Car reviews - Mini - Clubman - Cooper
Practical enough for a head/heart consensus, fun to drive, fuel-efficiency, sense of occasion, top-quality (optional) onboard tech
Room for improvement
Too much road noise, transmission can be hesitant, rough idle-stop, chequebook-challenging options list
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20 Jun 2016
Price and equipment
WE DROVE the base Cooper variant, priced from $34,900 plus on-road costs with a standard six-speed automatic transmission (a manual is a no-cost option), which makes the Clubman $4800 more expensive than the equivalent Mini 5-door.
Standard equipment includes a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitoring, automatic headlights and wipers, front and rear fog-lights, a 6.5-inch touchscreen featuring Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, dual-zone climate control with rear airvents, forward collision warning, cruise control and a storage compartment package.
The interior fit-out comprises Carbon Black cloth upholstery, Hazy Grey trim, Satellite Grey headlining, Piano Black dash fascia, customisable LED ambient lighting and velour floor mats.
Externally a body-coloured roof and door mirror housings are standard, along with high-gloss grille bars with chrome surround, black side skirts and gill vents behind the front wheelarches.
The story doesn’t stop there. Being an endlessly customisable Mini, produced by the options list overlord that is BMW, our test vehicle was packed with $18,590 of extras. Granted, they made the Clubman feel very special indeed.
Included in the $5000 Chilli pack are 18-inch alloys with runflat tyres, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, LED foglights, keyless entry and start, Mini logo puddle lights and three selectable driving modes (green, normal and sport).
The $2700 Multimedia Pro pack upgrades the infotainment screen to 8.8 inches with satellite navigation, adds 12-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio with DAB+ digital radio and a head-up display.
Another $2600 went on the Convenience pack, comprising electric front seat adjustment (including lumbar support) with memory, a 40:20:40 split rear bench with central armrest, park assist with front and rear sensors, security alarm with red LED on the shark-fin antenna and auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors.
$2400 was spent on the Climate pack and its panoramic glass roof (with tilt/slide front section), ‘sun protection’ glazing and heated front seats.
Among the Mini Yours customisations were the $2200 ‘leather lounge’ premium upholstery with British flag head restraints, $1300 ‘lapisluxury blue’ paintwork, $600 illuminated ‘fibre alloy’ trim strips and a $350 sports leather steering wheel.
The car was also fitted with adaptive dampers ($700), ‘chrome line’ interior highlights ($290), ‘chrome line’ exterior garnish ($250) and silver-painted roof and mirror housings ($200).
Apart from a few extra Mini Yours customisations, the $2600 Control pack was the only option not fitted to our test vehicle. This includes camera-based driver assistance systems and adaptive LED headlights, plus LED foglights and driving lights.
It’s fair to say that the $18,590 of optional extras added to our Clubman lifted its interior substantially in a transformation that would probably make a base model feel pretty disappointing by comparison.
Attention to detail on the Mini Yours customisations borrow from the world of branded fashion, for example the beautifully crafted and comfortable seats, which had a British flag motif applique on the rear of the head restraints in leather and faux suede along with British flag rivets on the seat shoulders.
The steering wheel also had a subtle Union Flag motif between its spokes.
Surprise and delight came with the ‘fibre alloy’ trim, which presents a metallic zig-zag pattern across the dash that made us wonder why it was not repeated on the door trims. Until night fell and the door trims were illuminated with the same pattern. It’s $600 for this superficial folly, but we never got bored of it.
The Multimedia Pro pack also made a big difference with the display quality and powerful technology behind it, along with the touchpad-equipped BMW iDrive controller, not to mention the useful head-up display supplementing the anaemic instrument panel and veritable party-on-wheels audio upgrade with its detailed, rich sound output and useful DAB+ digital radio reception.
Being able to open the rear barn doors remotely, one-by-one, was also a neat party trick (part of the Chilli pack), as was the blinking red alarm-armed LED atop the shark-fin antenna (Convenience pack) that helped us find the car in crowded carparks.
