MINI with a differenceFriday, October 01, 2021
BY RORY DALEY
THERE is a constant sense of attention and nostalgia around the MINI Clubman. As a MINI, it catches the eyes of everyone around it, but the Clubman body style is unusual to many leaving them curious. To those of an older generation, the Clubman is a piece of their automotive history renewed in modern metal.
To understand the MINI Clubman, one just needs to thumb back through the brand's extensive history for the many model variations the 1960s original was available in. The Clubman is a contemporary interpretation of the MINI-Traveller, a station wagon version created in 1965. Those old enough will remember this MINI with its extra length and wood panelling. It has neither this time around, but the rear quarters of the five-door hatchback has been reworked to create a similar flow and support the key thing that sets the Clubman apart from its model-mates, a trunk that opens like barn doors. The dual doors ape those of the Traveller, now with modern electronics to open them. The only other styling element more quintessential to the MINI would be its Union Jack rear lights, proudly proclaiming its British heritage.
Comfort and luxury are terms quintessentially connected with Britain and the Clubman provides both in spades being as premium as possible in its segment. Keyless entry lights all four handles with a MINI logo puddle lamp given to the driver. Interior quality is high, from the supportive sport seats, all the switchgear, the chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel, to the new digital gauge cluster. The dual sunroof and customisable ambient lighting adds an even more upscale ambiance to an already peaceful cabin. There's plenty of cubbyholes for storage across the doors, seats, and centre console. Major functions are set and forget, others are powered to ease operation.
At the centre of the interior is the MINI infotainment screen, another ode to heritage. Round, with a large clear touchscreen in the middle, it's designed to harken back to the speedometer of the original MINI. A LED ring around it gives feedback to various operations. Turn up the excellent stereo and the colour goes red as the volume increases. Same for the dual climate zone control and the parking sensors. Red equals hot or too close to a parking object. Blue denotes cold. Bluetooth and USB connectivity are standard.
The Clubman, in Cooper S trim, gets an engine upgrade to match the dynamically fun chassis. Under the bonnet is major firepower in the form of a two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder motor. Paired with the seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission, the MINI is a rocket, while being subtle enough for everyday operation. In GREEN and MID mode, the performance is held at bay with softer throttle mapping. It takes more pedal effort to access the 192bhp and 206lb/ft of torque. SPORT mode remedies this, sharpening everything. With the ability to sit low in the car, the supportive seats connect the driver in a sporty manner. The suspension is firm and communicative, passing the amount of grip and the sensation of speed to the person behind the wheel for optimum control, yet never unpleasant to upset the vehicle. Driver engagement goes through the roof for those wanting manual control. Shift paddles and a shift pattern that matches motorsports makes rowing through the gears as the engine screams to red line an intoxicating experience.
The MINI Clubman Cooper S may be an unusual package visually, but it's none the less a MINI. That means comfort, technology, and driving dynamics unmatched at its price point.