The Mini Clubman has been reinvented. Considerably larger and roomier than its quirky predecessor, the new Mini estate aims to provide improved levels of comfort and practicality in a bid to broaden its appeal against a growing number of premium hatchbacks.
Gone is the idiosyncratic layout of the previous Clubman, which had two conventional front doors and a single rear-hinged rear passenger door. It has been replaced with a far more conventional body that features four front-hinged side doors.
An even more radical departure is the increase in size. At 4253mm in length, the new Clubman is 293mm longer than its predecessor, which was introduced to the UK in 2007. It is also 115mm wider (at 1800mm) and 16mm taller (at 1441mm) than before. To put the wholesale increase in exterior dimensions into perspective, the latest Mini is 158mm longer, 10mm wider and 119mm lower than the largest of the existing Mini models, the Countryman.
Despite these changes, the new Clubman is immediately recognisable as a Mini, with an exterior design that draws heavily on the latest hatchback. Key elements include a large single-frame grille, oval-shaped headlights with LED graphics and a heavily rounded clamshell-style bonnet.
Further back, the new Clubman adopts a breather element to draw air from the front wheelarches, a chrome housing for the side repeater lights and four frameless side doors, those at the rear extending well into the wheelarches for added ease of entry.
As with the previous Clubman, the new model forgoes the conventional hatchback of other modern Minis for a pair of vertically split barn-style doors that feature a prominent chrome opening mechanism. The vertically stacked tail-lights of other Mini models are also replaced by horizontal units, providing the new car with added visual width.
The new front-wheel-drive Clubman will be offered with turbocharged three-cylinder and four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines from the start of UK sales. The new-generation powerplants, already seen in other new Mini models, come mated to a standard six-speed manual or optional eight-speed automatic gearbox. The new auto replaces the six-speed unit used previously and brings enhanced stop-start and brake energy recuperation functions, as well as a coasting feature that idles the engine on a trailing throttle between 19mph and 62mph to save fuel.
The model tested here is the initial performance leader, the Clubman Cooper S. Instead of the turbocharged 1.6-litre engine of its predecessor, it has a more contemporary turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit. Along with the rise in capacity, power has climbed by 8bhp to 189bhp and torque has increased by 29lb ft to 206lb ft.
Underpinning the Clubman is the versatile UKL platform of parent company BMW. It uses the same 2670mm wheelbase as the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer. That’s 125mm longer than the wheelbase of the old Clubman and 175mm longer than that of the latest hatchback.
As with all new Mini models, the suspension uses MacPherson struts up front and a compact multi-link arrangement at the rear. It can be enhanced with optional dynamic damper control, which provides the choice between Sport and Comfort settings. The standard wheels for the Clubman Cooper S are 17in and they come with 245/45 tyres.
The Mini Driving Modes function is another option. Activated via a rotary switch at the base of the gearlever, it provides the choice of three settings: Green, Mid and Sport.
The first thing you notice about the new Clubman is that it’s easier to get into than the previous one, thanks to larger door apertures all round. You can also access the rear seats from either side of the car, rather than just on the right-hand side as before.
Predictably, given the increased external dimensions, it is a good deal roomier inside, too. You’re immediately aware of increased shoulder and head room up front, and the rear offers far greater leg and head room than previously.
The added space is welcome. However, the intrinsic intimacy and snugness that has characterised Mini models down through the years has been lost in the effort to improve comfort and everyday practicality. It is likely to suit family car buyers, although I’m not entirely convinced that the larger cabin will find favour among traditional Mini owners.
In a further departure from other recent new Mini models, the Clubman receives a bespoke dashboard. The new design is more cohesive than that of its siblings while retaining traditional elements, such as the centrally mounted round binnacle and familiar switchgear. Crucially, it is all of a perceptibly higher quality.
The more functional nature of the new Mini is also reflected in the size of its boot. It has grown by 100 litres to 360 litres with the rear seats up – 150 litres more than the hatch and 10 litres more than the Countryman. When the 60/40 split rear seatbacks are folded down, there’s 1250 litres of load space.