The sunroof (Climate pack) was one of the best we have encountered, too. We could drive with it fully open at 110km/h without any buffeting entering the cabin or excessive wind noise and even better, the fabric mesh blind could remain closed with the roof open for ventilation but without the sunburn.
On the subject of sunburn, unlike some fabric sunroof blinds and despite its loose-knit porous construction, the Mini item really did block light and heat effectively. The sun protection glazing (also in the Climate pack) was similarly effective at blocking heat from the harsh Queensland sun and we immediately noticed its absence when driving other vehicles.
We suspect one downside of all the options on this car was the 18-inch alloy wheels. We know Minis – particularly the 5-door and Clubman – benefit visually from big rims and look under-wheeled on anything less than 17s, but the road noise got a little much at times, particularly on coarse-chip country roads.
Enough of what you don’t get for the basic $34,900. Despite the design flourishes that made us feel like the designers had fun putting the Clubman cabin together, we found it easy to find the ideal driving position and everything (apart from the engine start button) was easy to find and use first time.
An excellent driving position plus perfectly matched control weights, from the steering and pedals to the indicator stalk and sunroof switch, added a feeling of engineering depth to the Clubman’s sense of occasion and specialness.
We also put the Clubman to the young family test, something the above options have no sway over. And it (kind of) passed.
OK, the 360-litre boot, which is free of any awkward load lip courtesy of the barn doors and is of a uniform rectangular shape, didn’t have quite the right dimensions to easily accommodate our pushchair and we had to angle it or stand it up, obscuring rear vision. This made us glad of the reversing camera and sensors. There is a false floor in the boot, which if removed, would probably have enabled our buggy to fit.
When raised, the false floor lid snicks with beautiful action into two retaining clips on the boot walls. Each of the barn doors has a large bin (think one-litre sunscreen dispenser size) and recesses with nets are located on each side of the load area.
It was very easy to fit a child restraint and the Isofix child seat anchorages are housed within plastic guides, which made aligning things simpler, but one had already lost its flip-down cover and another came off in our hand. Top tethers on all three rear seats got our thumbs up, but we seriously doubt three child restraints could be fitted at once, or even that two people old enough to not need child restraints could share the rear bench with one.
We were also worried that installing a child seat would make the front passenger seat amputee-only accommodation but there was just enough room for someone to get in.
However, we had to take extreme care when threading a precious infant into the Clubman because the small rear doors and bulky child seat conspired to reduce the amount of space for the child’s head, followed by the parent’s head and shoulders. Carelessness is almost certainly going to result in mild concussion for either parent or child – perhaps both.
But headaches were spared by the Mini’s lack of shrill beeps that disturb sleeping children, with seatbelt reminder chimes, reversing sensor warnings and so-on all being low-pitched and generally un-annoying. Other car manufacturers should take note of this.
A pleasant surprise came in the fact that a six-footer could fairly easily sit behind a similarly tall driver, too, with just enough headroom in all three bench positions – although we found the short rear door length and odd rear seat positioning made interfaces between the knees and B-pillar a regular occurrence for those of above-average height when exiting the car.
Storage-wise, the Clubman is a pretty practical design. The door bins are large and drinks bottle friendly, especially in the front where each door can accommodate two decent-sized bottles. The glovebox is a reasonable size and supplemented by a bin beneath the front centre armrest, a tray in front of the gear selector and seat-back map pockets.
Cupholders are also located in the centre console and middle armrest of our vehicle’s optional 40:20:40 split rear seats, which fold flush with the boot floor to create a flat 1250L load area.
A nice attention to detail flourish is the tartan-textured rubber mat that lines all storage areas and provides a direct link to trim from the original 1959 BMC Mini. Also, during our week with the car, we never experienced a cabin rattle or creak – unlike the two Mercedes A-Class variants we drove before the Clubman – and flimsy Isofix anchor covers aside, the whole vehicle feels very solidly constructed.
