With each passing generation the MINI is growing. It’s now a much larger car than its 20th century namesake, but the iconic hatchback can still be a bit of a squeeze at times. For those who need more space, the MINI Clubman offers a useful step up in practicality, without skimping on the fun factor.
It may be an estate in theory, but this plus-sized MINI is still better suited to designer shopping than hauling wardrobes back from Ikea. Think of it more as a rival to upmarket family hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen Golf and you won’t be far off.
The main models in the Clubman line up are the Cooper and the slightly hotter Cooper S, each with a choice of petrol or diesel power. All offer a strong blend of performance and economy, but the 2.0-litre Cooper D is arguably the best of the bunch, combining 68.9 miles per gallon (mpg) frugality with performance that’s close to that of the petrol Cooper S. It’s also the greenest model in the line-up at 109g/km of CO2.
The Cooper S remains the purists’ choice – but the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine sounds oddly synthetic at times, and it doesn’t feel quite as lively as it does in the lighter hatchback. We can’t help thinking that the torquey and refined Cooper D is a better fit for the Clubman’s more grown-up personality.
The hottest diesel in the range is now the Cooper SD, which combines the same CO2 output as the entry-level petrol Cooper and virtually the same performance as the Cooper S.
All models come with the option of manual or automatic transmission. On the petrol Cooper the automatic is an old six-speed unit. Meanwhile, the Cooper S and the diesels can be had with an excellent new eight-speed automatic transmission that’s well worth the premium (£1,595 to £1,715 depending on the model). Four-wheel drive is also available on selected models, giving added safety in wintry conditions.
Ride and handling
MINIs have always handled well and the Clubman is no exception. It’s actually based on a different platform to the current MINI hatch, but you’d struggle to tell. The sharp steering, eager turn-in and playful personality feel instantly familiar.
If anything, the Clubman rides better than its little brother, with a pleasingly supple feel and little in the way of body roll. True, if you really press on you can feel the extra mass of the Clubman. The low-rolling resistance Pirelli Cinturato tyres feel like they’ve been coated in Teflon, but it’s still one of the most enjoyable cars in its class.
For those who want something a little more extreme, there’s also a high performance John Cooper Works edition. We’ve yet to sample this, but if the hatch is anything to go by it should feel equally at home on the race track as it does taking the kids to school.
Interior and space
The Clubman’s cabin has been toned down ever so slightly from the MINI hatch, but it remains a fun and funky place to sit. Material quality is generally very good and everything falls easily to hand. Perhaps most importantly, there’s now much more room for rear-seat passengers, not to mention far easier access.
Where the previous generation Clubman had an oddball asymmetric layout that only gave you one rear door – opening on to the traffic in the UK – the new model comes with one on either side.
At 360 litres (extending to 1,250 litres with the seats down), the boot is still smaller than that of a Volkswagen Golf, but it trumps the likes of the BMW 1-Series.
The Clubman range is quite keenly priced. It offers plenty of standard kit too, with Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio and sat nav on all models. There’s an abundance of different trim specs and customisation options – you can easily well over £30,000 on extras.
More than 50% of buyers are expected to opt for the Chili pack, which adds heated sports seats, automatic air conditioning, parking sensors and LED lighting for £2,785. Beyond that, the Tech pack brings an 8.8-inch colour display, a reversing camera and an upgraded stereo. It also adds and an aircraft-style head up display, which projects information like speed and sat nav directions onto a see-through panel in front of the driver. The latter is particularly useful as the standard sat nav graphics look great but can be a bit ambiguous.
With a four-star Euro NCAP rating, the MINI Clubman fares reasonably well in terms of safety. It’s not as highly rated as some of its competitors though, particularly for child occupancy, where the Clubman scores a rather mediocre 68%.
What to know before you buy
Under the skin, the new Clubman is quite different to the standard MINI hatch. As a result, it’s difficult to draw any definitive conclusions on reliability just yet. Other recent MINIs have scored well in driver satisfaction surveys, so expect this one to do the same.
As with all MINIs, there’s a three-year unlimited mileage warranty. There’s also the option of upgrading that to five years and 50,000 miles or eight years and 80,000 miles with MINI’s TLC packages.
Residual values for the Clubman are strong, helping private buyers to justify the premium price tag. Reliability is generally good too, although there was a mass recall of the first generation Cooper S and John Cooper Works models due to a potential fault with the auxiliary water pump. It’s worth checking for evidence of this work in the service record, although all should now have been done.
What are the alternatives?
The premium hatchback sector in which the MINI Clubman finds itself was practically invented by the Volkswagen Golf. Its quality and refinement are more than a match for the Clubman and it boasts a bigger boot.
Likewise, the Audi A3 Sportback – based on the same platform as the Golf – offers a similar blend of abilities, without threatening to set your hair on fire. For something a little more provocative, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class looks great inside and out, handles well and reeks of quality. It doesn’t ride with the same finesse as the MINI though – let alone the Golf – and it’s a pricier option.
The MINI Clubman takes the style and flair of designer superminis from the class below and scales it up to a mid-sized family hatch. On the whole, it’s a successful process, although you’d have to want the extra space to really feel the benefit. If you do, there’s not much to match the MINI’s zest and driver appeal.