Quick Summary The Mini Clubman is a four-door compact car with seating for up to five people. It's slightly more practical than the standard Cooper four-door but retains the driving flair and character for which the brand is known. With its unusual design that includes barn doors at the back, the Clubman is an intriguing alternative to more conventional rivals like the Volkswagen Golf.
What Is It? The not-so-mini Mini Clubman has a slightly different configuration than before. Instead of the previous model's "suicide" third door, the new model is a conventional four-door aimed at competitors like the VW Golf and Mercedes-Benz GLA. The Clubman is 10.9 inches longer and 2.9 inches wider than the standard four-door Mini Cooper, while the wheelbase has grown by 4 inches.
In size and scope it's relatively conventional, but with its unique cabin design and two-piece tailgate it seeks to retain some of the panache that has been so fundamental to the Mini brand's success.
Two engines are on offer in the U.S.: a 1.5-liter, 134-horsepower turbocharged three-cylinder engine in the standard Clubman, and a 2.0-liter, 189-hp turbocharged four-cylinder in the Clubman S. Both come standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, which can be swapped for a six-speed auto on the base Clubman, or a new eight-speed auto on the Clubman S.
What Body Styles and Trim Levels Does It Come in? There's only one body style, a four-door with unusual barn-door cargo doors in back. For now, there are two trim levels (Cooper and Cooper S), but we expect to see a high-performance John Cooper Works added in the not-so-distant future. There will also be all-wheel-drive versions to appeal to those in the Snowbelt.
The standard Clubman has Bluetooth audio as standard, dual-zone climate control, automatic headlights, 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless ignition and rain-sensing windshield wipers. The Clubman S adds 17-inch alloy wheels, sport seats and halogen foglights.
Various option packs can be added to both models. The Sport pack includes LED headlights and adjustable dampers, the Premium package includes an upgraded audio system and a panoramic sunroof and the Technology Pack includes an 8.8-inch widescreen navigation display and a rearview camera with parking sensors.
How Does It Drive? Driver appeal has always been at the heart of the Mini brand. The standard hatchback has been defined by its nimble feel, and the Clubman has the same spirit. The low-slung driving position and chunky wheel will be instantly familiar, and so will the agile dynamics.
With its longer wheelbase, the Clubman isn't quite as quick to react as the standard Cooper, but it still pivots neatly about its front wheels and body roll is exceptionally well suppressed. On a twisting road, the Mini inspires a confidence that few of its rivals can match. The manual gearbox has a positive, mechanical feel and the brakes are nicely modulated.
It feels like a premium product, and the bonus of its extended wheelbase is a ride comfort that's better than anything we've experienced in a Mini before. This is a comfortable long-distance machine.
We did note a few issues. The new eight-speed automatic gearbox feels an ideal foil for the 2.0-liter engine, but asking customers to pay extra for steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters is a bit miserly. Also, the Cooper S never feels especially rapid, partly because it's 370 pounds heavier than the standard four-door. Although its promised 0-60-mph time of 6.9 seconds sounds reasonably quick, in the real world it doesn't feel that fast.
To be fair, the impression of speed is also diminished by a high level of refinement. It's an exceptionally quiet cruiser and even when asked to play, the engine noise is never intrusive. Indeed, some enthusiasts may feel that it's too quiet. Mini has engineered in some exhaust burble in "Sport" mode, but it feels like a bit of a token gesture.
There are three driver-adjustable drive modes: Sport, Normal and Green. Sport adds weight to the steering, quickens the throttle and gearchange response (on the auto) and introduces a subtly different exhaust note. If you opt for electronic damping, it will also change the suspension setup, but we didn't have a chance to drive a car equipped with this feature.
How Does It Rate in Terms of Interior Comfort? For all its joie de vivre, there's no denying that the standard Mini Hardtop is an impractical tool with a small trunk and tight rear quarters. This seriously compromises its appeal as a family's primary mode of transport. The Clubman is different.
At 167.4 inches long it's 0.1 inch shorter than a Volkswagen Golf, placing it right in the heart of the premium compact class. There's room for a pair of 6-footers to sit in tandem, and despite the low-slung roof line, rear headroom is generous.
The twin rear doors can be opened individually at the prod of a key, or if you opt for the Comfort Access pack, you can open them by extending a foot beneath the rear apron. The doors reveal a cargo area that, at 17.5 cubic feet with the rear seats in place, is significantly smaller than the Golf's (22.8 cubic feet). The load bay can be split into two using a false floor to allow valuable items to be stowed out of sight.
The rest of the cabin plays heavily on Mini's cheeky appeal. The circular central pod no longer plays home to a speedometer but it's still a neat historical reference that differentiates the Mini from more humdrum rivals. So, too, do the funky toggle switches and the clever use of LED lighting technology that allows you to tune the hue of the cabin to match your mood.
The quality is a cut above, too, and as you'd expect from a member of the BMW family, there is no shortage of optional extras to help boost the list price. The quilted leather seats are terrific, for example, but we're less convinced by the head-up display system. It works well enough, but the screen is ungainly and only 2 inches higher than the conventional dashboard.
What Are Its Closest Competitors? The Ford Focus ST might not boast a premium badge but it's an excellent driver's car with pace and practicality.
While less overtly sporting than the Mini, the Mercedes-Benz GLA is a practical alternative for someone who is not only looking for something a bit different but can afford its slightly higher price.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is an obvious rival in terms of image and performance. It doesn't have the same level of character as the Mini, but the Golf is more practical and at least as good to drive.
Why Should You Consider This Car? You like the look and feel of the standard Mini Cooper four-door but need a little extra space to stretch out.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car? It's still relatively small and definitely not the least expensive option out there. And as cool as the rear barn doors look, they open up to reveal a small cargo area.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.