Overall the Clubman represents a genuine attempt at creating a practical Mini and mostly succeeds. The rest of the car is so charming that we quickly forgave – and got used to – some of the infant-friendliness compromises.
Engine and transmission
Another three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, another journalist with their jaw on the floor. We loved the combination of character and flexibility the thrummy three-pot in the Clubman delivered.
What’s more, the official combined fuel consumption figure of 5.4 litres per 100 kilometres is genuinely achievable. Put it this way: We averaged 6.3L/100km during our week of driving in the typical lead-footed road-tester style. Being a Euro, it requires pricier 95 RON Premium Unleaded but we enjoyed having the advantages of a peppy petrol engine with diesel-like efficiency and a 700km tank range.
Some might consider the vibration at idle characterful and some may see it as a lack of refinement. But the shuddering, chugging way the idle-stop system kicked in and out was far from refined and the only real let-down of this drivetrain.
Apart from occasional hesitancy from the six-speed automatic transmission (cured by selecting Sport from the Chilli option pack’s three selectable drive modes) and its propensity to take a breath between ratios, we enjoyed the Cooper Clubman drivetrain.
Its 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque (between 1240 and the 4000rpm power peak) also ensured that a dependable level of propulsion was always on tap for most driving situations, making easy work of urban or motorway hills and keeping up with – and in many cases ahead of – traffic.
We only became aware of the engine’s limitations when going for a blast along twisty, hilly country roads. As the power and torque peak figures suggest, it runs out of puff long before the top end of its rev-range. The modest but mostly adequate pedal-to-the-metal acceleration also takes a hit on hills and we found the Clubman would rapidly lose speed on twisty roads if the accelerator pedal pressure was even slightly reduced.
On the other hand we quickly came to enjoy the extra commitment and momentum maintenance required to cover ground quickly in the Clubman and appreciated how much fun this aspect of its personality could be.
Selecting sport and manual modes (no paddles, but the selector action has the more logical back for up a gear and forward for down) also overcame some of the transmission’s full-bore sluggishness – although it would still automatically up-shift as the redline approached, accompanied by a cheerful snarl from the exhaust which, incidentally, also emits a lovely deep burble at idle.
Even more fun could be arguably had with the more powerful Cooper S, there was a lot of entertainment to be had in extracting the maximum from the excellent entry level drivetrain that for most people, would be all the engine they’d ever need.
Ride and handling
Fun handling is pretty much a given when it comes to Mini and, equipped with the plucky three-pot engine, it is clear how much more power the chassis can handle. We certainly never encountered any corner-exit traction issues, put it that way.
Plenty of grip was available from our optional 18-inch tyres, with beautiful balance enabling high corner entry speeds – even into hairpins – for the committed driver. With the little engine working hard on twisty, hilly roads, the Cooper Clubman would egg us on to carry more and more momentum through bends.
Highly entertaining as the Clubman was, we did miss the throttle-adjustability of other Mini models – even the Countryman/Paceman – and assume it was lost to the fact this car has an extended wheelbase.
Meanwhile, the steering was beautifully weighted, consistent and sharp enough to deliver the trademark Mini go-kart feel without ever feeling nervous, but provided somewhat less feedback than we had hoped.
Differences in road surfaces could be felt through the wheel, but there was little information about what the front tyres were doing. As a result we would hear the tyres starting to screech before we felt any indication of grip limits.
What we did get was some steering kickback on rippled corner surfaces, although it was never enough to throw the Clubman off line.
Even with the optional adaptive dampers fitted to our Clubman, those noisy 18-inch runflat tyres contributed to a rather firm ride, even in green or normal driving modes (sport mode tightens the ride further, but not to an unbearable degree for patchy Aussie roads).
On the worst section of bitumen on our test route, we were bobbing about in the Clubman but not uncomfortably jiggling. We certainly got the impression that the optional adaptive dampers were dispatching each undulation and recovering quickly enough to deal with the next.
