Unique twin rear doors add a dash of uniqueness too.
So what’s it like on the road? A little different from the MINI norm is the answer – but thankfully, not too different. No, it doesn’t feel quite as sharp and frisky as the 5 Door Hatch model to drive, but then this is a larger, heavier car. Anyway, compensation comes with better refinement and far superior ride quality thanks to a purpose-designed multi-link rear suspension system. If you want to tweak the damping, an optional ‘Variable Damper Control’ control system allows you to do it, working through the ‘Green’, ‘MID’ and ‘Sport’ settings of the ‘MINI Driving Modes’ system, another extra-cost feature.
Engine-wise, the range starts with a three cylinder 1. 5-litre 136bhp petrol unit that can return over 55mpg on the combined cycle and 118g/km of CO2, even if you order your car with the optional 6-speed Steptronic auto transmission. The bulk of the range though, is based around 2. 0-litre power that gives buyers the option of an 8-speed auto ‘box as an alternative to the standard 6-speed manual. There’s a 192bhp Cooper S petrol model, but most buyers will want the 150bhp Cooper D diesel we’re trying here that makes 62mph from rest in around 8. 5s but can still approach 70mpg in regular use. A pokier 190bhp Cooper SD variant is also offered.
There’s no disputing that from the outside, the Clubman still looks like a MINI, even though it’s quite a substantial thing, almost identical in height and width to a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus. If you’re comparing against MINI’s 5 Door Hatch, this car is 270mm longer and 73mm wider, which makes the difference in size between the two models as great as it is between a Focus and a Fiesta. As for the styling, well most seem to think that, if anything, this Clubman’s stretched dimensions actually improve the slightly awkward aesthetics that you get on smaller MINI Hatch models. See if you agree. Inevitably, it’s impossible with this car to discuss that subject without mentioning doors – specifically the twin-door arrangement at the rear that’s supposed to hark back to the Austin Seven Countryman.
These distinctive side-hinged split rear so-called ‘Clubdoors’ mark this model out from any other on the road. They open via this dual-section chrome handle or, with the optional ‘Comfort Access’ feature fitted, by waving your foot beneath the bumper if, key in pocket, you approach the car, laden down with bags.
Inside, you’ll find 360-litres of luggage space. If that’s not enough, then flattening the rear bench frees up more space than any MINI model to date has ever provided – 1,250-litres.
Enough on practicality: time to move up-front. Here, there’ll be a conflicting mix of impressions for those familiar with modern MINIs thanks to design that’s different, yet somehow still the same. Features like decent door armrests and a centre console that, for the first time on a MINI, extends up to the instrument panel make it feel more grown-up in here. In fact, you might even talk of a BMW-style feel were it not for familiar MINI touches like these column-mounted dials, the row of toggle switches below the ventilation controls, the personalisable interior light colours and, most familiar of all, this huge circular display that crowns the centre stack.
Time to take a seat in the rear, an area of the car you can access from either side this time round. You have to watch your head getting in as the angle of the door aperture intrudes a little, but once inside, it’s very un-MINI like and a big improvement on the rather cramped conditions offered by both the previous generation version and the brand’s 5 Door Hatch. The fact that a six-footer can easily sit behind a front seat passenger of the same height seems revolutionary in a MINI.
In summary, if you need a practical car from this brand and find the Hatch 5-Door model too small and the Countryman Crossover too quirky, then a Clubman could be tempting. Forget the compromised and poorly executed first generation version of this car: this MK2 model is a very different proposition. Some other family hatches still offer a little more practicality but there’s no doubt that the prospect of going Club-class and enjoying this car’s eager uniqueness will seem very appealing to many of the new buyers MINI is seeking to target.
Of course, Clubman customers must still be people unafraid to fly in the face of convention. If that’s you though, then a bigger MINI adventure beckons.