Ride Review: 2017 MINI Clubman
Back in 1959, Sir Alec Issigonis developed a revolutionary vehicle that would change the automotive business. His big contribution was to create a driveline that we now take for granted, moving the engine to a transmounted position, while creating a transmission/transaxle to drive the front wheels.
The result was a maximization of usable space for passengers and cargo. In a car of its size (a very small car that works in European cities and roads) maximum space utilization was the key to the success and adoration of this revolutionary car.
The Austin and Morris Mini became an icon of modern Britain. These cars were loved beyond the Isles; they were loved around the world. They were loved so much that the next revolution of Mini would be continued under the guidance of BMW Group. Therefore, the Mini simply became the MINI.
Three generations later, the MINI Cooper provided its owners a source of absolute joy. Small, but mighty, the brand took the energy of the Hardtop and expanded the lineup to include some pretty interesting models. The Coupe sat two and wore a backwards baseball cap as a roof. The Countryman showed that a MINI could be a crossover for the masses. They even expanded the crossover idea to a two-door version that reminded one of an enlarged Hardtop: the Paceman.
However, critics were concerned that MINI may have expanded a bit too much for consumers to grasp its product lines. For this latest generation of the Cooper, BMW went back to basics; yet, they also introduced the idea of practicality to the lineup within the confines of the basic platform. The two-door Hardtop is joined by a four-door version. And, now it is joined by a new Clubman.
Some people might know that I do a lot of automotive history pieces in other outlets. Because of this, I wanted to bring up something that has been bugging me about the MINI Clubman. The Mini (Austin/Morris/et al.) always had a wagon with the split rear doors. That was known as the Traveler and the Countryman from 1961 to 1969. The name Clubman was given in 1969 for a Mini with a “modern” (for the late 1960s) front end. In fact, the Clubman did come in a wagon form, with two doors up front and the split two “barn doors” in the rear.
The previous MINI Clubman, introduced in 2008, came with two main doors, the split “barn doors” and an access door for the rear seats on one side. This time around, BMW gave the newest Clubman wagon four proper doors, while retaining the “barn doors” for cargo access.
Confused? It’s quite simple, really. The new MINI Clubman was designed to be a MINI, but with optimal practicality.
The idea of optimal practicality starts with a longer body than the previous Clubman. The new Clubman stretches out to only 168.1 inches, which equals to a 12-inch increase in length from the previous model. In comparison to the four-door Hardtop model, the Clubman is ten inches longer. The wheelbase is long at 105.1 inches. This is done to increase the cabin space for rear seat passengers, enabling longer doors on each side compared to the four-door Hardtop. The split “barn doors” open up to 90 degrees on each side. You can also open the “barn doors” by swinging your foot underneath the rear bumper.
The overall look of the Clubman starts with the new basic front end found on the current generation Hardtops. While the shape of the grille and headlamps retain the same look as the original “new” MINI of 2002, the overall shape is aggressive and rakish. The Cooper S adds a honeycomb grille with a deep lower bumper and air ducts. Our tester came with the John Cooper Works appearance package, adding deeper ground effects, specific 18-inch wheels, dual hood stripes, and added black trim all around.
The beauty of a MINI is the idea of personalizing a vehicle to the owner’s imagination. Our Cooper S Clubman showed a sporting side with Chili Red paint, black roof, stripes, and trim. However, the Clubman comes in three non-metallic colors, eight metallic colors, a choice of four roof and mirror cap colors (including the main body color) and nine different seat upholstery choices. This is what attracts the kind of customers MINI wants to engage with.
Over the three generations of the current MINI, its cabin has evolved within the original themes laid down in 2002. The center speedometer has given way to MINI’s infotainment screen: MINI Connected. The speedometer is now attached to the steering column, conjoined by the tachometer and fuel gauge. In the center dial is a switchable screen where the most necessary vehicle information resides, as controlled by a button on the left stalk. Toggles and button are scattered around the cabin, including on the roof. The ignition switch is a toggle in the middle of the lower center stack. While most vehicles offer straightforward design inside, MINI deviates from the norm by creating a unique, tangible, and fun setup for the driver to be engaged.
This Cooper S Clubman came with MINI’s Connected XL infotainment system. Not only does it come with a larger screen, it also comes with a great navigation system. You can dial through the numbers and letters from the knob in the center console, or trace each number and letter on the same Touch Controller. All of the controls for the Connected XL system is right on the center console, therefore, it is not a touch screen. There are even some fun graphics to see, as well. MINI provides SiriusXM, HD radio, and Bluetooth connectivity, but it is not compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto currently. HarmonKardon supplied a fantastic set of speakers to emit a well-balanced and distortion-free sound throughout the cabin.
In this tester, we had a pair of manually controlled sports seats that provided excellent comfort and great support with deep bolstering, a perfectly sized cushion and seatback. Rear seat room is achievable, even with a larger seating area than in the Hardtop models. You can have average adults sit in the back, but headroom may be limited for taller persons. Cargo space is expandable to 47.9 cubic feet with the rear seat down from a solid 17.5 cubic feet “boot.” There is underfloor storage that helps hide key items from view, even when you have a cargo cover that slides out of the way.
Like the Hardtop, the Clubman comes with two engine choices. The standard Cooper is powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine, good for 134 horsepower. The real choice in power is the Cooper S and its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. This Twinpower engine offers 189 horsepower of solid performance with 207 pound-feet of torque. Our tester came with an eight-speed automatic transmission that is smooth shifting and responsive through its three drive modes: Green, Mid, and Sport. You can also get one with a six-speed manual transmission. New for 2017 is the ALL4 all-wheel drive system that is found on the Countryman and Paceman crossover models. With increased traction and a peppy driveline, one could understand why MINI owners found their cars to be absolutely fun to drive. In terms of fuel economy, this tester yielded an average of 25.0 MPG.
MINIs are known to be great handling cars. Their lower center of gravity, short wheelbase and short travel suspensions garnered the reputation of a driving similar to a go-kart. The Clubman has a stretched wheelbase of 105.1 inches, which also adds another dimension to the mix: a solid ride. Even in Sport mode, the suspension did not feel any harder than it looks. It corners flat through the turns, but works hard to absorb the road the best it can. Steering is solid on-center and sharp when you get it through tight maneuvers. Sport mode weighs down steering feel and enhances driver control. Stopping power is excellent with a four-disc, anti-lock system. Expect super sharp stops in both normal and panic situations with excellent pedal feel and feedback.
This tester came with a reversing camera, but no other active safety features on board. You can add Adaptive Cruise Control and a Heads-Up display to the Clubman.
For a Cooper Clubman with the turbocharged three-cylinder engine, you can get one starting at $24,100. The Cooper S Clubman ALL4 we tested had a base price of $29,450. All told, with several packages, including the John Cooper Works Appearance Package, the final sticker price came to $39,955.
There is no question how much this MINI Clubman seems just right for us. The brand had been marketing this wagon as a vehicle for everyone, including those of us who “defy labels.” If you think you are just buying a MINI, then you have not experienced the complete owner experience. Everyone from the dealership to the brand marketing people are engaged in ensuring that you have the best experience with the car. I witnessed this when the biannual owner engagement event MINI Takes The States came through the Twin Cities in July. You can see how engaged and enthusiastic MINI owners truly are. It is not just a car; it is an experience that is enjoyable and fun.
This leads to something even more important: the car itself. The MINI Clubman is joy wrapped up in a unique package that engages everyone who pilots it, no matter who you are.