First Drive: 2008 Mini Cooper & Cooper S Clubman
This 2008 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2013.
By Shaun Bailey of Road & Track
Madrid, Spain — When asked what he thought of the new Mini Clubman's Styling, our Design Director Richard Baron said, with tongue in cheek, "It's a bit of a stretch." And he's right; the new Clubman is more of a variant than an all-new model. What with only 9.5 in. of stretch, it results in 3.2 in. of extra rear-seat leg room and wheelbase, more rear overhang and increased storage space.
Those extra inches are visually reminiscent of the original Mini Traveler or Estate model. Although the cars will not have a Clubman badge, they retain the Cooper and Cooper S emblems, as well as the options we associate with those names. Only the John Cooper Works upgrade won't be available.
The Clubman is almost all-Cooper. A-pillar forward is all the same, but the roof, sides, rear doors and stretched floorpan are unique. Because of U.S. crash safety requirements, the Clubman remains 4-passenger transport, while in Europe it gets an extra cramped center seat. Europeans also get the diesel engine in the Mini Cooper D Clubman and an auto start-stop feature. Apparently, our EPA test cycle would never use the auto start-stop feature, so it wouldn't result in better EPA numbers and thus Mini doesn't think it will help sell the car. In the real world, the system does help fuel mileage, and I encourage green Mini owners to write to either the EPA or Mini and complain of this injustice.
The Clubman also is the first Mini to receive a shift indicator, which tells the driver which manual-transmission gear would optimize fuel economy. It is an unobtrusive arrow with a number next to it. This can easily be ignored during spirited driving.
A keen eye will notice the absence of a roof rack. They are coming soon. Because of the car's extra length, the roof is an important visual aspect of the design. To make it look right, a line is drawn that slightly improves rear-seat head room. After sitting in the rear seats for over an hour, I can attest to the improved space. Four adults can actually sit in reasonable comfort. The extra space in the rear also provides greater storage capacity — maybe not enough for four people's luggage, but close.
However, the silly little right-side-only suicide door is a poor excuse for a real door. Two complaints: One, the stubby door opens only to 90 degrees, thus trapping those exiting against cars parked alongside. Two, the front passenger-side seatbelt is tethered to the half-door so it's always in the way.
I do like the rear panel doors, though. Unlike a regular Cooper whose rear door is a hatch, these side-hinged panel doors swing open; first the right, then the left. A nice convenience is that the doors swing open on air springs, so that all it takes is a slight click and tug. Don't worry; the doors won't swing out into traffic. The one downside to these doors is that they produce a vertical obstacle in the rearview mirror. It's not that bad, but it's one of the few things that reminds the driver that he's not in a regular Mini.
From the driver's seat there is little to distinguish a Cooper from a Clubman. The ride is still firm, but there is a slight delay in steering response and increased understeer that are likely attributable to the increase in wheelbase. The Clubman is truly a Mini, but with a slight leaning toward practicality. I think it gains more in practicality than it loses in performance.
Mini realizes the Clubman isn't for everyone. It's for those who really want a Cooper, but need those few extra inches to justify a purchase. When the car goes on sale in February, pricing is expected to be less than the convertible Mini, but more than the standard model. Mini expects to sell only 20 percent as Clubman models. With the expected price-tag premium, we'll say that might be a stretch.