WITH CAREY RUSS
2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman
"Enlarging the brand" usually means more offerings to customers, and while this is true concerning the Mini Cooper Clubman, an addition to the lineup, the Clubman also enlarges the Mini.
But BMW's British subsidiary hasn't succumbed to the "longer, lower, wider, bigger is better" syndrome that has seen what once were compact models become mid-sized or even larger. The Clubman, named after its spiritual predecessor made on the original Mini chassis from 1969 through 1980, is a stretched version of the current Mini. Even with a little over three inches more wheelbase and an almost ten-inch increase in length, it's still mini by current standards, if, like its shorter siblings, somewhat larger than the originals. There is welcome additional leg room for rear-seat passengers, with an extended-cab pickup-style third door for rear access on the right (curb) side. Mini calls this the "Clubdoor". Like its Seventies namesake (and the Austin Seven Countryman and Morris Mini Minor Traveller that preceded it), the new Clubman also has twin side-hinged tail doors.
Like the regular second-generation Mini Cooper, the Clubman is available in naturally-aspirated and turbocharged S models, both with six-speed transmissions, stick or optional automatic. Drivetrains are identical to those of the regular-wheelbase models, front-wheel drive with twincam 1.6-liter engines making 118 horsepower in naturally-aspirated form, or 172 hp for the S. That's enough so that the Clubman's extra weight - around 200 pounds - has a minimal effect on acceleration and braking. The extra wheelbase and less forward weight distribution likewise are not detrimental to handling. About the only way you could tell the difference between the regular Mini and a Clubman from the driver's seat would be by a back-to-back drive, and even then I suspect the two cars would feel and react nearly the same.
During my recent week with a well-equipped Clubman in S form, from the driver's seat the only noticeable distinction it had compared to other Minis that I've driven was in the rear-view mirror. The central pillar separating the windows in the rear doors is smack dab in the middle of the driver's line of vision. A little head movement, and use of the outside mirrors, makes this a non-issue. The extra rear seat space, and improved access, were welcomed, especially by those who sat back there. And when I needed to transport a bicycle, no major problem. Remove front wheel of the bike, fold down both portions of the rear seat, open the rear doors, and slide bike in, using the Clubdoor for final positioning.
Performance was little changed from the last (regular wheelbase) S that I drove, as was fuel economy, 28mpg with a reasonably heavy foot. Mini pioneered the upscale small car in the U.S., and merely consolidates its position with the Clubman.
APPEARANCE: If the Clubman is a bit longer than the regular Mini Cooper, it's not exactly a stretch limo. The front part, at least to the A(windshield)-pillars and likely to the rear edge of the front doors, is identical to a regular Mini - compactly rounded, with a prominent upper grille and large, bright headlights. The S has a functional air intake slot in the middle of its bulging hood, and foglamps in the lower fascia, flanking the auxiliary radiator air intake. Matte plastic wheel arches and lower side trim contrast with the body paint, as does a contrast-colored roof and matching C-pillars at the rear, in black or silver depending on body color. The right-side Clubdoor makes its presence known by a second vertical seam over the rear wheel arch and a matching section in the side window. The rear door treatment is unusual in that the tail lights are on the body, with cutouts in the side-hinged tailgate doors. Hydraulic struts help keep those door open for loading and unloading cargo.
COMFORT: The maxi-Mini is still a Mini, and while the two rear passengers have a few inches more legroom and an inch or so more headroom than in the regular Mini you probably don't want to do a 12-hour vacation drive with two young children in the back seat. Still, there is more space than you might think from looking at the outside dimensions, and four people 5-10 or less will be no problem. Adjust rear passenger dimensions accordingly for larger front passengers.... The Clubdoor, like similar doors in extended-cab pickups and small coupes, has no external latch and can only be opened after the right front door is opened. It significantly improves passenger access. Cargo space behind the rear seats also seems larger. Seats are to BMW high standards, among the best made for comfort and support. My test car had the optional leather trimming on the side bolsters, with grippy cloth for the main seating areas. With manual adjustment for all seat parameters, plus tilt and telescope adjustment for the steering wheel, all drivers can find a comfortable position. The dual pane panoramic sunroof, part of the Premium Package along with upgraded climate control and audio systems, allows plenty of light in, with a perforated shade to reduce glare and sunburn. The Clubman's instrument panel is the same as that of the other models, with a large central speedometer and smaller tach (and digital speedo readout) on the steering column, and "rack mounted" window lifts and auxiliary controls in the center stack. As with the other Minis, the Clubman's interior is highly-styled, but easy, simple function is not sacrificed to style.
