What is it?
The Mini may not have pioneered front-wheel drive, but it has long been associated with that layout. A compact A-series engine stuffed sideways into the nose of the little Austin gave plenty of space in the cabin and predictable handling to boot.
Of course, the introduction of the controversial Mini Countryman (ignoring the wacky twin-engined Mini Mokes of the past) changed that with the introduction of optional four-wheel drive. You can now add another model to the all-paw family: the Mini Clubman.
Only available on Cooper S and Cooper SD models, the car remains front-driven most of the time, only sending power to the rear wheels in certain situations. It isn’t just a reactive system, though; the Clubman can predict when drive is needed at the back and push it rearwards before there’s any slip from the front.
What's it like?
We’ve already tried the diesel abroad, but here we’ve got the petrol Cooper S on UK roads. Under the bonnet is the same 189bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre motor that you get in the regular Cooper S. Thanks to the four-wheel drive, it’s quicker from 0-62mph by 0.2sec.
Typically, it remained largely dry during our time with the car, so we can’t comment on how it deals with particularly slippery roads. What we can say is that pulling out of damp junctions can be done confidently and without drama.
In this situation, you can certainly feel the back axle getting stuck in to keep the Clubman feeling neutral. It’s the same story when accelerating out of slower corners, the car resisting power understeer better than an equivalent front-driver.
Does this make it more involving or exciting? No. Even with all of the electronics off, a neutral cornering attitude is the best you can hope for under power. For the most part, though, it feels much the same as a normal Clubman, with quick – if largely numb - steering with decent weighting and a ride that copes with B-roads well.
Although big bumps can sometimes catch it out, the Clubman exhibits good body control with an ability to smooth out the majority of scarred surfaces. You’ll still feel the topography of the road, but it’s rarely uncomfortable.
The engine gets the Clubman up to speed effectively, delivering a pleasant rasp in the process. It isn’t the kind of unit that you’ll savour every last rev with, however, and we’d argue that a little bit more power wouldn’t hurt, either.