Having grown up in the UK, the Mini has always been an integral part of the roadscape to me. From the familiar and traditional 2-door version to a station wagon (Clubman), to a panel van version and even a pick up, the mini was everywhere. When British Leyland (BL) decided to re-design the Mini in the mid-eighties, more than a few people went: “Bluh” and refused to buy it.
British Leyland scrambled and re-introduced the “Mini Classic” – basically the original version with a couple of new elements, to it like bigger wheels and brakes, more creature comforts and a price increase to boot. The “Classic” continued to be sold alongside the new one and handily outsold the newer version for more than two decades. BL was eventually sold and carved up, with various parts sold to other manufacturers.
BMW gobbled up the Mini, Rolls Royce and Rover (which they later dumped). Fortunately, the German giant returned MINI to its former glory and changed the name to all capitals to differentiate it from the past while introducing modern safety features like airbags and ABS brakes. Instantly recognizable, the all-new MINI won the hearts of people around the world when it arrived in 2001.
BMW re-designed the MINI for 2007, and with a stroke of genius they gave us the MINI Clubman starting in the 2008 model year. This week’s road test is the Cooper S version of the Clubman with a 6-speed manual gearbox. If you’ve read my revue of the Cooper S “John Cooper Works” edition, then you’ll be very familiar with the joys of the turbo charged engine and manual gearbox combination. My only complaint was the noisy exhaust system, but that has been rectified with the Clubman – same engine – more civilized exhaust note!
After spending a week with the MINI Cooper S with the John Cooper Works Kit, I was expecting the same, but different from the Clubman, and I more or less got what I expected. The Cooper S Clubman has a little less horsepower compared to the JCW edition (177 versus 189).
Initially it felt a little heavier than the JCW car, but once the revs began to rise – it is the same familiar rush of the turbo that gets the blood screaming through your veins. The Clubman is also available with the anemic and very under-performing 118 hp motor -don’t even think of that model unless you’re of the blue-rise crowd – bite the bullet, pay a little more money and drive a car that will have you grinning from ear to ear! Skimp out and watch every kid on BMX bike race by you.
Stepping inside, I found the now-familiar seats quite comfortable, with a height adjustment as well as lumbar bolster for both front occupants. The Pacific Blue cloth/black leather interior of the test vehicle was very fetching and matched perfectly with the “Lightning Blue Metallic” paint on the exterior. As I’ve mentioned before, the 3-stage heated seats are the best I’ve ever experienced with both the intense heat, as well as the speed at which they fire up.
The fat leather-wrapped steering wheel is the perfect size, has tilt and telescopic adjustments, as well as the audio and cruise controls on the spokes. When you adjust the steering wheel, the info/tachometer gauge moves with it so that it’s always perfectly placed. Firing up the 1.6 litre engine requires that you put the entire key fob into a slot in the dash and push a button. Pushing the start button, I waited for the boom of the exhaust that had been so present during the previous week in the JCW, but it wasn’t there – just a pleasant low-key grumble emanated from the rear.
The engine is quiet – that is – until you stomp on the go pedal. Then the revs rise with the sudden surge of power coming from the front wheels. It’s a wonderful feeling, and although it wasn’t as exhilarating as with the additional horses of the JCW MINI – it was better because you aren’t dealing with a huge din of the exhaust. Shifting through the gears took a little bit more concentration for some strange reason. The Clubman just wasn’t as smooth as the MINI from the previous week when it came to modulating the clutch/gearbox. My wife concurred when she drove it for a while, that was one of the first comments out of her mouth.
Traveling at speeds of 90 mph was a breeze with a much quieter interior. With a longer wheelbase (more than 3” or 8 cm longer than the regular version), the Clubman makes for a smoother ride – still firm enough for someone like me that likes it nice and stiff, while at the same time keeping the mother-in-law in the back seat complaint-free. The Clubman can be had with additional options like the JCW kit and various suspension upgrades that your local MINI dealer can install for you while keeping the car under its full manufacturer’s warranty.
The steering is very sharp and responsive, with the Cooper S coming with the “Sport” button that helps tighten up the steering input as well as improve throttle response. Considering I hated the base Cooper engine, the Cooper S is what this car is all about – Fun to drive – and looking good doing it. On the freeway, you just squirt the gas pedal and off you go past a slower moving vehicle. I had it wound up to over 150 kph at times and it felt like I was out for a leisurely drive. The turbo lag is noticeable after having the JCW for a week, but if you never drive the JCW, you’ll never know there’s more to be had – besides the payoff in the decibel level is worth the split-second wait.
Driving around town the MINI Clubman is in its element. It’s fast and responsive, while being a bit more practical with the added rear cargo space. The third mini-door on the passenger side helps with getting passengers in and out, and makes it more convenient for a coat or bags into the back seat. With the two rear cargo doors’ opening wide, access to the cargo area is second to none. There’s a storage area under the floor that helps make the floor completely flat when the rear seats are folded for more cargo space.