SAFETY: As with other Mini Cooper models, the Clubman meets worldwide safety standards, not only current but for the foreseeable future. An extra-large front deformation zone, another one at the rear, and a strong safety cell around the passenger cabin form the basis, and are assisted by six airbags, with longer head-curtain bags than in the regular Mini. Active safety is assisted by nimble handling and excellent four-wheel antilock disc brakes with traction and corner braking control.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Even with the Clubman's stretched wheelbase, a Mini is still the closest thing going to a street-legal shifter kart. And with the Sport Package's firmer springs and shocks on its fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink suspension, it not only responds to steering inputs like a kart, it feels like a kart. It's firm, tuned for optimum handling with stiffer springs and shocks and larger-diameter wheels with lower-profile tires, 205/45 VR17 in this case. Perhaps in an autocross the Clubman's longer wheelbase would put it at a slight disadvantage to the regular Mini, but the difference isn't enough to be noticeable in everyday driving. And the Clubman, at just under 13 feet long, still fits easily into parking spaces. If you aren't grinning after driving a Mini, of any sort, check your pulse to see if you still have one.
PERFORMANCE: A performance-oriented suspension demands a performance-oriented engine, and the Mini Cooper S, in any body style, delivers on that. Twin-scroll turbocharging, direct fuel injection, variable cam phasing on the intake cam, and a high 10.5:1 compression ratio mean maximum performance and maximum efficiency. For short periods of time in full-throttle driving, the twin-cam alloy engine can operate in an "overboost" condition, which increases torque from 177 lb-ft (from 1600 through 5000 rpm, a nice flat and fat torque curve) to 192 for extra acceleration. Response increases with throttle application - press gently on the accelerator, and it's quite civil, and reasonably quick. Foot to the floor it's a nasty little hooligan in the best possible way, with a definite tug on the steering wheel and a strong desire to head forward very quickly. Character at its best, no boring appliance "econobox" here! The smooth-shifting six-speed manual gearbox adds to enjoyment. Despite that, fuel consumption is modest. My 28 mpg overall average, same as with the regular Cooper S, was with a heavy foot and no regard for fuel economy.
CONCLUSIONS: With the Mini Cooper Clubman, more Mini does not mean less fun.
2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman
Base Price $ 23,450
Price As Tested $ 29,700
Engine Type turbocharged 16-valve aluminum alloy
inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel
injection and variable
intake cam phasing
Engine Size 1.6 liters / 97.5 cu. in.
Horsepower 172 @ 5500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 177 @ 1600-5000 rpm (192 with overboost)
Transmission 6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length 100.3 in. / 155.8 in.
Curb Weight 2822 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 16.4
Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline recommended
Tires 205/45 R17 84V Dunlop SP Sports
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc,ABS standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut /
Drivetrain transverse front engine,
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed 26 / 34 / 28
0 to 60 mph 6.8 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Lightning Blue Metallic paint $ 500
Blue leather / carbon black cloth interior $ 1,000
Premium Package - includes:
dual pane panoramic sunroof, automatic air conditioning,
Mini HiFi sound system $ 1,500
Sport Package - includes:
17-inch alloy wheels, sport suspension,
xenon headlamps $ 1,500
Limited-slip differential $ 500
Chrome line interior $ 250
Chrome line exterior $ 250
White turn signal lights $ 100
Destination charge $ 650
Source: The Auto Channel