2010 MINI Cooper S Clubman Road Test Review

John Birchard - CAP staff
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Ever since they decided to revive the tiny box called the MINI, BMW has manufactured well over one-and-a-half million of the distinctive small cars in its Oxford, Hams Hall and Swindon UK plants.  Last year, the company marked its fiftieth year as a brand.  MINI is sold in eighty countries, the latest being Brazil. 

I spent a week with the MINI Cooper S Clubman.  This version might be called the Mighty MINI, as it has grown by nine and a half inches in length in comparison with the MINI Hardtop.  Those additional inches add up to more interior room.  The Clubman features twin "split rear barn doors" instead of the more common liftgate.  In a nod toward the brand's early days, this sort of door was used on the Austin Mini Countryman, Morris Minor Traveller and the Mini Clubman Estate back in the 1960s.  The doors are hinged on the outer edge of the C-pillars offering wide-open access to the luggage area.  Each door has its own window and each window has its own windshield wiper.  A pair of gas struts aids the doors' operation.  The designers drew cutouts in the doors to allow the taillights to remain facing the rear, a safety factor when the doors are open at night. 

The Clubman has still another door – a rear-hinged or so-called "suicide" Clubdoor carved into the car's right side, making entry and exit for rear seat passengers somewhat easier.  The Clubdoor cannot be opened unless the right front door is open, an additional safety measure.  That takes care of the doors.  Now, what about the rest of the car? 
Despite its additional length, there's no mistaking that the Clubman is a MINI.  The overall shape remains a box with the wheels at the outer corners.  The Clubman looks like the latest MINI Cooper Hardtop from the radiator grille to the B pillars.  From there back, the Clubman is stretched to make extra legroom for rear seat passengers or a 61% improvement in luggage space (260 versus 161 litres or 9.18 versus 5.7 cubic feet) with the rear seatbacks up.  With seats down, there's a 37% improvement (929 versus 680 litres or 32.8 versus 24.0 cubic feet). 

Sticking with the interior, the instrument panel with its big centre-mounted speedometer, comfort and convenience features and switchgear are both unique and, by now, familiar.  The tachometer is positioned behind the steering wheel.  In the bottom section of the centre console there is a row of chrome toggles that operate the fog lamps, power windows and central locking function.  The controls for the sound system are scattered in non-intuitive places on the centre stack.  The on-off and volume knob is below the slot for CDs, but the rest of the sound controls are separate within the speedometer housing.  It's a quirky design.  The Clubman's ambient lighting can be varied in five stages from orange to blue. 

The base Clubman is powered by a 118-hp, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine.  The tested Clubman S gets the turbocharged 1.6-litre version making 172 horsepower.  Both vehicles are front-drivers and both come standard with a six-speed manual transmission.  A six-speed automatic is an option.  According to company figures, the turbo propels the S version from a standstill to 100 km/h in 7.5 seconds and is capable of a top speed of 225 km/h (139 mph).  The base model accelerates from zero to 60 in 9.8 seconds and tops out at 201 km/h (125 mph).  Fuel economy estimates rate the S at an EPA equivalent of 9.0L/100km city and 6.9 highway, while the base model achieves 8.4L/100km city and 6.5 highway.  Premium gasoline is recommended.  My test car was equipped with the automatic transmission. 

BMW refers to the "premium small car segment" when discussing the niche into which MINI fits.  Indeed, the MSRP on a fully loaded version would end up at $46,825, having started at $31,500 before the optional items were applied.  That's "premium" enough for me.  A lot of very nice cars can be had for about 45,000 dollars.  But, the MINI folk argue, are those others as much fun?  Do they offer go kart-like handling?  Are they "cute," like the MINI? 

Safety – both active and passive – is included in the MINI package.  There are six standard airbags.  The car's body, while featuring short overhangs front and rear, provides strong construction in case of a collision.  To help avoid said collision, there are standard anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, corner brake control, and electronic stability control.  MINI also offers "Hill Assist" start-off assistance, which holds the brakes for a maximum of three seconds after letting off the brake pedal and before the clutch is engaged.  It's beneficial when starting off uphill to prevent the car from rolling back.  Shades of the old Studebaker! 

Cornering is as flat as your hat, thanks to the low center of gravity, wide track and the wheels placed at the extreme corners of the car.  Electric power steering helps make the MINI even more agile.  The ride?  Ah, the ride.  Let's just say it is extra firm, which facilitates handling while it loosens your teeth.  Definitely on the sporty side.  As is acceleration.  The turbo version gets off the mark with vigor and little discernible turbo lag.  And the brakes are equal to the task of pulling the Clubman down from speed in short order.  The pedal is especially sensitive.  The first time I applied the brakes I nearly stood the little bugger on its nose. 

One significant disadvantage created by the "barn doors" on the rear end is blocked visibility. Closing the doors creates a vertical blind spot right in the middle of your rear view mirror.  Not good.  Couple that with the rear seat headrests and you've got a problem.  Otherwise, outward visibility is very good.  I also don't like the speedometer in the middle of the dash, far away from the driver's main line of sight. 

The front seats are snug and supportive with prominent side bolsters.  A manually operated lever at the outer front corners of the seats raises and lowers the seats for optimum comfort.  Despite the added length of the Clubman, legroom in the rear is in short supply.  There's space for a couple of kids, but adults may seek an alternate ride. 

So, how does the MINI go, you ask?  Very well, thank you.  The combination of the turbocharged engine, the flat cornering and the powerful brakes encourages happy motoring.  In an urban setting, it's hard to keep the little car at or under the speed limit.  It just wants to GO. 

For whom is the Clubman intended?  Maybe for empty nesters looking for a fun ride or a young couple for whom kids are a future plan...  or a young guy or gal who wants to make a distinctive automotive statement.  I think it would work well as a second car, behind a roomier sedan or crossover.  Gas mileage is good, especially when performance is considered.  I still look at the price tag, though, and think about what else is available in the 30 to 45 thousand-dollar range.  But, to date, 24,000 happy MINI motorists in the United States have proven me wrong.  They voted with their wallet or purse for the Clubman and that, friends, is the vote that counts.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Wagon, Mini, 2010, Cooper S, Clubman, $30,000 - $39,999,

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