The Mini Clubman that wants to be king…so desperately


Featuring a raft of detail changes (improvements) that warrant its ‘new model’ status, writes Iain Robertson, the biggest BMW Mini to hit the roads verges on an unlikely to happen name-change to ‘Maxi’, as a world-wide love affair with Mini continues.

To be frank, the BMW version of the Mini, while just about acceptable in its original 2000 form, has now become such an over-inflated joke that whatever scant relationship that may have connected it with Alex Issigonis’s original paper napkin sketch has all but disappeared. While I accept that even attempting to replicate the build of the original 1959 Austin Mini Seven, or Morris Mini Minor, would be impossible, so swingeing are modern day safety, crash resistance and quality demands, BMW has taken the concept way beyond the cartoon image it perpetrated at the start of the New Millennium. Yet, its business role outside of image-conscious marketing firms, remains strictly limited.

Were Lewis Carroll to provide Alice (in Wonderland) with an ‘Eat Me!’ cake in a modern era, it would surely be Mini-shaped. Yet, Mini is fast becoming an inappropriate description of a car, whose origins were initially just ten feet long. The latest iteration of a model that BMW cocked-up royally in its initial form (with a solitary rear passenger door that opened directly into traffic, as though UK sales mattered not a jot) is now so large that it almost demands a fresh model naming policy. I recommend Maxi, because the Bavarian marque owns all of the former model names that it acquired during the late-1990s takeover of what remained of Austin-Rover Group. Were it not for the fact that the innovative original Maxi was such an unmitigated production disaster, I am almost certain that the temptation exists.

The body design of the latest Clubman is unique, thanks to its van-like split-rear doors that BMW insists connects it with the original, as long as you do not count any one of a number of light commercial vehicles. Access is good, which is a clear remit for any would-be estate car. Due to its slightly elongated platform, its luggage bay can be extended from a modest 360-litres to around 1,250-litres, once the back seats are folded flat, a feat that they cannot actually achieve, even though they make a moderate fist of it. Let’s face it, boot space is what Clubman is all about and I am not averse to the twin-door reality at the rear, as they open and close with a solid Germanic quality and, unlike the original BMC Mini Clubman, they are unlikely to rattle themselves into oblivion after a few thousand miles, as a result of abysmal body flex. However, they are quirky and add substantially to the regular Mini hatchback’s already chunky kerbweight.

At the opposite end of the car, a guppy-like new radiator grille dominates and pouts like a spoilt child. Now almost full-width, as opposed to the retro-look of the earlier versions, it offers a degree of interchangeability in that various trim levels can provide clip-on model differentiation, just as the stock chromed headlamp bezels can become modified to meet Cooper S and ‘Works’ designations in due course. New dazzle-free but adaptive matrix-style LED headlamps are a camera-automated feature that also includes cornering illumination. Of course, the driver can determine whether switch control should be his, or left to the car’s electronic devices, but the spread of illumination is very good and variable elements alter their range and intensity without further intervention.

Three new colours, an orangey-red, a sort-of British Racing Green (there are so many variations of this colour available) and a metallic black have been added to the palette, with roof and door mirror caps available in contrasting black, white, or silver finishes. Of course, Mini is renowned for its personalisation potential and even the cliché ‘Union Jack’ LED tail-lamps can be changed for something less aggravating. While 16.0-inch diameter alloy wheels are standard, up to 19.0-inch alternatives are available (or standard, dependent on model). The Mini personalisation programme extends to illuminated door sills, dashboard graphics and even exterior body panels, some of which can be bespoke, or simply extra-cost add-ons selected from BMW’s extensive (and expensive) catalogue. Even if you possess bucketfuls of spare cash, it is remarkably easy to venture into £34k+ territory, which is an unrecoverable figure at trade-in time, regardless of your ‘love affair’ with Mini.

Having built a reputation for a fairly unforgiving ride quality, apart from an even more nuggety, 10mm reduced sports setting availability, the Clubman can also feature a two-mode adaptive alternative, with switchable settings for Comfort, or Sport. Personally, I would settle for Comfort. The sportier option will remove your clenched teeth and disable your spine quicker than you can say your own name! Yet, grip levels are amazing and, despite its larger dimensions and weight penalty, a BMW Mini can corner with similar polecat potential to the 1959 original Mini, helped by surgically accurate steering, minimal body roll and a low centre of gravity.

Three engines are available from the outset, a 3-cylinder, 1.5-litre, 136bhp Cooper (0-60mph in 8.9s, 127mph, up to 50.4mpg and 129g/km CO2); the 4-cylinder, 2.0-litre, 192bhp Cooper S (0-60mph in 7.0s, 142mph, up to 51.4mpg and 147g/km CO2); and the turbo-diesel, 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder Cooper D (0-60mph in 8.6s, 132mph, up to 65.7mpg and 114g/km CO2). They drive through a choice of 6-speed manual or 7-speed, twin-clutch automated-manual gearboxes.

Personally, I prefer the latter option, because my long legs are not entirely suited to pumping a clutch pedal. Yet, that is not to say that the interior packaging is not generous. While rear seat occupants will suffer, when I am driving the Clubman, that I can fit at all is a marvel of its cabin design. With a more averagely sized individual at the helm, four adults of similar proportions can be accommodated. The comic-book centre touch-screen now offers a larger interface and greater connectivity options. Meanwhile a raft of the usual electronic driver aids and safety devices is also standard.

BMW Minis are now an accepted entry-level route to the rest of the BMW line-up but Mini is among the more costly of the compact cars sold in the UK, especially once customisation enters the frame. List prices start at just over £20,000, showing a slight increase on the previous generation.