MINI Cooper Clubman and Cooper S Clubman

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MINI Cooper Clubman and Cooper S Clubman

Post by Administrator on Thu 28 Feb 2008, 9:52 pm


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Could you have predicted the worldwide success of the new MINI? If you're honest, you've just mouthed no. We did -- mouth no, that is...

BMW's resurrection of the British small car icon has amazed even the most ardent fans. From a fresh beginning in 2001, the maker breeched the one million car mark last year with what is essentially a two-car range -- hatch and cabrio.

This year it will deliver around 250,000 cars to an adoring and growing fan base in over 80 markets around the world. Even the traditional hatchback haters in the USA have fallen in love with MINI -- last year nearly 50,000 MINIs were sold stateside, half of them Cooper Ss.

Up to 40,000 of the 2008 cars MINI will build will be its new third model -- the Clubman.

Unveiled first in concept form at Frankfurt show in 2005, it arrives in showrooms with five doors (though not where you'd imagine them), room for four persons (five if you choose the kid-friendly version) and more luggage room -- though not that much more.

Wagon, shooting brake, sports-estate -- call it what you will, the Clubman is the first step outside the fashion victim 'comfort zone' for MINI. Words like 'practicality' and 'flexibility' are even starting to sneak into conversations.

Thus, while it will be joined by an even more 'outside the brand envelope' Sports Activity Vehicle (read: softroader) some time in late 2009, for the time being the Clubman is quite literally 'The Other MINI'.

'The Other MINI' might be outside the square in terms of offering more than 2+2 accommodation, but it sticks to the same formula as the hardtop and cabrio when it comes to model line-up and pricing.

Like the three-door, the Clubman will be offered across two performance grades Down Under -- the naturally-aspirated 88kW Cooper and 128kW turbocharged Cooper S -- with Chilli trim upgrades for each.

The MINI Cooper Clubman kicks off proceedings priced from $34,400. The specification level corresponds with its R56 hardtop counterpart (read our full local launch review with standard equipment specs here) and includes cloth trim, aircon, multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, keyless entry, electric windows and mirrors, height adjustable front seats, trip computer and switchable (ie: five colours) interior lighting.

Like the hatch, there's a comprehensive safety package that includes ABS and six airbags and, as part of the $3300 premium the Clubman commands over the three-door, Dynamic Stability Control (ASC +T).

This Clubman-specific extra equipment also includes rear park sensors (Park Distance Control) and an alloy wheel upgrade. The last item sees the Cooper Clubman rolling on 16-inch wheels and the S models on 17-inchers as standard.

The $38,200 MINI Cooper Clubman Chilli builds on the above and adds an exterior Chrome Line package, cloth/leather combination upholstery, Sport seats, high-output 10-speaker stereo, velour floor mats and front foglights. Again, however, Clubman buyers get an extra bit of spice in their Chillis, with Bluetooth phone prep, a wheel upgrade to 17-inch rims, front centre armrest and the optional rear load compartment flat floor -- all part of the Cooper Chilli offer.

The turbocharged MINI Cooper S Clubman is priced from $43,200 and gets all of the above plus the hatch S's more aggressive front bodywork and brightwork, bigger brakes, part-leather sports seats, stainless steel pedals and other detailed items. For example, the S features a 'Sport' button which sharpens steering and throttle response and in the auto versions also changes the transmission program and speeds up shift times, etc.

Priced from $47,000, the Chilli version of the S adds Bi-Xenon headlights, the choice of a firmer Sport suspension (optional), different wheels and Automatic Climate Control.

All of the above prices are for the manual transmission variants. In addition to the six-speed manual, a six-speed automatic transmission complete with steering-wheel-mounted gear change paddles is an option on all four Clubman models at a cost of $2200.

'Priced from' is an important concept when it comes to MINI. The level of accessorisation and factory customisation the brand offers is staggering -- and the Clubman range does nothing to detract from this impression.

Metallic paint is a $710 option and there's various stripe and appearance options priced from $150. Multiple leathers and interior trim items can be optioned at both Cooper and Cooper S levels as well as better audio equipment, chrome mirror scalps and other add-ons (from $100) comfort access ($750), dash materials and so on.

The Clubman boasts a range of storage accessories including roof racks and pods in addition to popular range-wide MINI add-ons such as satellite navigation ($2900 plus $650 for climate control unless yours is a Cooper S Chilli) and sunroof ($1840).

