Being a more ‘maxi’ mini is no bad thing; it’s more the perception of what constitutes ‘premium'.
THAT the Mini Clubman even made it to COTY is a feat in itself, largely because some weren’t initially convinced of its eligibility. Based on the F55/F56 Mini family, the second generation appears to be essentially a stretched version of cars in the existing Mini range.
But as well as extra length and wheelbase (see sidebar) the Clubman is also some 70mm wider than those other Minis, necessitating a unique interior treatment. So the new Clubman is sufficiently different to any Mini before it.
From the outset that earnt it praise from judges. The extra millimetres translate into useful interior space, especially in the rear. The Clubman is the first Mini that could realistically be used to carry more than two adults in respectable comfort.
Practicality isn’t usually the highlight of a Mini, but it’s a standout of the Clubman, with the exception of the barn doors at the rear; they not only make it a double motion to open the boot but also impact rear vision.
Those broader dimensions also help with the driving experience, too. There’s still the trademark quick-ratio steering and taut chassis, but there’s newfound maturity that makes it more adaptable on poor surfaces. The longer wheelbase, in particular, adds compliance to the ride that makes the Clubman the most comfortable Mini to date. Yet it still suffers from known Mini shortcomings: wind noise and tyre roar that take the edge off high-speed cruising.
And while the size has brought more on-the-limit understeer to the handling, it somehow seems to hang on better than other Minis and feels more predictable and adjustable in corners.
The three-cylinder Cooper engine is loaded with personality and just enough torque to shift the bigger body, while the Cooper S’s more frenetic 2.0-litre turbo adds impressive pace. It’s a satisfyingly strong engine, and one that brings low-rev elasticity as well as a free-revving top end. However, not everyone was sold on the synthesised soundtrack that accompanies the S’s perky acceleration.
There were also question marks around the Mini’s value, long a sore point due to its premium positioning. Priced from $34,900, it’s playing with a suite of excellent four-cylinder small cars yet misses out on some of the prestige fruit some would expect. And the Cooper S is bang into Volkswagen Golf GTI territory.
The interior and materials – elegant and well chosen in some areas but cheaper and less convincing in others – was also a COTY discussion point.
Then there’s the autonomous emergency braking of the Cooper S, which was inconsistent above 10km/h, seriously reducing its usefulness in avoiding crashes.
At this price level, things like that should work faultlessly.
Which is part of the Clubman’s issues. It’s the most convincing new Mini to date, but it also comes with a price tag that reduces its appeal against even more convincing rivals.
Type: 5-door wagon, 5 seats
Boot capacity: 360 litres
Weight: 1300 – 1390kg
Layout: front engine (east-west), FWD
1499cc 3cyl turbo (100kW/220Nm);
1998cc 4cyl turbo (141kW/280Nm)
6-speed manual; 8-speed automatic
Tyres:205/55R16 – 225/45R17
ADR81 fuel consumption: 5.4 – 6.4L/100km
CO2 emissions: 118 – 147g/km
Collision mitigation: Crash rating 4-star (Euro NCAP)
Prices: $34,900 – $42,900