Mini is relative.
Relative to the Mini hatchback, the just-updated Mini Clubman is a much larger car.
Especially on the inside.
It has about twice the cargo capacity — and several inches more backseat room.
But relative to other cars, the Clubman is still a small car.
On the outside, that is.
Though it’s almost a foot longer overall than it used to be, it’s still about a foot shorter overall than a typical compact sedan such as a Toyota Corolla … and several inches shorter, end to end, than a typical subcompact sedan like the Scion iA I reviewed a couple weeks back.
So it still fits in places they can’t — and most of the places the Mini hatchback can.
It’s just the ticket for someone drawn to the original Mini’s iconic mini-ness.
Just a little more so.
WHAT IT IS
The Clubman is the Mini for you if you need more passenger/cargo room than the original Mini … but still want a Mini.
Unlike the original, it has four adult-usable seats — not just four doors.
And out back, a pair of outward-opening, saloon-style doors in lieu of the original Mini’s upward-swinging single piece liftgate.
Fold the second row down and you’ve got almost 48 cubic feet of cargo space — enough to sleep two, if it comes to that.
Forget about that in the original.
And though it’s gained some weight, the Clubman’s also gained some horsepower — so it’s actually quicker than it used to be.
And it doesn’t use more gas.
Fuel economy’s about the same as before — with either of the two available engines.
The one downside is Sticker Shock.
Mini has increased the base price of the Clubman from $21,400 for the old model to $24,100 for the all-new 2016. The high-performance S trim’s price goes up to $27,650 from $25,100 previously.
Usually — typically — an updated model costs a few hundred bucks more than the old model. In this case, we’re talking a couple thousand bucks.
Also — for now, at least — there’s no longer a John Cooper Works (JCW) version of the Clubman. You can get some of the cosmetic accessories. But if you want the functional JCW hop-ups (more turbo boost and horsepower, sport exhaust, performance-tuned suspension, better brakes, etc.) you’ll have to go back down a size to the mini Mini.
Or buy the parts over the counter — and have the dealer install them for you.
After a one-year absence from Mini’s model lineup, the Clubman returns as an all-new (and upsized) model.
For now, both trims — base and S — are front-wheel-drive… but later this year or early in 2017, Mini will offer an all-wheel-drive (ALL4) option.
Bigger — but still smaller than most cars.
More interesting than most cars.
Both the standard and optional engine are stronger than previously.
Longer wheelbase smooths out the ride; it feels less mini on the highway.
Very well-equipped as it sits. The chief difference between the base trim and the S trim is the engine — not the amenities.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Startling price hike. You get more car — but they stick you for it.
A bit less nimble than the original.
Turning circle’s about a foot wider than it used to be.
Both engines require higher-cost premium fuel.
UNDER THE HOOD
Smaller is bigger when it comes to powerplants, too.
The Clubman’s standard engine is a 1.5 liter three that’s smaller than the previously standard 1.6 liter four — but the three makes more power: 134 hp — and much more relevant, seat-of-the-pants-wise, 162 ft.-lbs. of torque — vs. 121 hp and a puny 114 ft.-lbs. of torque … because the 1.5 liter engine is turbocharged, while the retired 1.6 liter four wasn’t.
So even though the ’16 Clubman weighs about 300 pounds more than the old model (3,015 lbs. vs. 2,712 lbs .) it’s noticeably quicker: Zero to 60 in 8.9 seconds with either the standard six speed manual transmission or the optional six-speed automatic.
The old Clubman with the 1.6 liter engine and automatic transmission took more than 10 seconds to do the same run.
Impressively, gas mileage is about the same as before: 25 city, 35 highway with the manual and 25 city, 34 highway with the automatic — vs. 27 city, 35 highway (automatic) and 28 city, 35 highway (manual) previously.
The high-performance Clubman S comes with a larger 2.0 liter four, also turbocharged, that makes 189 hp and 207 ft.-lbs. of torque — vs. the previous Clubman’s S’s 181 hp and 177 ft.-lbs. of torque. This engine can also be paired with a six speed manual transmission or a new eight-speed automatic — equipped with manual mode and launch control.
Despite having more engine (and more weight) the ’16 Clubman S also delivers about the same gas mileage as the old model: 24 city, 34 highway with the automatic and 22 city, 32 highway with the manual — vs. 26 city, 35 highway previously.