It felt as though the suspension was breathing under us, keeping the tyres in contact with the road and the car supremely stable no matter what the surface, consistent with the overall thoroughly engineered feel. At motorway speeds, the Clubman was impressively comfortable and rock-solid stable.
For a base variant, the Cooper Clubman provides a lot of fun and is a very spirited, rewarding, capable car that delights on the public road without threatening your license or racking up bills with your local back-cracker.
Safety and servicing
Safety watchdog ANCAP has not yet rated the Clubman.
Dual frontal, side chest and side curtain airbags are standard, along with anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist. Autonomous emergency braking, reversing sensors and tyre pressure monitors are also standard kit, as are advanced seatbelt reminders for all seats.
Mini provides a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, while the vehicle determines its own servicing intervals based on frequency of use and driving style. Mini also offers pre-paid servicing packages that can be purchased within the first 12 months of ownership.
Until now, Minis have represented a serious compromise. The first Clubman was plain weird, the Countryman is a bit lardy, the Paceman is gut-wrenchingly pointless, the hatch is cramped and the 5-door oddly proportioned. It could be said the least compromised models were the now-defunct Roadster and Coupe.
We couldn’t honestly call the Clubman a family car, although if your offspring are old enough to not require child restraints or pushchairs, it would function as well as, if not better than many small hatches – even if they grow quite tall. You couldn’t say that about the cramped and claustrophobic rear quarters of a Corolla, or even a 1 Series from Mini’s parent company BMW.
But what the Clubman does offer is 95 per cent of the Mini driving experience with 100 per cent more versatility and 100 per cent of the style – if not more – with none of the annoying oddball quirks of its predecessor.
What are its direct rivals? The Fiat 500L isn’t sold here, an Audi A3 Sportback is much more sensible (both good and bad) and the Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake is probably the closest competitor in spirit, but substantially larger and pricier.
Buying with out heart, we’d go for the Clubman but we’d have our head firmly screwed on when it came to options. The seats and multimedia upgrades stood out for us, as did the adaptive dampers. A set of nice alloys and a contrast-coloured roof would finish things off nicely. So about $7000 of kit, rather than the more than 18 large lavished on our test car.
Even then, the Clubman represents one of the least expensive ways to get a true sense of occasion with every journey.
One passenger in our Clubman was a rusted-on fanatic of the Issigonis original, with a shed full of classic examples from the swinging sixties. The kind of person who might refer to the modern take on his favourite car as a Maxi or a Bini.
He was so impressed with what he saw and felt that, during one of our journeys, he was swiping through the online brochure using his smartphone and later admitted he had been telling anyone who would listen about his Clubman experience.
Don’t just take our word for it, a Clubman is now on his shopping list.
Mercedes-Benz CLA200 Shooting Brake from $52,990 plus on-road costs
At $500 less expensive than our fully optioned Clubman for the base variant, the CLA Shooting Brake is in a different league. You get a much bigger boot, but not quite as much leg or headroom as the Mini. The cabin’s not quite as well put together as the Mini’s, either. However, it is well-equipped as standard and packs a slightly punchier engine tied to an arguably superior transmission.
Audi A3 Sportback 1.4 TFSI Attraction from $36,500 plus on-road costs
The cheapest Audi A3 is still a smooth operator with great interior space and practicality. While its 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine can’t quite match the punch of the Mini’s three-pot, the seven-speed S-Tronic auto makes the very most of what it has to offer. Your Audi salesperson will be just as happy as their Mini counterpart to sell you enough options to spruce up the spec, too.
DS DS4 Crossback DSport HDI from $40,490 plus on-road costs
We’re clutching at straws to come up with quirky Clubman competitors, and the jacked-up, highly-specified DS4 Crossback fits a niche-premium bill. It will also remain exclusive in Australia due to a limited import run.
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