Clubman model adds length, cargo capacity
July 22, 2008

For 2008, Mini expands its lineup. Literally.  The new Clubman model increases the overall length by 9.6 inches, adding a “Club” door for backseat access and 9.18 cubic-feet of cargo volume. I’ve always been a fan of the Mini. It’s cute, and it’s small, and it’s really fun to drive. Now there’s just more to love.

The Clubman has the same basic styling as the regular Cooper, but you can definitely tell there’s some extra length. It looks like a stretched version of the popular little car. Another visual differentiation is the rear barn doors. Instead of a single hatch, the barn doors open out. The doors are surprisingly fluid because of the gas struts, and they shut with a solid thwap.

Mini Cooper ClubmanA really cool feature that I accidentally discovered: The barn doors won’t let you lock yourself out of the car. I had put my purse in the back without unlocking the passenger doors. Every time I tried to shut the last door, it bounced back open. It took me a couple tries to figure out that the keys were in my purse, and that’s why the door wouldn’t shut. Thank goodness.

The downside to the dual doors is the center joint. While driving, the space where the two doors meet create a bit of a blind spot. Luckily the dividing line is only a couple inches thick, so you do get used to it after driving for a bit.

Another difference between the Clubman and the original Cooper is the rear-access “Club” door. It’s situated behind the front passenger and gives backseat passengers easier access to the rear of the vehicle. This came in handy when my marathon training run was canceled due to lightening. I piled three of my fellow group leaders into the Clubman to escape the rain and, ahem, head for breakfast instead of running 10 miles. All of my passengers were in the 5-foot, 8-inch range, and they fit quite nicely in both front and rear seats.

The interior of the Clubman is exactly what you’d expect from Mini, right down to the oversized speedometer on the center stack. I love this quirky little feature, especially when you’re driving alone. If you have passengers, they’re likely to take the role of backseat driver and comment on your speed. If you speed, that is. Which I don’t. Of course.

The toggle switches that work the windows, lights and optional sunroof are attractive if not entirely functional. The main difficulty is that if you have a tall beverage in the cup holder, it blocks access to the window toggles. Also, though the cup holders perfectly fit a regular water bottle, I couldn’t quite wedge an original-sized Jamba Juice in the tiny holder.

Similar to the original Cooper, the Clubman comes with a two-engine lineup: the base 118-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and the turbocharged, 172-horsepower four-cylinder engine contained within the S model.

The test vehicle was a Clubman S, and I had a blast zipping onto the highway and around city streets. Even with its extra length, it’s a petite vehicle that can maneuver well through city traffic and parallel park easily. You can feel the extra length with some more aggressive driving, which I tested on a racetrack, but it still does pretty well in regular driving situations.

My one beef with the handling of Clubman is the turning radius. For such a small car, the turning radius is a big fat zero. Trying to do a U-turn and getting out of my tight condo parking space were more difficult than they should have been.

While I’m still a fan of the original Mini, I can see the need for a slightly larger car if you need a little more space for cargo and people. Especially if this is your only car. The great thing, however, is that even with the increased size, fuel economy doesn’t suffer. In fact, EPA estimates that the Clubman gets exactly the same miles per gallon as its littler sibling.

The base 118-horsepower engine incurs outstanding city/highway mileage numbers of 28/37. The Clubman S with the turbocharged engine has slightly lower numbers, but they’re still pretty good at 26/34 mpg. During the test period, my mileage in the Clubman S hovered between 30 and 32 mpg during heavy city driving. The mileage is great, but keep this in mind: You have to fill up with premium fuel.

The test vehicle didn’t have any Mini accessories, which help customize the car with Union Jack flag roofs or checkerboard door handles, but it did come stacked with pretty much every available option, totaling more than $11K. Option highlights included the Premium Package with the panoramic sunroof ($1,500), Convenience Package ($1,500), Sport Package ($1,500) and Steptronic automatic transmission ($1,250).

Base price of the Clubman is $20,600. The Clubman S jumps up to $24,100. Fully optioned, the test vehicle rang in at $33,200.

For a premium car, the starting point of $20K is pretty attractive, but to get what you want, you’re going to spend significantly more. At a minimum, I’d make sure my Mini had the Convenience Package, which includes an iPod hook up and Bluetooth connectivity. Heated front seats, panoramic sunroof and auto headlights would also be high on my list. And that would put me in the $25K range for the base Clubman.

Cute, apparently, has a price tag.

But, I have to admit, as gas prices go up and up and up, spending a little more up front seems to make more sense than slowly bleeding cash every time you fill up. With the extra space and easier access to the back seat, I think the Clubman is the right car at the right time.

Source:   Chicago Sun Times