Though built on an 80mm longer wheelbase, the Cooper Clubman and Cooper S Clubman are identical to their hardtop counterparts from the B-pillars forward and therefore share their mechanical packages. Suspension and brakes are essentially unaltered, save for damper and spring settings. Check out our international launch review of the R56 hardtop here for the full mechanical rundown.

The short version is the cars are powered by a BMW-designed Valvetronic variable valve timing-equipped 1.6-litre DOHC four-cylinder that is offered in both naturally-aspirated and turbocharged version.

The base Cooper's fuel-injected engine is rated at 88kW at 6000rpm. Max torque is 160Nm at 4250rpm.

The Cooper S's turbocharged engine produces 128kW at 5500rpm with peak torque of 240Nm available from 1600-5000rpm. The engine also features an overboost function which can deliver 260Nm between 1700-4500rpm.

With variable valve timing and petrol direct-injection it 'matches' its BMW cousin, the 335i twin-turbo six which is featured in various 3 Series models.

As noted above, the Clubman's extra space has been created by a wheelbase stretch over the hardtop. But that's not where all the room has come from. Around 240mm longer than the hardtop (depending on model), the Clubman also has an extra 159mm of rear overhang which almost directly translates to extra luggage space.

MINI says there's an extra 77mm of rear legroom in the Clubman, but it feels like more. The Clubman is now a true four-seater.

We tested this by asking a 183cm colleague to adjust the driving position to suit and then transferred him to the rear without re-adjusting the front bucket. He could comfortably sit behind himself -- if you know what we mean! We then filled all four seats with burly blokes and the verdict was delivered.

Unlike the hatch, MINI will also offer a Clubman version with five seat belts. A $500 option, the version flattens the rear bench a touch and provides a three-point belt and headrest for a centre rear passenger.

BMW limits the size of this passenger to 50kg. In practice that's all it needs to be. The only three souls you'll fit across the back are wee ones.

The front cabin is pure hatch so we'll again refer you to our previous reviews for more information. No, the fuss about the Clubman is not its better build quality or dash materials, it's its unusual door count... Hmmm, perhaps not the count (five), but rather, the configuration.

Not only did the Clubman make it to production with the whacky rear barn doors of the concept car (albeit a simpler version: Splitdoor -- in MINI speak) but in its development it also grew a rear-hinged side leaf that, partnered with a conventional front door, makes access to the rear seat easier.

MINI calls the contrivance Clubdoor and it'll be familiar to RX-8 fans along with some light commercial truck buyers. The problem with the Clubman is not that the Clubdoor doesn't work, but rather that its installation is asymmetric and right-hand drive markets have drawn the short straw (again!)...

The Clubdoor significantly improves access to the rear seat. It's still requires some dexterity, but the wider opening gives you the ability to enter and alight with some degree of poise -- unless, of course, you snag the front seatbelt on the way out. But -- and it's a big butů The paired doors are on the driver's side.

MINI will engage in all types of spin to cover the fact markets like Australia and even its home market, the UK, have been dudded, but don't believe it. Commonsense dictates the value of Clubdoor to Aussie buyers -- in terms of ease of rear seat access, luggage and child loading, etc -- is a fraction of what it would have been if it had been installed kerbside. Case closed!

The Splitdoor rear configuration doesn't seem to have any practical purpose either. Least none a conventional hatch (one or two-piece) wouldn't match or better.

The problem is the centre 'mullion' section of the paired rear doors neatly bisects the driver's rear view -- annoying (but no worse than the horizontal interruption a rear wing causes, one learned colleague suggested). Alas, it gets more than annoying once the rear passenger headrests are raised and there's a bit of muck on the rear glass... By that time you're left with two narrow vertical strips through which to gauge activity to your rear. Did somebody mention form over function?

At least the load area works well. Fitted with the Flat-load floor option (which raises the luggage floor level to match the height of the folded rear seat backs) the Cooper S presents a decent working area -- big enough to swallow a pushbike sans the front wheel.

The added bonus of the Flat-load ($400 on non Chilli models) is it creates a secure hidden area of around 50 litres. A second lower compartment works well as wet storage, says MINI. Various load and storage packs, both standard and optional, maximise the amenity of the load area. There's even a vertical luggage barrier available.

Official stowage capacities are 260 litres with the rear seats raised and 930 with them flat. The 50:50 splitfold rear seats also provide adjustable recline if you need to squeeze a few vital centimetres to carry both big square box and passengers.

