BACKED by barn doors and casting a shooting-brake silhouette, MINI’s new Clubman certainly raises eyebrows.
With a 103mm-longer wheelbase, the third-gen Clubman scores two new full-sized passenger doors over its predecessor, and a proper boot that’s able to gulp 1250 litres of cargo with the rear seats folded. Along with the stretch job, MINI’s widened the Clubman’s tracks, making it the brand’s longest and widest car on sale.
Things have changed inside, too.
Climb aboard this Cooper S variant and you’ll notice a new cabin layout when you plonk into its superb front sport pews. The Clubman’s interior design has evolved from the threedoor hatch’s haphazard layout to a more compartmentalised and resolved look, finished in a variety of nicely tactile materials.
There’s an upmarket ambience, with more shoulder room, and eccentrics will appreciate some typically quirky MINI details, such as the polished metal starter switch that glows red like a detonator trigger when you stab the brake pedal to start the engine.
Unfortunately, the Clubman’s performance isn’t exactly explosive.
Snacking on high-strength steel to reinforce its chassis has left it with a substantial weight problem, the 1360kg lardarse taking 7.1sec to reach 100km/h. But it feels even slower than that, even with a 2.0-litre turbo four producing 141kW and 280Nm, matched to a new eight-speed auto.
Fortunately the mood changes when the road begins to snake, the Clubman suddenly transforming from dozing sloth to leaping hare. You can easily place the car despite a steering system that feels lazy, and there’s a wonderful suppleness to its secondary ride that smooths unruly road terrain.
While it feels more planted than any other ‘practical’ MINI in the range – like the high-riding Paceman – it doesn’t come at the expense of the adjustability you’d find in a MINI hatch. If only BMW would give it the tyres to match its dynamic potential – its grip limits aren’t high.
But what ultimately stifles the Clubman Cooper S is its price. At $42,990 for an automatic or manual variant, the Clubman has been dropped in the ring with the compact segment’s deadliest contender, the VW Golf GTI, which mauls the MINI for looks and speed, while being just as practical.
On the other hand, few rivals offer the personality and charisma of the MINI, and many will buy it purely on point of difference. They won’t be disappointed, either, to know BMW’s reputation for build quality, technology and depth of engineering remains part of the package.
The Clubman Cooper S has glimpses of greatness, seen in its cushy chassis and interior. But it won’t be until a rabid JCW version, maybe, that the Clubman will raise eyebrows for the right reasons. M
Plush interior; practicality; supple chassis
Weight hampers performance; lazy steering