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 unique 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 a nominal 360 litres – 150 litres more than the hatchback and 10 litres more than the Countryman. A 60/40 split fold rear seat is standard. When the rear seats are folded away, there’s 1250 litres of luggage 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 electronic 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.
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 it is also more responsive when you nudge the gearlever 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 wildly overdriven at 0.673:1 in combination with a final drive of 3.200:1 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 reserves and two extra gear ratios help provide it with added acceleration. Mini puts the 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 deliver an incremental improvement in overall fuel economy, which is now 48.7mpg combined, in the process reducing CO2 emissions from 150g/km to 134g/km.
The far bigger exterior dimensions may help provide added practicality, but they also conspire to make the new Clubman a rather less endearing proposition around town than the old model. Apart from the obvious difficulty of finding suitably sized on-street parking spaces, the new Mini also boasts a larger turning circle, at 11.3 metres versus 11.0m, making it more of a chore to manoeuvre in tight confines.
It’s a different story out on the open road, though, 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 similarly 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 also 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.