Minis are rightly known for their excellent fuel economy. But there’s a catch:
Both of the Clubman’s engines require premium fuel to deliver on their numbers.
You won’t hurt the car by feeding it regular, but expect a noticeable reduction in both mileage and performance as the engine’s computer adjusts parameters (such as ignition timing) to compensate for the lower-octane fuel.
ON THE ROAD
They sent me a Clubman S to test drive the day before the Snowpocalypse of 2016 arrived. Not much ground clearance — and sport tires.
Netflix and chill time, right?
Not necessarily. With front-wheel-drive, you can risk journeys in weather that would be suicide in a rear-drive sporty car with not-much ground clearance and performance tires.
It’s the difference between being pulled — and being pushed.
Also, it’s helpful (in the snow) to have the weight of the engine on top of the drive wheels, pushing them through the snow down to the pavement. A rear-drive car is light in the tail. Its drive wheels tend to ride up on the snow, where they spin and slide.
The Clubman’s not a snow car — but it is a car you can drive in the snow.
Great seat heaters (three stage; you’ll have to turn them down, they get that hot), excellent visibility from the tall/upright windshield and expansive side glass plus a powerful defroster make such shivery trips at least viable. I took the Clubman S down the mountain mere hours after the snow stopped — and made it there and back without the help of AAA.
The standard model — which doesn’t sit quite as low (and has more reasonable, everyday-driving tires on 16 inch wheels vs. the 17s the Clubman S rides on) should be even more tractable. And for next year’s snowpocalypse, you’ll be able to order ALL4 all-wheel-drive.
The standard Clubman also has enough engine now.
It didn’t before.
The turbo 1.5 liter three makes almost 50 ft.-lbs. more torque than the 1.6 liter four did — and that torque peaks at 1,250 RPM vs. 4,250 RPM previously. Why is this such a big deal? It’s torque that gets you going (horsepower gets you going fast). It’s the force that overcomes the inertia of 3,015 lbs. of steel and plastic and glass (plus you) just sitting there at the light. The heavier the car, the more important torque is, if you care about getting moving anytime soon.
This is the big perk of turbo (and super) charged engines. Yes, yes… the pious will talk about the fuel economy benefits — and that’s true, too (assuming you keep your foot out of it). But what makes our hearts happy is power, right now.
That it moves when you need it to.
Now, it does. Before, it didn’t.
The S moves out even more so.
But the take-home point is this: It’s no longer the case that you have to buy the S to get a Clubman that’s not a Slowman.
I actually prefer the base-engined version because it’s got scoot enough to be fun and besides, this car is not a hot rod anyhow.
It’s more of a frogger.
A car that — by dint of its still-tiny footprint and agility is ideal for maneuvering around the cattle-like queue of urban/suburban traffic… and without angering the “cows.”
People will do their best to block you in if they see you driving a Porsche — or even a Miata. Never give you a break — much less an opening. But almost everyone likes the Mini. It is a disarming, happy little car. It defuses tension — or at least, doesn’t generate it.
If there’s a downside, it’s that it sits really low — just 56.7 inches off the pavement — and when surrounded by SUVs and Peterbilts, you feel like an ant among elephants.
The standard six speed manual is self-explanatory but the optional automatic requires some elaboration. Especially the eight-speed automatic used with the 2.0 engine in the Clubman S.
Like most modem automatics, it has a manual mode that allows a degree of driver control over the up and downshifts via either steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters or by tugging the console-mounted gear selector backward or forward.
You can use the manual mode to increase the engine braking effect (helpful in snow), keep the RPMs (and power) up while hot-dogging through the apexes and keep the RPMs down while just loping along. This latter thing is fairly unusual — a discovery I made by accident, just fooling around with the thing.
Left in Drive, the transmission will not upshift on its own to eighth (top gear/overdrive) until you get to about 65 MPH and ease off the gas.
But in manual mode you can shift into eighth at significantly lower speeds and by doing that, reduce engine speed (RPMs) sooner, which reduces fuel consumption. I played with it and managed to average close to 30 MPG in mixed-use (city/highway) driving.
On a flat stretch of road, the 2.0 liter engine in my test Clubman S had no trouble maintaining a steady 65-ish MPH in eighth at about 1,600 RPM. In Drive at the same road speed, the transmission preferred to stay in seventh and RPM was hovering closer to 2,000.
