Full 2009 MINI Cooper Clubman Review
What's New for 2009
For 2009, the Mini Cooper Clubman offers a few new options, including roof rails and a rear roof spoiler. Also, a John Cooper Works version is now available, the speedometer reads to 160 mph and a handful of wheel designs debut.
Imagine a fuel-efficient car that can play cat-and-mouse with full-fledged sports cars on a tight, twisty road. A car that's peppy, space-efficient, uniquely styled and even somewhat practical. You might be tempted to say, "Keep dreaming." If so, you haven't met the 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman.
Ever since its American rebirth seven years ago, the Mini Cooper has been to driving enthusiasts what Lindt truffles are to chocoholics. On a curvy road, few cars are as entertaining and playful as a Mini Cooper, particularly at its relatively attainable price point. The only problem is that the regular Cooper is simply too mini for many people, thanks to its cramped backseat and limited cargo capacity. These demerits are deal breakers for those who need to tote more than their significant other and some take-out from the local Chinese restaurant.
Mini addressed this issue last year with the debut of the Mini Cooper Clubman, a stretched version of its jovial little runabout. In addition to nearly 10 extra inches of overall length, which increases rear legroom by a useful 2.5 inches, the Clubman sports a rear-hinged third door on the passenger side to allow easier access to the rear compartment. There are also a larger cargo area and, instead of the regular Cooper's liftgate, a pair of vertically split rear doors like you'd find on a cargo van. Nonetheless, the Clubman retains all the inherent goodness of the standard Mini, including quick steering, nimble handling, peppy performance and impressive fuel mileage.
For 2009, the big news is the debut of the John Cooper Works model, which appeared for a short period of time in the previous-generation Mini Cooper lineup. Essentially a hopped-up version of the turbocharged Cooper S Clubman, the "JCW" Clubman features a 208-horsepower engine, dual exhaust outlets, 17-inch wheels, Brembo brakes and a few visual tweaks.
No matter what trim level you're looking at, the Clubman still competes with the same batch of compact hatchbacks as the regular Cooper. In fact, its increased cargo and backseat space mean it's even easier to cross-shop against hatchbacks like the Saturn Astra, VW GTI and Volvo C30. Certainly, the 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman isn't perfect. The interior controls are confusing, the backseat may be tight for adults, it can ride harshly and it gets surprisingly expensive when a lot of options are chosen. Yet nothing can match the personality that oozes from all Minis, and even if the Clubman's quirks occasionally work against it, they're part of a car that's like nothing else on the road.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman is a four-seat, two-door hatchback with a passenger-side reverse-opening rear door. In place of the regular Cooper's liftgate is a pair of outward-swinging doors. There are three trim levels available: base Cooper, sportier Cooper S and highest-performing John Cooper Works.
The base Cooper comes standard with 15-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, leatherette upholstery, multicolor mood lighting, a tilt and telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer and a six-speaker stereo with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The Cooper S adds a more powerful engine, 16-inch wheels with run-flat tires, firmer suspension tuning and sport seats. Step up to the John Cooper Works edition and you'll get even more power, dual exhausts, 17-inch wheels, Brembo brakes and a sophisticated limited-slip differential that Mini calls "electronic differential lock control."
Mini is one of the few non-exotic brands that allows its customers extensive customization options. Depending on the trim level, these choices include different wheel designs, body styling tweaks including a roof spoiler, roof rails, a sport-tuned suspension, a limited-slip differential, a dual-pane sunroof, xenon headlights, cruise control and rear parking assist. Interior options include automatic climate control, leather upholstery, multiple color schemes and trim options, heated front seats, a multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth, keyless ignition, a navigation system, HD radio, satellite radio, iPod connectivity and an upgraded 10-speaker sound system.
Powertrains and Performance
The base Cooper Clubman is powered by a 1.6-liter inline-4 that produces 118 hp and 114 pound-feet of torque. The Cooper S raises the bar considerably, packing a turbocharged version of the base Cooper's four-cylinder that generates a robust 172 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque (192 lb-ft at full throttle, thanks to an "overboost" function). The John Cooper Works packs 208 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque (207 lb-ft with overboost). The regular Cooper and the Cooper S come standard with a six-speed manual transmission, while a six-speed automatic with manual shift control is optional. The JCW can only be had with the six-speed manual.
With the manual transmission, the base Clubman achieves 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway and 32 mpg combined. The S and the John Cooper Works versions are rated at 26/34/29 mpg. Opting for the automatic hurts the base and S versions' mileage by 3 combined mpg, according to the EPA.
The 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman comes standard with antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and stability control.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Mini Clubman's biggest advantage over the standard Cooper is rear-seat legroom -- as in, it actually has some. If you've ever ridden in the backseat of a regular Mini, you know what we mean. The Clubman's passenger-side access door also makes climbing in and out of the backseat a much easier proposition. It's still pretty cozy back there, however, particularly for larger-than-average adults. Swing open the twin rear doors and you'll find a cargo area more than 50 percent larger than the regular Cooper's, although with only 9.2 cubic feet of capacity behind the rear seatback, it's not exactly cavernous. Flip the rear seats down, however, and the cargo bay expands to a useful 32.8 cubes.
Just like the regular Cooper, the Clubman features a snazzy, retro-inspired control setup that unfortunately works poorly in practice. The audio controls are bunched confusingly below the huge center speedometer, and both manual and automatic climate controls are poorly designed.
The 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman may be longer than the regular Mini, but it retains the phenomenally fun driving experience associated with its smaller brethren. Responses to driver inputs are cat-quick, and the Cooper Clubman delivers lots of feedback through the steering wheel, driver seat and pedals. The electric power steering makes turning at slow speeds less of an arm workout, while hitting the Sport button -- standard on all Clubmans -- weights up the steering to match the last-generation Cooper's stiff, go-kart feel. One downside is a somewhat stiff ride quality, particularly on the John Cooper Works model and the Cooper S with the optional sport-tuned suspension.
In terms of power, the base Cooper's engine is surprisingly zesty. Drivers will have to row gears fairly frequently (or toggle the paddle shifters with the automatic), but generally, the base engine provides more than enough power for most buyers. That said, the turbocharged Cooper S and John Cooper Works versions are superb, providing a satisfying swell of low-end power whenever the driver dips into the accelerator. With so much power routed to the front wheels, though, torque steer can yank the tires to-and-fro when you really gun it. No matter which Clubman you choose, prepare to have fun.