December 23, 2007

Mini Cooper S Clubman

Just what you didn’t want - a turbo toilet

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2007 Mini Cooper S Clubman

If you are a frizzy-headed, saggily breasted, left-threaded lunatic, Christmas is not a time for giving or receiving. It’s not quality time for the family. Nor is it a time to worship the baby Jesus, because of course that’s not multicultural or Winterval enough.

Christmas for these people is mostly a time of industrial-strength guilt. All year they feel guilty for being paid and comfortable but at Christmas they can really turn up the heat in the sauna of shame. They are guilty about the carbon vapour trail left by their cranberry sauce as it came over from America. They are guilty about the sheer volume of presents they bought for Tarquin. They are guilty about having central heating and a well-toned tummy, and teeth.

And so, to assuage the guilt, many have been buying charity Christmas presents for random families in Africa. All you do is make a donation to Oxfam and it will send a gift down the chimney of some mud hut in Mozambique.

You may think this is all jolly noble, and I’d have to agree if the presents were iPods or Manchester United football shirts or something the average African villager might actually want.

But unfortunately we are talking about a bunch of fair-trade lunatics so what they’ve actually been buying is goats. Hundreds of them. Oxfam says this is a brilliant idea, and ActionAid even posts a quote from Elias Nadeba Silva, a farmer, who was given one last year. “I have great plans for my field,” he said, “and my family is very grateful for ActionAid’s help . . .

“But next year, no more goats, Okay? I’d prefer a copy of Mothership by Led Zeppelin.”

Other popular choices from well-meaning idealists in the media-fuelled parts of eastern London include cans of worms, piles of dung, catering packs of condoms and the materials for making toilets. Who wants that for Christmas? “Daddy, Daddy. Santa’s been!! He’s been!!!! And he’s brought me . . . an Armitage Shanks Accolade back-to-wall bog, which combines classical elegance with a contemporary style.”

I can only begin to imagine the look of desperation on the little lad’s face. That crushing, all-enveloping sense of overwhelming disappointment. Someone in faraway England has gone to all the bother of buying him a Christmas present. It’s probably the only one he’ll get. And it’s a bloody bog.

Think about it. We’re told that we should never buy our wives or girlfriends anything with a plug, because this is bound to be something they need, rather than want. And exactly the same thing holds true the world over. No child anywhere wants a lavatory for Christmas. You need a lavatory. You want teddies and footballs and BMX bicycles. And AK47s.

It is hard, honestly, to think of a more useless, patronising and stupid present than a toilet. Not even a gift-wrapped copy of the worst book ever written - Versailles: The View from Sweden – comes close. But after much sucking of my ballpoint, I have come up with something: a turbocharged Mini Cooper S Clubman.

I should make it plain from the outset that I like the normal Mini. I think that although it has a wheelbase longer than the Land Rover Defender, and therefore isn’t mini at all, it has a lot of charm and so many natty design features, you really don’t care that the back is suitable only for Anne Boleyn and that the boot couldn’t handle even half a king charles spaniel.

I was therefore expecting great things from the Clubman. Because here is a car that offers all of the Mini’s edge-thin, Conran-cute design stuff in a package that doesn’t force you to amputate your passengers’ extremities.

Or butcher your dog.

My expectations were lifted still further by an excellent review in this newspaper back in September, and then by the look of the thing when it arrived at my house. I loved the double doors at the back. I loved the huge speedo. And I loved the fact that this practical little car was fitted with a turbocharged 1.6 litre engine that pumped out 175bhp. On paper, it’s hard to think of any car that offers the modern motorist quite so much. And all for a shade more than £17,000.

Unfortunately, after a week, I have decided it’s one of the worst cars in the world. About as desirable as a packet of dung or a can of worms. Truthfully? I’d rather have a goat.

The first problem is the single rear passenger door. It’s on the right-hand side of the car, which is fine if you live in Germany or America, where everyone drives on the wrong side of the road - pull up at the kerb and your kids get out onto the pavement. But here in Britain, where we do things properly, your kids are forced to get out into the traffic.

Then there’s the boot. Yes, access is good, and yes, you get 100 more litres of space than you do in the normal Mini. But it’s still pretty small. As that September review pointed out, the boot in a Honda Jazz is 100 litres bigger.

Furthermore, you can see out of the back of a Honda Jazz. You can see out of the back of most cars, in fact. Seeing out of the back is jolly useful and is one of the reasons the Lamborghini Countach was not a big seller. But you can’t see out of the back of a Mini Clubman. Glance in the rear-view mirror and all you can see is the pillar where the two doors meet.

It’s a good job that speeding is now monitored by civil servants in vans, because there’s no way you’d see a police car if it were on your tail. And it’s a doubly good job because the natural cruising speed of the Clubman S is 110mph.

The cruising speed of a car is a bit like the natural parting in your hair. It’s just there, and you have to concentrate hard to make it go somewhere else. Weirdly, it has nothing to do with engine size. It’s a combination of things – the resonance of the body, the suspension settings, the gearing. My Merc, if I’m not concentrating, sits at 85. It’s its default setting. And that’s fine. But fail to concentrate in the Mini, and it sails up past 100. You have to be alert to keep it down, and that’s wearing.

But not as wearing as the torque steer. I do not know why the Clubman is so badly affected when the normal car, with exactly the same engine, is not. But I do know that there is no point paying extra for satellite navigation, because this is a car that goes where the camber of the road dictates. You, the man behind the wheel, have no say at all.

And woe betide the chap who decides to put his foot down hard coming off a greasy roundabout, because what happens next, in my experience, gets perilously close to dangerous. At best, it appears to be an extreme flaw.

And that’s probably enough problems to be going on with, if I’m honest. Looking for good things in a car that torque-steers like a wayward horse and has no boot, no rear visibility, a silly door and a ridiculous cruising speed is a bit like looking for good things in a piece of fish that’s dry, tasteless and bony. There’s no point.

Anyone who grew up in the age of loon trousers knows that style can often win out over practicality. But with the Mini, the price is too high. There are just too many issues to make it work as a car. Think of it as loon trousers with no crotch.

And on that rather unusual concept it’s time to move on to a seasonal close. Please have a wonderful Christmas. Drink too much. Eat too much. Don’t feel guilty about the presents you give or those that you receive. Care not for your carbon footprint or the impact of your naked consumerism. Be happy. And remember, you are having a much better time than Gordon Brown because he has no friends and you’ve got lots.

Vital statistics

Model Mini Cooper S Clubman

Engine 1598cc, four cylinders

Power turbo 175bhp @ 5500rpm

Torque 177 lb ft @ 1600rpm

Transmission Six-speed manual

Fuel 44.8mpg (combined cycle)

CO2 150g/km

Acceleration 0-62mph: 7.6sec

Top speed 139mph

UK price £17,210

Verdict Humbug


Source:  Times Online