I’m reviewing the MINI Cooper Clubman automatic because a Saga reader got in touch to tell us that we were missing a trick by not having done so already. Then another got in touch to say the same thing; no other car has generated such loyalty and such strident recommendations from our readers to try one for myself.
So I have. And, well, I quite liked it.
First things first
The MINI’s estate bodyshell offers an interesting alternative to the more usual hatchback, but it comes at a price.
The vertically split rear doors leave a wide central strip behind which even quite large cars (much less cyclists) can lurk unseen if they hang back at even a moderate distance. Of course, you can use your door mirrors and it’s not really dangerous; but as with overly extrovert rear spoilers, fashion impinges on visibility, which I didn’t like.
Nor does the boot offer the sort of space that we have come to expect from cars of this type. It’s Golf-sized at best, but then, when was the last time you filled your boot to the brim? And anyway, dog-owners will love it.
A terrific driving position
Quirky boot aside, the MINI offers some of the best seats I’ve sat on for a very long time, backed up with a perfect driving position.
It’s roomier than you might think, too. Even with the driver’s seat set for the lofty 6’ 3” me, there was room enough behind for a lanky teenager to skulk in comfort.
An overly complex interior
There are also cubbyholes aplenty and lots of interesting styling features and geegaws; sometimes, if I’m being honest, a few too many.
The interior seemed a little fussy to me, and overly complex; this is not a car you can jump in and drive intuitively without taking the time to explore what each switch does – and where it is.
It won’t be a deal-breaker because even I had got used to it by the end of the week with my fingers finding what they needed to find without too many problems but it is unlikely that the MINI will appeal to the Audi aficionado. And vice versa, of course.
Why the car you drive is too big
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The MINI’s strongest suit has always been its dynamic ability, and the Cooper Clubman is an absolute delight in that respect. It’s a softer car than many in the MINI range and all the better for it. It’s sharp without being overly darty and rides very well indeed.
When you are in the mood for fun you can choose from one of three different drive modes: Green (“Low consumption driving fun”); Mid (“Typical MINI driving fun”), and Sport (“Maximum go-kart feel”).
All make a noticeable difference to the way the car drives and Sport really does tighten things up nicely. So much so that I eschewed the motorway in favour of wending my way through some of my favourite north Walian roads and had an absolute ball.
The petrol engine has spirit and muscularity
A ball at sensible speeds, too. The three-cylinder petrol engine is a nice enough thing; it isn’t especially powerful but that doesn’t matter, because it has spirit and a muscularity that never left me feeling short-changed. It might be the cheapest and least powerful engine in the range but there simply isn’t any reason to go for anything more powerful.
I had no trouble is overtaking slower traffic and reveled in the sheer joy of being able to wring every last ounce of performance out of it without fearing for my life or my licence.
Petrol vs diesel
A marmite car?
Even so, by the end of the week, and despite lots of positives, I found it hard to warm to the MINI. The interior was frustratingly complex in places and the rear vision horribly compromised by those (albeit useful) rear barn doors.
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Having said that, living with one would soon eradicate most of its ergonomic foibles and there is an awful lot to like. It offers a near-perfect driving position and one of the best chassis on the market, and the combination of an estate car’s boot and a sports car’s handling are obviously irresistible to many loyal owners.
The point is, a car doesn’t need to appeal to everyone; that the MINI appeals to a significant percentage of the car buying public is all it needs to do. If you can live with the slightly Marmite interior – and many do love it – it’s a very good car indeed.
Power – 134bhp
Torque – 162 lb ft
0-62mph – 8.8 seconds
Top speed – 127mph
Kerb weight – 1,320kgs
Official average fuel consumption – 54mpg
CO2 emissions – 121g/km
VED class – Band D
Towing capacity (braked) – 1,300kgs
Towing capacity (unbraked) – 680kgs
Warranty – 3 yrs/60,000 miles
Price – £24,385
Price as tested - £26,400
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The MINI Clubman is so distinctive that it’s unlikely that anyone considering one would dream of buying anything else. As we’ve seen, it’s got a strong fan base, and with good reason.
The best of the rest
If you don’t need the MINI’s quirky styling then the SEAT Leon ST is a far nicer car to live with. Drives better too.
The VW Golf offers all of the MINI’s cool in a far more conventional package, as does the Audi A3 Sportback.
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