicality.

The Best and Worst Things

Like every Mini, the Clubman is a blank canvas. You can design one, custom order it from the factory – built-to-order cars have been a fixture of the Mini range since its reintroduction in the early 2000s – and within two to three months, you can take delivery of a vehicle that’s as close to one-of-a-kind as a mainstream car can get. You’d need a Bentley, Ferrari, Porsche, or some other ultra-luxury brand to get a car as custom built as a Mini.

The cost of this customization isn’t as high as a Bentley or Ferrari, but it’s still far from cheap. A Cooper S Clubman starts at $29,300, but a quick run through the online configurator and it’s not hard to build a car that adds 50 percent of that price in optional goodies. Grab a John Cooper Works model, and a $50,000 Clubman is a real possibility.

Right For? Wrong For?

Mini Clubman

Customers that value cars with personality and an exclusive experience will love the Clubman. It’s fun to drive and approachable, and thanks to the limitless customization, it’s safe to say that you’ll never stumble on another identically configured Clubman.

Shrinking violets need not apply. The Clubman’s design alone is a four-wheeled personality statement, but with the host of paints and interior and exterior accents, it’s a vehicle that reflects its owner’s personality in a way that few vehicles can.

The Bottom Line

It’s not cheap, but the Clubman is a fun, stylish, personality filled alternative to today’s small hatchbacks.