Ever since the second-generation of BMW’s MINI came about, there were concerns that the little British icon was ballooning in size. Of course when one considers the need for safety and how buyer expectations of space has changed over time, there was no way the MINI of the 21st century could have stayed – if you would pardon the pun – mini.
The curious case of the expanding brand wasn’t helped by the arrival of the Countryman SUV, which flew in the face of Alec Issigonis’ brainchild of compact design. But if you think that the inflated dimensions of the Countryman was as big as MINIs are going to get, you’d be wrong and this time it isn’t outsized by an SUV. Let me introduce to you the largest model MINI currently makes, the MINI Clubman, and this is what it is like to drive in Stockholm, Sweden.
MINI Cooper S Clubman Specifications
Engine: 1,998cc, 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Max Power: 192hp @ 5,000rpm
Max Torque: 280Nm (300Nm w overboost) @ 1,250rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Acceleration (0-100km/h): 7.1 seconds
Top Speed: 228km/h
Combined Fuel Consumption: 5.9L/100km
Date of Malaysian Introduction: 2016
Not to get carried away with that previous statement, the new Clubman’s body is 156mm longer and 11mm wider than the Countryman (though it stands in at 120mm lower). So without getting into volumetric scales, the Clubman only occupies a larger footprint than its SUV brethren. And before we start posturing the question of when being big is too big for a MINI, the Clubman isn’t like the other MINIs out there.
Unlike the MINI and MINI 5 door, the MINI Clubman is built on BMW’s UKL2 platform, instead of the smaller UKL under bones that is used on the rest of the third-generation MINI range. The UKL2 platform is used for BMW’s new 2 Active/Grand Tourer, and the new X1 SUV. So in essence the Clubman is the first MINI that is closely related to a BMW. However not to cause despair amongst the hipster crowds that their automotive hero had gone mainstream, the Clubman is still pretty much the same pure and colourful MINI on top.
Ironically, though bigger, MINI’s new styling works well here as it is stretched over the Clubman’s enlarged dimensions. The MINI’s startled-looking headlights and gawping front grille – which looked odd on the MINI 3 door and 5 door – turned out to be a good fit on the Clubman’s 73mm wider flanks. Its width also allow MINI to incorporate the brand’s first application of the same aerodynamic enhancing Air Curtains and Air Breather vents that are fast becoming a mainstay on BMW models.
Although having four proper conventional doors instead of its predecessor’s love-it or hate-it asymmetrical two-and-a-half-door layout, the Clubman retains the nameplate’s two-piece barn-door style tailgate. According to MINI the two-piece tailgate was kept as it was an integral part of the Clubman’s identity since the original Traveller – the original model’s name which BMW couldn’t acquire the rights to. After all putting on a conventional tailgate would have just made the MINI Clubman another MINI 5 door.
In the meantime MINI’s engineers had managed to address a few issues with its unique arrangement. The rear door frames are now a whole lot thinner, allowing for better rear visibility, whereas the door hinges are now tucked away on the outer edges of the clamshell doors instead of being mounted to the insides of the C-pillars, giving it a larger opening aperture to fit properly large cargo. The Clubman’s cargo space has been expanded to 360 litres and 1,250 litres with the rear seats folded down, which is significantly larger than its predecessor’s 258 litres and 923 litres respectively.
So from a physical perspective, the new successor is a Clubman without having style getting in the way of its practicality. But that sounds a little worrying; it is kind of like removing the crazy from David Bowie, erasing some of the charm that defined its character. It isn’t just the style that has changed; the way it drives too feels different from what we have come to expect as MINI hallmarks. It has a different personality to the more youthful and often extravagant 3 door hatch. With the Clubman there is a bit more heft in the way it drives. It feels more rooted to the road, less willing to be thrown into bends, and little less frantic when pushed hard as compared to the 3 door and 5 door hatchback models.
Nevertheless the lively steering is still there, throttle is responsive as ever, and that engine pops and crackles when you are giving it the beans. There is still some of the MINI’s characteristic charm in the Clubman, only this time its larger dimensions has given it a more settled ride, and with its larger build allowing for a full-sized 8-speed automatic, a whole lot more refined at speed and fuel efficient. The 2-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine on the Cooper S Clubman boasts the same 192hp/280Nm power output as that of the Cooper S 3 door and 5 door hatches, and although acceleration figures are bogged down by the Clubman’s extra weight, it gets from 0 to 100km/h in 7.1 seconds, which is plenty fast.
Inside there are massive changes to be found in the Clubman’s interior over its 3 door and 5 door counterparts, key to which is an entirely new dashboard. According to MINI, the Clubman is designed to appeal to a more upmarket audience, and the fittings in the Clubman are meant to reflect the car’s entry into what MINI defines as the ‘premium compact class’. Where the third-generation MINI represents a big step in build quality over its predecessors, the Clubman’s interior is just a big of a leap as those were to its predecessors. The dashboard features neat trim inserts that blends in from door to door, and is aligned neatly throughout.
Unlike the standard MINI hatch, the Clubman’s increased width lends it a wider cabin; giving more shoulder room in both the front and the rear, and allows MINI to fit in a proper centre console with a proper armrest. That being said, you can’t pull off handbrake antics with the Clubman as it eschews the old lever for a tiny electric operated switch. Around the back there is certainly more room for rear seat occupants with a shallower rake than what was available on the 5 door, and is complete with a pair of rear air conditioning vents for rear seat occupants.
The Cooper S Clubman test models came fitted with MINI’s new optional ‘Chester’ upholstery that features an exquisite diamond-stitched pattern. As mentioned before, the upholstery is not only new to MINI, it was also new to BMW, with the only other model in the BMW Group to have such an beautifully done trim being the recently launched 7-Series. Continuing on MINI’s love of putting on a lightshow in the cabin, the Clubman can be specified with the MINI Yours package, which adds illuminated door bezels that feature finely engraved lighting patterns that only come alive in the dark.
With its more refined character and beautifully trimmed interior, the Clubman is a clear statement of MINI’s intent to reposition themselves as a more upmarket brand than it already is. Although the Clubman has lost a little bit of the hatch’s youthful charm and quirky individuality, the end result is a MINI that won’t make you think twice when you drive it away and ask yourself “why did I fall for its novelty?” in the first place. Though that being said, losing a little of that MINI uniqueness does come with a price, and that is its price. Don’t expect the Clubman to be priced too close to the 3 door and 5 door, as its fancy new features lavished upon it is expected to command a premium. Still depends on which side of the coin you look at, the Clubman looks and feels like a MINI that is well deserving of that premium.