As I mentioned, getting in and out if the rear is much easier thanks to the additional door. Once seated, the rear seats are comfortable and split 50/50. Like the regular-sized MINI – space is at a premium, but foot, leg and headroom are adequate. Hip and shoulder room is plenty for two, but don’t even think of sticking three people back there!
Because the test vehicle had the standard single disc CD player, there was an additional mini glove box that usually houses the 6-disc CD changer. If you opt for the 6-disc changer or the Sat-Nav system you lose the extra space. There’s a small glove box that holds the owner’s manual and very little else. Additional storage is available in the door pockets, which are a descent size and very useful.
The anti-theft audio system is single a CD AM/FM/MP3 unit with an auxiliary input (I never did find it – that’s three MINI’s now!!) and 6 premium speakers. Sound quality is adequate, but not outstanding. The radio/CD information appears along the bottom of the speedometer which sits in the centre, while the CD unit is completely separate. One thing of note: I couldn’t see the lower-right information while wearing my polarized sunglasses – it just looked blank.
A few standard features on the MINI Clubman include: Turbocharged Inline 4-cylinder engine, 16 V, 1.6 L, 172hp Dual Overhead Cam Shaft (DOHC), chain driven, Twin-scroll turbocharger with direct injection, Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS),Vehicle-speed sensitive power-steering, Fully electronic “drive-by-wire” throttle system, Cruise Control, Front sport seats, 8-way manually adjustable with comfort entry, Glove box – illuminated and cooled, air conditioning with micro filter, Multi-function leather sport steering wheel (optional in U.S.), Rear power socket, Tilt and telescoping steering wheel column, comfort open & close power windows, 17” wheels and tires, engine Start/Stop button, 6-speed manual, electric vehicle-speed sensitive power-steering, front and rear anti-roll (stabilizer) bars, anti-theft AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system Auxiliary input and Premium 6-speakers.
The Test Vehicle came with the following options that are arranged in packages, or stand-alone option – depending on country:
Travel Package includes: Luggage Compartment Package & Flat Loading Floor / Convenience Package includes: Auto Dimming Interior Mirror, Rain Sensor with Auto Headlamps & Automatic Climate Control / Sport Package includes: Sport Suspension, 17” Pace Spoke Alloy Wheels (All Season Run-Flat Tires: 205/45 R 17), & Anthracite Roofliner / Comfort Package includes: Glass Sunroof & Heated Front Seats / Chrome Line Package includes: Chrome Line Interior & Chrome Line Exterior / Silver Roof and Mirror Caps (No Charge), Silver Bonnet Stripes / Silver C-Pillar (No Charge) / Brushed Aluminum Interior trim / Media Connects [Includes: Bluetooth Wireless Technology & USB Audio Integration]
The MINI is stuffed with many safety features. Among them are: Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), Automatic Stability Control + Traction (ASC+T), Brake Assist, Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Hill Assist, Heated exterior mirrors, Tire Pressure Warning (TPW), Bi-xenon headlights (optional in U.S.), Headlight washer system with heated nozzles, Advanced Head Protection System (AHPS), front and rear, Side thorax airbags for driver and front passenger, Side impact door protection, Safety belt force limiter, Seat belt pyrotechnical tensioning system with force limiters.
The MINI is a great little car, but the Clubman makes it even better. It’s got more room and you don’t give anything away in the fun department. If you’re a glutton for punishment you can even have the John Cooper Works kit installed on your Clubman.
I’d skip the base Cooper version entirely and go straight the Cooper S with a manual transmission. For around town and screaming down the twisty back roads – there’s nothing to beat this car – it’s amazing.
More than 10 million ways to configure and personalize YOUR MINI
Loaded with safety feature
More practical than the original MINI
Canadians are paying 50% more than Americans for the same car/options – OUCH!!!
Back Seat Driver Test: 6 out of 10
There is more leg and foot room in the Clubman than in the regular body. Ingress and egress are much improved because of the extra door on the passenger side.
“The seats are firm and upright – quite comfortable.” “There’s way more room back here than you’d ever imagine!”
Chrysler PT Cruiser GT, Dodge Caliber SRT4, MAZDASPEED3, Mercedes-Benz B200 Turbo, Volvo C30 T5, Volvo V50 T5, Volkswagen GTI
By The Numbers…
Pricing for the 2009 MINI Cooper S Clubman:
Please visit your local dealer for the latest prices and incentives.
Powertrain: 1.6 L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine; Twin-scroll turbocharger with direct injection; 6-speed manual, FWD.
Horsepower: 172 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 177 @ 1,600- 5,000 rpm (192 @ 1,700 – 4,500 rpm with Overboost)
0- 100 km/h 7.4 seconds
Curb Weight: 1,295 kg
Cargo Capacity: 930 litres Behind Front Seats: // Behind Rear Seats: 260 litres
Towing capacity: N/A
City: 7.7 L/100 kms // Highway: 5.7 L/100 kms
I averaged a very good 8.2 L/100 kms in very heavy-footed mixed driving.
Copyright © 2009 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland
Also Published at: Flagworld.com & Automobilsports.com