Being different is not something most people want to be when they’re kids. Standing out from the crowd in pre-pubescent days means a possible kicking in the playground or a toilet bowl dunking in the little boys’ room. It’s even more difficult as a teenager, but finally we reach our 20s and 30s and suddenly we want to be unique.
It’s no surprise, then, that most car buyers like the idea of something unusual on their drive and in recent years car manufacturers have invented and reinvented just about every niche there is. The Mini is a case in point. In 2001, the year BMW relaunched the Mini brand, the idea of a hatchback with less room and a larger price tag than its similarly sized peers should have been laughed at, but we all loved the Mini for its combination of cheeky, throwback looks and sheer chuckability in normal road conditions.
The car was a runaway success, with the second generation launched earlier this year set to increase sales further. Or is it? Despite the Mini surpassing the one million sales mark in April, we can’t help but wonder: a) if buyers will get bored and b) how BMW plans to follow it up. Enter the new Clubman derivative, not as a replacement per se, but as a way to ensure the company’s sustainability.
Now, given that the Mini trades in part on its heritage, you’ll not be surprised to hear that the name is not new. The original Clubman replaced various ‘Mini’ Estate models in 1969 and it’s fair to say that the new car shares its concept with the original, though with a modern and quirky twist. It’s called a ‘Clubdoor’ in the fluffy world of Mini marketing and though it doesn’t, as the tag might suggest, allow free access into the night club next door through a sneaky back door in the pub, it does give the Mini a whole new dimension. Not that you’ll even notice it if you approach the Clubman for the first time from the left of the car, as there is only one Clubdoor and it’s on the ‘wrong’ side for the Irish market, due to the complexity and cost of repositioning the fuel filler. So when sticking fuel into the thing you can admire the elongated roofline and rear window, both quite reminiscent of the original Mini Estate. Skip around the front end and you’ll note that it’s identical to the hatchback, but my God, what’s happened to the righthand side?
The extra shut line, delineating the new door, is just about acceptable to the eye, but the extra window is plain awkward. Presumably the roofline has been raised in a bid to aesthetically balance the extra length, but it looks like the Clubman’s mother dropped it on its roof at an early age, resulting in two nasty bumps that run the length of the cabin. We do like the neat roof spoiler, though, and at night other motorists are treated to a rather cool full-width, highlevel brake light. Below the spoiler, the Mini is all change and I’m not so sure it’s a success. On one hand, the funky, vertically split rear doors are like no other car on sale, though they must have cost a fortune to engineer and they even feature individual gas dampers to hold them open, which is a tad unnecessary given their light weight. On opening the doors you may be surprised to find that the light surround is part of it, while the lamp itself is fixed.
This may give unimpeded access to the boot, but the appearance won’t be to all tastes and its success is very dependent on colour choice. For now, the light surround is only available in the same colour as the roof, but we suspect that full customisation will eventually be offered, perhaps meaning that GAA fans won’t need to hang flimsy flags off their car any more. Yellow-and-black-striped Clubman anyone? You read it here first. The only model available at the international launch in Spain was the range-topping Cooper S and though its twin exhausts are pleasing to the eye (they emit a naughty burble too), they mean this Clubman can’t take a tow bar. Other models in the range will, though, and will be rated to tow up to 750kg, which is a first for a Mini. You’ll still need a trailer to carry your luggage if you’re planning a longer trip, but the Clubman’s boot is usefully bigger than the hatchback’s, so it could even be used for the odd trip to the airport thanks to an overall increase in length by 240mm. About 80mm of this increase is between the wheels and hence aimed at improving the Mini’s notoriously sorrowful rear legroom. It doesn’t quite live up to the ‘lounge’ ambience mentioned in the press pack, but the extra inches are welcome and your kids will grow for another few years before they complain.
Adults can be accommodated too, but some friendly negotiation may be required to allow four well-fed city boys to travel without getting cramp. Actually, the Clubman is a five-seater (unlike the hatch), although buyers will be able to specify a four-seat option instead at no extra cost. What about the Clubdoor? Well, it certainly makes getting in and out easier – a lot easier actually – and it will appeal to parents with a baby too, as it’s more straightforward to feed a car seat into the rear than in the regular Mini. You may be wondering if this newfound practicality (it’s all relative...) is at the cost of the Mini’s endearing driving dynamics. As you’ll have seen in our recent hot hatch mega test, the Cooper S is a fine drivers’ car and mixes comfortably with more expensive andmore powerful machinery thanks to its sharp chassis and grunty turbocharged engine – even the Cooper is a hoot to drive.
Mini’s engineers worked hard to endow the Clubman with the same dynamics, despite the potential loss in agility inherent in an increasein mass and wheelbase. Suffice to say that it’s still loads of fun, though we’ll reserve final judgement until we drive Irish-spec cars,as we found out towards the end of our time with the car that it was fitted with the optional limited slip differential... That alone probably makes a bigger difference to the Cooper S than the change in dimensions and mass, but I will say that the Clubman is commendably stable and safe, requiring severe provocation to unsettle the rear end.
The combination of the twinscroll turbocharged torque and the diff resulted in more torque steer than we’ve experienced in any other Mini, but that’s unlikely to be representative of most customers’ cars. Indeed, most Irish buyers will opt for the Cooper or Cooper D over the sportier S, with the entry-level Cooper costing €27,150 and its diesel-fuelled counterpart priced at €29,150. There’s quite a jump to get into the €32,400 Cooper S given that the Cooper D offers as much torque and much better fuel economy.
There has been no official announcement about a Mini One-flavoured Clubman, but we were told that it’s going to happen, and though its 1.4-litre engine may struggle with the extra weight, it’s still likely to be one of the best-selling models here. That says a lot about the Clubman and its potential buyers. I could risk a repetitive strain injury typing an attempt to educate our readers in the nuances of its handling balance; I could even waffle on about the Clubman’s ability to accommodate your sprogs, but at the end of the day, buyers just want something different – the Clubman is.
Engine 1.6-litre, turbocharged 4-cylinder 175hp, 240Nm torque (up to 260Nm available on overboost)
Transmission 6-speed manual
Acceleration 0-100 km/h 7.6 seconds
Top speed 224 km/h
Economy 6.3 litres/100km
CO2 Emissions 150 g/km
Weight 1,205 kg
Boot Capacity 260 litres
Base Price €32,400