Funky, beautifully designed and fun
Like most women and an increasing number of men, I like jewellery. A nice pair of earrings; a statement necklace; a chunky ring. I quite like funky bags and interesting shoes, too, and don’t get me started on furniture, let alone motorcycles and cars. I understand customising, I really do. I might need a sensible bag or a practical wagon, but I want something a little bit different and if necessary I’ll add it myself.
Small and tasteful is nice, but I’m rather partial to something that’s a bit of a talking point – well made if possible. Given half a chance everything I own would have that special frisson. But if nothing else my bank balance mandates that major purchases must be sensible; my cars useful rather than pieces of automotive jewellery.
It’s buyers with tastes like mine (albeit with healthier bottom lines) who sit smack in Mini’s sights. It’s funky, it’s beautifully designed and it’s fun. There’s a massive options list to personalise your car – and it’s just that little bit different; not everyone can spend this much on a car so small. That it’s also a blast to drive is merely a bonus.
Of course that also means a limited market unless Mini can ring the changes. Hence the convertible and hence this Clubman.
I think the theory is that this car appeals to those who want something a little more practical than a Mini, but how much more practical is it?
For starters, this isn’t really a wagon in the usually accepted sense of the word. Sure, it’s the same as the standard Mini from the A-pillar forward, but it’s hardly a load-hauler. The rear has stretched by around 24cm to accommodate a larger boot, but at 260 litres it’s only 10 litres more than a standard Mazda2 and considerably less than a Honda Jazz, so though appreciably larger than the standard car’s load bay, it’s hardly generous.
It is cleverly arranged though – the seats fold, and the base that offers a flat floor lifts for more space so it’s versatile; there’s good access through the rear hatch to fit child seats, too.
But you’ll have to load those children through the standard front passenger door. For one of this Clubman’s boasting points – the side suicide door that allows much improved access to the rear seats – is only fitted to the right side of the car. And everyone knows you don’t unload passengers – especially children – into the traffic. Whoever thought this up in a car that’s ostensibly British had clearly been into the Pimms.
One assumes the designers planned this feature, but the bean-counters decided it was too expensive to do on both sides; or much too expensive to create different pressings for both right and left-drive cars; or the safety-nazis feared too large a structural compromise if it appeared on both sides. The decision to put it on the right side only, regardless of market, is then logical for there are more left-hand-drive markets than right ones. Never mind the Mini’s British heritage – only BMW’s highly-paid marketers pay lip service to it.
Those marketers clearly don’t drive it much, for the seam between driver and suicide door mildly obstructs rearward view when driving – though you do get used to peering around the vertical barrier formed by the rather attractive side-opening rear doors.
Strike one against the Clubman as a practical hatch, but there’s plenty going for it.
It’s remarkably spacious inside, for example. My companion on the test is a former athlete, well over 1.8 metres tall and heroically proportioned. We both fit comfortably into the little car. I found the rear easy to access through that wide passenger side door. And we both enjoyed our outing.
New Mini may not be as light as the old, but it’s still a barrel of laughs to drive. The diesel arrives in June, with 4.1l/100km frugality at a $4000 premium over the base car. Meanwhile the 88kW normally aspirated and 128kW twin-turbo 1.6-litre petrol engines are the same as those in the standard Mini – perky and well matched to the transmissions. That six-speed auto is particularly impressive, allowing wheel-spinning getaways and brisk changes.
That eager performance is well matched to this car’s handling ability. For the added length hasn’t compromised this car’s dynamic talents – indeed, if anything it’s honed them. There’s a hint of roll oversteer from this longer car that actually sharpens its corner-carving ability, while the additional 80kg wasn’t the spoiler I’d expected. You can still get a rush of blood to the head in this Clubman and thoroughly enjoy a demanding set of bends.
At the same time you’ll enjoy the details of the interior; the same basic layout as the base car, with its toggle switches and glorious attention to detail.
You’ll still enjoy an extensive options list, too – I’m not sure about the chequered flag carpets in one of the test cars, but there are plentiful more tasteful options to ensure your Clubman is different to that of the Jones’ next door.
So did I like it? Yes, absolutely. It’s hardly a practical family wagon, and you certainly couldn’t fit a pushchair within it, though it might tempt some parents reluctant to completely give up sensibility for sense. But it does offer a more practical interior, albeit at a five grand premium over the standard hatch. Better yet, if anything it’s further enhanced Mini’s fun-to-drive rep.
Shame those side doors aren’t practical, but they only improve your boasting rights – as you’d expect from a piece of automotive jewellery. It’d be nice if they were as effective as they look, but to some extent that’s not the point.
Hmm, I see tie-dye is the latest ‘new’ fashion. Best go shopping and join the club, man.
Engine: 1598cc straight four, 88kW at 6000rpm and 160Nm at 4250rpm (normally aspirated); 128kW at 5500rpm, 240Nm at 1600-5000rpm (turbo)
Performance 0-100kph (claimed, manual): 9.8 seconds (normally aspirated) 7.6 seconds (turbo)
Fuel consumption (claimed, overall, manual): 4.8l/100km (normally aspirated); 5.8l/100km
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed auto
Suspension: Single joint McPherson spring front, longitudinal arms, z-axle rear
Brakes: Vented discs front and rear with ABS, EBD, CBC, stability control and ASC+T traction aids; optional limited slip diff
Price: From $48,900