The Mini Clubman All4 adds four-wheel drive to enhance its appeal. But is it actually any more appealing, or just needlessly more expensive?

What is it?

Sir Alec Issigonis is famed for his quotes as well as his Mini, and looking at the new Mini Clubman All4, I’m reminded of one in particular: “The public don’t know what they want; it’s my job to tell them.” Could that apply to the All4? Do we really want a four-wheel-drive Mini Clubman, and will many of you buy one?

Perhaps let’s put the philosophy of it to one side and for the moment concentrate on the All4’s oily bits instead. The four-wheel drive works on demand, so when you are bowling along the road, heading roughly in a straight line, all the power goes to the front wheels; that saves around 30% in frictional losses.

When things get tricky, an electronically controlled ‘hang-on’ clutch mounted in front of the rear differential can switch power to the rear wheels in an instant.

The system is designed not just to react to wheel slip but to predict it as well, considering factors such as throttle position, steering angle, wheel speeds and lateral and longitudinal acceleration. If it thinks you need some rear bias, it engages the rear diff.

It also uses the stability program to replicate a limited-slip front diff, braking the inside wheel during cornering and sending drive to the outside wheel with better traction.

Talking to the Mini engineers, it seems they wanted a sporty, rear-wheel drive feel. After weeks spent in Sweden’s Arctic Circle tuning the All4’s system to drift, they reckon they’ve cracked it. 

What's it like?

All-wheel drive can be had only in conjunction with the fruitiest of the Mini’s engine options. That’s either this diesel Cooper SD, coupled to an eight-speed GPS-guided automatic gearbox, or a petrol Cooper S, which comes with a six-speed manual ’box as standard and an auto as an option.

The diesel definitely makes a sensible choice if you're chasing low running costs and gentler company car tax, plus it’s decently quick in a straight fight away from the lights. But real-world pace is its best asset, when you can surf the healthy peak torque band between 2000 and 2500rpm. There are dead zones to avoid, though - below 1500rpm and above 4000rpm.

It’s comparatively smooth for a four-cylinder diesel, but not characterful. In normal driving, the engine's note is always there, buzzing away in the background. When you give it some welly, the noise moves centre stage, but in the form of an uninspiring drone. With a light accelerator, the gearbox occasionally goes full-on eco and drops the revs below 1500rpm. At this point, the engine’s noise fades, but the resulting struggle to haul the car along produces vibration through the steering wheel instead.

The feedback through the steering wheel isn’t ideal, either. Below around 60mph, there’s a weightlessness around the straight-ahead, and that spoils the otherwise usefully quick rack. Happily, it sorts itself out at higher speeds, so even when maxed out down an autobahn, the All4 felt properly planted.

We couldn’t have tested out the All4 drivetrain in less taxing circumstances; 24deg C and mostly arrow-straight German roads don't generally highlight good traction or a predilection to drift. It certainly felt composed, but we’ll need to get it back to the UK to fully assess the engineers’ claims of sporty dynamics. 

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However, stop press: we finally found a section of German road that was appallingly bumpy, and it was enough to determine that the extra 80kg of all-wheel drive mechanicals hasn’t spoiled the Clubman’s ride. Broken-edged ruts are rounded off nicely, and only the occasionally jiggly secondary ride and shortage of spring travel over bigger lumps mar it. The suspension is quite noisy when it gets busy, too.

Elsewhere, the Clubman All4 feels similar to the standard model. There’s some wind noise around the front pillars, but road noise is quite well isolated.

The cabin feels classy and interesting, especially if you’re left cold by an Audi A3’s minimalist style. And what’s nice is it still feels like a Mini, despite growing into a proper C-segment car. The Clubman will happily take five adults and their luggage, but it still feels small, low and intimate when you're sitting behind the wheel.

It’s a good driving position, too. Even if you're tall, you can stretch your legs out straight and bring the steering wheel close to your chest, although the seats are a little flat and don’t hug you tightly enough in corners.

Should I buy one?

To quote Issigonis again: “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.” This sums up the Clubman All4. You sense it was born from a board meeting, where executives decided to plug a niche, without actually asking anyone if it needed plugging.

Okay, in Sweden or anywhere else blanketed by snow in winter, there's a stronger case for it. But over here, unless you really think added traction will get you out of trouble, stick with the standard Clubman instead. It’s a slightly sweeter thing to drive, and it's cheaper. Simple.

Mini Cooper SD Clubman All4

Location Germany; On sale Now; Price £27,390; Engine 4 cyls, 1995cc, diesel; Power 188bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1540kg; 0-62mph 7.2sec; Top speed 138mph; Economy 58.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 126g/km, 25%

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Scratch 22 May 2016


This could be the car for those who wish to avoid having a me-too SUV/crossover? Five adults and their luggage, impressive stuff.
Folks_Wagen 19 May 2016


Sadly, this is what happens when marketing leads. I doubt Issigonis would find anything positive to say about it.