You access the boot through two side-hinged doors. The right-hand door springs open at the prod of a remote button on the key fob or touch of the electric mechanism housed within a chromed handle. Once open, the left-hand door can be opened in a similar fashion. Mini also offers gesture-controlled opening, which works with a wiggle of your foot under the centre of the rear bumper.
The new 2.0-litre engine feels a good deal stronger than its 1.6-litre predecessor. Solid low-end urgency and an energetic feel through the mid-range make it both flexible and entertaining in everyday driving conditions. It’s quite a boisterous unit at high revs, though. At anything more than about 4000rpm, a noisy mix of induction and exhaust blare fills the cabin, although, given the Cooper S’s sporty brief, this is not entirely unexpected.
Gearing and steering
The optional eight-speed auto gearbox, as fitted to our test car, is perfectly suited to the characteristics of the more powerful engine. It delivers noticeably smoother shifts in automatic mode than the older six-speed unit and is also more responsive when you nudge the gear selector across its horizontal plane to switch it into manual mode.
It’s not only the improved action and smoothness of the new automatic gearbox that pleases. The ratios have also been well chosen, providing the Clubman with an engagingly peppy feel in the first four gears and considerably more relaxed qualities in the final four gears – eighth being relatively tall (at 35.5mph per 1000rpm) for relaxed long-distance cruising capability.
At 1390kg, the new Clubman weighs a good 230kg more than its predecessor in automatic guise. However, the moderate increase in engine output and two extra gear ratios help to provide it with improved accelerative ability. Mini puts the Cooper S’s 0-62mph time at 7.1sec, which is 0.6sec quicker than before. Top speed has also been hiked from a previous 138mph to 142mph. Those longer ratios also help to deliver an incremental improvement in fuel economy, which is now 48.7mpg on the combined cycle, while reducing CO2 emissions from 150g/km to 134g/km.
The far bigger exterior dimensions may help to improve practicality, but they also conspire to make the new Clubman a rather less endearing proposition around town than the previous model. Apart from the obvious added difficulty of finding suitably sized on-street parking spaces, the new car has a larger turning circle, at 11.3 metres versus 11.0m, making it more of a chore to manoeuvre in tight confines.
However, it’s a different story out on the open road, where the Clubman delivers genuinely absorbing handling. The new Mini corners with verve, its well-sorted chassis providing tenacious grip and nicely contained body movements when you push hard. There’s a real feel of strength to the body structure, which gives the impression of being significantly more rigid than most similar-sized hatchbacks.
With a longer wheelbase, the ride is also a lot calmer than the previous Clubman’s. Despite the inherent firmness of the springs, there’s sufficient compliance to ensure that it never becomes overly harsh, although there is excessive surface sensitivity and road noise on the standard 245/45 R17 Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres. The high-geared steering is precise and fairly communicative, too. Surprisingly, though, the electro-mechanical system suffers from the odd ping of torque steer under strong acceleration in lower gears.
The Clubman has always been a quirky choice, and that tradition continues with this new model. However, it is clearly better than the previous Clubman in terms of passenger and boot space, perceived quality inside, performance, fuel economy and comfort.
If you’re in the market for a typical hatchback but are put off by the sometimes lacklustre dynamics served up by mainstream offerings, this new Mini is well worth a look. Although it’s priced above the more conventional competition, it delivers an engaging driving experience, especially in the Cooper S guise tested here.
The adoption of four conventional passenger doors, together with the improved functionality of the barn doors at the rear, also provides it with significantly enhanced practicality, which is something that’s sure to make the new Clubman more popular among family car buyers than before.
Mini Clubman Cooper S Automatic
Price £22,755; Engine 4 cyls, 1597cc, turbo petrol; Power 189bhp at 5000rpm; Torque 206lb ft at 1250rpm (221lb ft overboost); Kerb weight 1390kg; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; 0-60mph 7.1sec; Top speed 142mph; Economy 48.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 134g/km, 21%