Be aware, of course, that if you need to accelerate rapido you will need to manually downshift … and probably two gears rather than just one. The computer will intercede and force a downshift (or upshift) if the road speed gets too low for the gear you’re in — or the RPMs get too high for the gear you’re in.
But even so, the Mini’s automatic does give you, the driver, the option of controlling the Action to a degree most automatics don’t.
In addition, you’ve got multiple Drive modes (both the regular Clubman and the S). These are Sport (Let’s Motor Hard!), Normal (Mid) and Economy (Let’s Minimize!). There’s a ring around the gear shifter you rotate to the left or right to engage the various modes — and as you do, the engine’s responsiveness and the transmission’s aggressiveness either waxes or wanes and you’re treated to a change of ambient lighting, from red to orange to green.
Driving a Mini has always been a party, but now it’s a party in a decent-sized room rather than a closet.
AT THE CURB
Unless you park the Clubman next to a regular Mini, the size difference is not immediately apparent. The chief obvious-to-the-eye difference is out back. The Clubman’s outward opening saloon doors vs. the regular Mini’s conventional liftgate. The saloon doors have several advantages over the liftgate, chiefly that there are two and you can open one or both as needed. They are smaller and lighter, too. It’s easier to open them than it is to heave a liftgate up and down.
Plus, they’re just cool.
The big difference between the Clubman and the regular Mini, though, is to be found in the second row — where you’ll find 34.3 inches of legroom up from 32.3 inches previously and 52.8 inches of shoulder room vs. 45.9 inches before.
It’s the difference between cramped — and cozy.
Same goes for behind the second row — where you’ll find 17.5 cubic feet of cargo space vs. 9.2 previously. Fold the second row and the space available expands to 47.9 cubic feet (vs. 32.8 previously).
The real estate enhancement is the result of the Clubman’s longer 105.1 inch wheelbase (vs. 100.3 inches previously) and an increase in the car’s width from 66.3 inches to 70.9 inches. The previous Clubman was literally just an extended version of the regular Mini. The new Clubman is a separate model in its own right.
But it still looks like a Mini — and that’s critical to the car’s appeal. A contrary example is the Fiat 500L — the upsized version of the 500 micro-car. It is not cute. It looks bloated and ungainly.
The Clubman doesn’t.
Which probably explains why the Mini sells — and the Fiat doesn’t.
Inside, you’ll find the same layout as in the regular Mini — including the trademark toggles for secondary controls and the LED ringed central 6.5 inch LCD display, which is accessed via a BMW-style mouse-type interface mounted behind the gear selector on the center console. Mini, remember, is owned by BMW.
Another plus of this relationship is the luxury car look and feel of the panels and trim and fitment. The toggles, for instance, are deeply and handsomely chromed … not chromed plastic. Onyx black belts on either side of the center console and a belt of the same around the top of the dash.
My tested Clubman S had pleated cobalt blue leather seats with uber fancy stitching; these looked every bit as six-figure as the seats in a BMW 760Li. At night, when you open the doors, the Mini logo is projected onto the pavement.
Lots of detail stuff like that.
You can order accessory gauges, a heads-up display, rear-seat DVD monitors… .
Yeah, the price is significantly upticked vs. what the Clubman listed for before — but you don’t feel ripped off.
Plus, there’s nothing else quite like a Mini — Clubman or otherwise.
What’s not to like?
The center console storage space is still very mini. It will take an iPod or smartphone — just barely. And not much else. However, this is made up for to some extent by generous storage cubbies in the door panels — which also make up for the too-small (and awkwardly located) cupholders mounted ahead of the gear selector and way too close to the center stack. With drinks in those cupholders, you also lose access to the little storage shelf located in front of the cupholders.
German cars are notorious for their grudging beverage accommodations — including British cars made by Germans. You’re supposed to motor, after all.
Not sip coffee.
But the chief gripe I will lay at the Mini’s little feet is the fact that even the standard model must be fed premium unleaded fuel. It’s understandable that the S — the performance version — requires premium. But the regular Clubman? It touts fun and economy. It’s plenty of fun, but the economy of the thing is undermined by having to spend an extra 20-30 cents per gallon every fill-up.
This may not matter much right now — with regular well under $2 a gallon and premium selling for less than regular did just a year ago. But what about next year? What happens if the price of unleaded goes back to $3 per gallon… and premium’s back near $4?
The cost of fueling may not matter to BMW buyers. But I think it does matter to prospective Mini buyers.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A bit less Mini, perhaps… but in all the right places.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos