Finally, a MINI Cooper that’s not so MINI: the 2016 MINI Cooper S Clubman, which should satisfy fans yearning to be free of cramped quarters.
The previous generation Clubman, one of a variety of models spun from the modern tiny two-door MINI, came with a third door on the right side, hinged at the rear, to ease access to the back seat. But it still had the MINI’s characteristic back seat incarceration.
The new version, at 14 feet, is more than a foot longer than its predecessor. It also has an additional five inches of wheelbase — the measurement between the centers of the front and rear wheels.
That stretching shows up in plentiful passenger and cargo space. It also gives the Clubman an elegant profile — something like the former Dodge Magnum or a shrunken version of the huge Ford Flex, which itself was accused of copying MINI Cooper styling.
The Clubman’s 93 cubic feet of passenger space and 16 cubic feet of cargo area behind the second row qualifies it as a midsize car according to the U.S. government’s standards. (Its garage mate, the taller crossover SUV MINI Countryman, is classified as a compact).
There’s plentiful head and knee room for six footers in the Clubman’s outboard rear seats. Even the center rear seat can accommodate, barely and uncomfortably, an average-sized skinny adult, who must splay her feet beside a large floor hump. The rear seatbacks fold nearly flat to expand the cargo carrying area to 48 cubic feet.
As many enthusiasts know, the MINI started as a tiny, two-door, front-drive runabout in Great Britain in 1959. It was revived at the turn of the millennium as the MINI Cooper after Germany’s BMW acquired the company.
Not surprisingly, the new Clubman displays BMW characteristics, including an emphasis on high performance and quality — as well as a stiff price. The tested Clubman S started at $28,500, which included such items as automatic climate control and sport seats with thigh extenders. But when the options were added, the sticker came to $40,800, including the destination charge.
Extras included classy blue “Chesterfield Indigo” leather upholstery, eight-speed automatic transmission, a technology package with navigation, panoramic glass sunroof, premium audio system, power front seats and satellite radio.
It also inherited a few BMW annoyances, including the two-step process it takes to shut down. One press of the start-stop toggle switch turns off the engine. Another touch is needed to turn off everything else.
Though the Clubman is no Austin or Morris — its former United Kingdom names — it retains a dollop of British quirkiness. There are toggle switches everywhere. Even the start-stop switch is a toggle. The big circle in the middle of the dash, which formerly contained a huge speedometer, houses the multi-function screen and audio controls.
Two side-hinged doors provide access to the cargo area. Their frames split the rear window vertically, partially obstructing the view.
The front-wheel drive Clubman feels like a BMW with weighted steering, precise handling and eager performance. Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. Its 0-60 mph time was 6.6 seconds in a test by Car and Driver magazine.
It might be a bit quicker and more economical but for its weight. At 3,352 pounds, it is about 400 pounds heavier than the previous generation Clubman. EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 24/34/27 mpg.
The engine is mated to a quick shifting eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode controlled by the shift lever or paddles mounted on the steering wheel.
There are three drive modes: sport, mid and green. The sport and green settings can be programmed for transmission shift points, shock absorber settings, and even coasting and climate control. For a bit of added entertainment, a ring of light changes colors from red to green and in between around the center screen.
Most enthusiasts likely will leave the setting in “sport.” But they will give up some ride comfort because the Clubman comes with standard run flat tires. The advantage is extra storage space because there’s no spare wheel.
But the combination of the hard tires, stiffer sport suspension setting and sharply responsive steering sometimes results in a feeling that the front wheels are pecking at the pavement. The impression goes away in the mid and green settings. In any of them, however, the Clubman is a joy on a twisting mountain road.
- Model: 2016 MINI Cooper S Clubman four-door station wagon.
- Engine:0-liter four cylinder, turbocharged, 189 hp, 207 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
- Overall length: 14 feet.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/18 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,352 pounds.
- EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/34/27 mpg.
- Base price, including destination charge: $28,500.
- Price as tested: $40,800.
Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.
Photos (c) MINI