And in keeping with the practical aspects, the Clubman is rated to tow 750kg (though only the Cooper strangely) and there's a useful 75kg permissible roof load.

Given the car is just a scant 21mm higher than standard, even shorties will be able to load the racks. (How long until you see a full-spec Clubman complete with matching Colnagos on top? Not long we're betting)


Six airbags, stability and traction control, an advanced antilock braking system with functions such as corner brake control, emergency assist hill holder and brake drying; and a structure that's claimed to be better and stronger than the last generation, yet kinder to pedestrians: MINIs are about as good as small cars get.

If you're even half awake in a MINI, the dynamic abilities of the car lend themselves to last-minute escapes. Seriously, we often underestimate the effect handling, braking and vision have on our safety in busy urban enviroments.

Their on-road performance gives the Clubman models a tick in terms of active safety, but the rear vision is compromised, as is right over-the-shoulder vision thanks to the wide Clubdoor pillar. In contrast the left-hand side rear three-quarter vision is good.

Not a one, says MINI's spin doctors -- with straight faces. And they could be right...

In terms of cars that offer a luxury interior, badge value and street cred in a small four-place hatch cum wagon, the only cars that come close are (and we're being imaginative here) Audi's A3 Sportback, BMW's 1 Series and perhaps Volvo's C30.

In reality, the Clubman is still more hatch than wagon, thus given its pricing, in Cooper S trim at least it'll still be up against the likes of the Golf GT and GTI and the 'other' usual suspects.

As more premium softroaders arrive (Tiguan, XC60 etc) they could tempt the sort of buyer that's looking at a Clubman, but so could a sportscar... It's that sort of fickle, indulgent marketplace.

Frankly, the largest competitor the Clubman faces is the MINI hardtop -- or perhaps that's visa versa...

If you like the MINI hardtop, then you'll like the Clubman -- pure and simple. The wieldiness of the new MINI has become the stuff of legends in seven years flat and while it might have room for four people, the Clubman is no exception.

The new MINIs are undeniably fun to drive in any variant, though still somewhat of an acquired taste. Even the standard Cooper models are tied down relatively tightly which means that the ride is never cosseting and the driver is always working.

On the Cooper S, with or without the optional sports suspension, the ride borders on just plane hard and the car's reactions are hyper.

The extra 80mm of wheelbase the Clubman gets seems to tame the ride a touch -- perhaps because there's less pitching for the suspension to control -- but it's a matter of degrees. A Peugeot 306 this ain't.

Not that that will faze any MINI buyers one iota. They are typically looking for the 'go kart' handling the brand talks about so much. No bodyroll, no suspension travel, no ride compliance -- just remember, that's what a kart delivers.

In isolation, the Clubman's a hot handler and in Cooper S form especially will show many so-called hot hatches a clean set of Splitdoors. First timers will enjoy the super precise steering and almost prescient reflexes.

With experience in the standard hardtop you can, however, discern that the extra bulk and mass of the wagon body (85kg or so) makes the Clubman a little less eager to change direction, and when it does, it's a little less happy to settle.

While you can thread the needle with the front-end of the three-door MINI and let the back sort itself out, the Clubman demands you recognise the effect the pendulum hanging out the back will have on proceedings. Methinks this trait has much to do with the company making stability control standard across the Clubman range.

MINI had highly-optioned examples of both Cooper and Cooper S Clubman on hand for the local launch. We got to drive manual and the six-speed auto versions of the Cooper S only. For more on the 88kW Cooper Clubman you'll have to wait for our seven-day test.

S or standard, the Clubman's got real pizzazz on the road and looks better in the metal than it does in pictures -- especially in the Dark Siler Metallic/light silver combination of the tester we drove. A six-speed manual, it was a cut above the auto we also tested, though we note with its paddles and downchange throttle blips, the auto will keep many a wannabe boy (and girl) racer happy, and make commuting absolutely fuss-free.

We liked the Bluetooth functionality, though on a 35-degree-plus day we could have done without the panorama-style two-port sunroof. Down Under it needs something better than the perforated blind that suffices in watery Pommie sunlight.

As we've noted in 'Packaging' above, the right-hand location of the Clubdoor seriously detracts from the feature's amenity. The Splitdoor is also a gimmick the car didn't need. But don't expect these follies to affect the desirability or saleability of this new model.

MINI Australia will get just 300 Clubman to sell this year. The queue will be out the dealers' doors before too long.

Taken from Very Happy

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