Room for four adults, admirable blend of performance and fuel economy, singular styling.
Unyielding suspension, befuddling ergonomics, pricey with options.
Ask a Southeast Asian street vendor whether one item is the same as another, and you're likely to hear "Same same, but different" in response. No one knows exactly what it means, but in certain contexts it's the perfect phrase. So it is with the 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman. It's not the same as a regular Mini — but it's not so different either. "Same same, but different" is the best way to sum it up.
First, the differences. The Clubman sports a reverse-hinged third door on the passenger side, or "club door" in Mini-speak, as well as old-school barn doors out back. The wheelbase has been stretched by 3.2 inches, and the Clubman is an inch taller and 9.6 inches longer front to back. This translates into appreciably more cabin space, especially for rear passengers. Increased size usually means more weight, too, and the Clubman is no exception: It tips the scales at 2,855 pounds, light for this class but nearly 200 pounds more than the regular Mini.
Pretty much everything else about the Clubman is "same same." The all-important cute factor carries over largely intact. The control layout, unchanged from the regular Mini, is still high on style and low on functionality. Weight gain notwithstanding, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine remains satisfyingly quick. Our test car's optional sport-tuned suspension conjured up images of Conestoga wagons — another Mini trademark.
As with its similarly sprung sibling, the Clubman is happiest when the going gets twisty. Among front-wheel-drive performance cars, this is about as good as it gets in the handling department. If you want seating for four adults along with that Mini character and cuteness, then the 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman won't disappoint. Be prepared to pay dearly, though, unless you can live with a bare-bones version.
The front-wheel-drive 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman is propelled by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that generates 172 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. Flooring the throttle activates a brief "overboost" function good for 192 lb-ft. Our test car was equipped with the optional six-speed automatic transmission. We recorded a 0-60-mph sprint of 7.2 seconds — expect manual-shift cars to shave a few tenths off that time. The regular Cooper S is quicker, but not by much.
Fuel economy stands at an EPA-estimated 23 mpg city/32 highway and 27 mpg for mixed driving, remarkable figures in light of the Clubman's performance bias. Our test car averaged a respectable 24.8 mpg under our chronically leaden feet.
Handling is the Clubman's strong suit, despite pronounced torque steer under hard acceleration. The Sport package's meaty 17-inch tires ensure plentiful grip in spirited driving, and body roll is negligible. Steering is precise, although its considerable heft may be a bit much for nonenthusiasts. Brake feel and performance are excellent — our best 60-0-mph stop required a scant 112 feet.
We weren't big fans of our tester's automatic transmission, though. Shifts are notably firm in the transmission's default mode, and hitting the Sport button makes them firmer still. We appreciated its quick gearchanges, and the steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles proved entertaining. Nonetheless, the excellent six-speed manual transmission is preferable unless the traffic on your commute dictates otherwise.
Drivers of all sizes can get comfortable in the 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman thanks to a height-adjustable driver seat, a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, and ample head- and legroom. Those with sensitive lower backs might lament the absence of adjustable lumbar support, but longer-legged pilots will appreciate the Clubman's extra 3 inches of front-seat travel.
Given the Clubman's diminutive dimensions, rear-seat comfort is truly impressive, although there's only space for two. Our 6-foot-plus editors were perfectly content to sit behind one another, thanks to greatly improved legroom. Headroom is also noticeably better — credit here goes to the Clubman's extended roof line. Only the inadequate height of the rear cushion came in for mild criticism.
Once the Clubman is under way, "comfort" becomes a relative term. More comfortable than an all-out sports car? Undoubtedly. But only the owners of such cars would call the Clubman cushy. The suspension is so hardwired to the road that even minor bumps and ruts send shockwaves through the cabin. We think that most buyers could live with a little more body roll in corners if it afforded the Clubman a less punishing ride. Based on our brief experience, the standard non-sport suspension feels almost as stiff. Road noise, too, could stand to be dialed down a notch or three.
You know that old saying about form following function? Well, Mini's interior design team apparently prefers it the other way around. Aesthetically, the Clubman's gauges and control layout are every bit as cute as its adorable mug. Functionally, however, they leave much to be desired, from the center-mounted speedometer to those inscrutable banks of metallic toggle switches — and don't get us started on the downright nonsensical radio controls. (Good luck finding the volume knob.) To be fair, most Clubman buyers will probably be quick to forgive its ergonomic eccentricities. But we're not so sympathetic. Frankly, all of the Clubman's competitors offer more intuitive driver interfaces.
The Clubman derives its name from that reverse-opening club door, which markedly eases rear-seat ingress and egress. Also noteworthy are its delivery van rear doors, behind which you'll find an exclusive fold-out floor that creates a flat loading surface on top of the recessed cargo area. The Clubman also features an adjustable cloth cargo cover instead of the standard hard-shell version. Most importantly, those extra 9.6 inches of length translate into 32.8 cubic feet of cargo volume — nearly 37 percent more than a regular Mini.
The Clubman is still a pretty small car, however, as our real-world usability tests indicate. A golf bag won't fit horizontally out back, because with no rear overhang to speak of, virtually the entire cargo area is pinched inward by the Clubman's rear wheels. As with the regular Mini, you'll have to fold down one of the rear seats and point the bag toward the front of the car.
As for standard suitcases, well, it depends on what you mean by "standard," but you'll probably want to flip the seats down for this purpose, too. Child-seat installation is quite feasible, though, thanks to the club door. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as just opening that door — tilting the front seatback forward is required for unobstructed access.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman has a look all its own. The regular Mini's cuteness has mostly survived the stylistic transition, although the Clubman's elongated profile prompted one editor to deem it "a hearse for little people."
Fit and finish on our tester was generally sound, save for the front center folding armrest, which emitted unseemly creaking noises. Plastic surfaces abound, but soft-touch material atop the dash helps the interior feel price-appropriate. Overall, the Clubman imparts that sense of well-engineered solidity for which parent company BMW is renowned.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman should appeal to both Mini devotees and driving enthusiasts alike. Just don't expect it to offer the cargo space, ergonomics and under-hood punch of some rival hot hatches — and expect to pay a premium for what you get.