Mini Clubman long-term test review: final report
The latest Clubman is more practical than its predecessor, but could it cope on our fleet with the niche demands of being a hard-worked photographer’s car?
The Mini Clubman Cooper D is about to return to its maker. It’s an unusual car. We gave it threeand-a-half stars on our first road test – a respectable, if not outstanding, score – but were intrigued enough to consider it worth running one.
“It’s a bit of an imposter, a likeable rogue,” we concluded, I think pretty fairly. After all, in a class of similarly profiled cars with five doors, straight looks and conventional hatchback tailgates, it’s right and proper that a Mini – a car originally defined by doing things its own way – should treat things differently.
But, well, things have evolved the way they have for a reason, haven’t they? After all, nobody these days thinks: “I know, I’ll try making a wheel but chamfer a few bits off so it has some straight edges.” Wheels have stayed round in the same way that small-medium sector cars have become uniform hatchbacks – because that’s very sensible.
Well, sensible be damned. Having spent more than 10,000 miles in this Mini, with its funky interior and cute double rear doors, I’m inclined to think that more new cars should have some of its pizzazz, some of its willingness to be different.
This Clubman arrived in August last year, fairly fresh out of the box. It’s a Cooper D, meaning its on-the-road price back then was £21,810 before options (it’s £23,035 now). But BMWs and Minis are easy to option up should you want to, and the biggies on this one were a Media Pack (£1010), which includes sat-nav and enhanced connectivity, and the £2785 Chili Pack, which brings seat upgrades, climate control and separate drive modes. Other options important to me were a throughloading system (£200) and a luggage separating net (£155), given the amount of photography kit I carry.
First impressions were good from a fit, finish and design perspective. I’m a big fan of Mini interiors, with their funk and intelligence, but, from a ‘stacking-it-with-kit’ perspective, the Mini, as you might expect, lags behind those class rivals.
Its boot floor is a touch high and the roof a touch low, and, at 360 litres with seats up, the luggage capacity is smaller than I was used to. But, then, I had at the time just stepped out of a Skoda Superb estate.
But over time, the more cars I try, the more respect I have for the Mini’s entertainment, communications and sat-nav systems. You get a speedo and rev-counter in front of the diddy steering wheel, while the navigation and other infotainment options take up position in the centre of the dashboard. They are bespoke Mini items but the controller is very clearly derived from iDrive system of Mini’s parent company, BMW.
Which means it works splendidly well, and is a lesson in how you can get a system to work without reverting to a touchscreen set-up, thus leaving no grubby finger marks on the dashboard. It integrates really well with a smartphone too; or at least it seemed to with mine. Some cars disable their own navigation when you hook up a smartphone – basically admitting yours is better, which it will be, but it might not be free. Anyway, the Mini let me access my music app but still use its other systems, which seems ideal.
There are also cool ambient lights in the doors and trim. You can choose your hue to make the Mini’s interior feel very special. Although one thing went slightly wrong with it: the collar around the base of the gearlever, which is a switch for the variable drive modes, developed a slight rattle.
Just as impressive is the drivetrain. Obviously, a Cooper of any sort should be brisk, so it gets a sprightly 2.0-litre diesel making 148bhp and, more crucially, 243lb ft from just 1750rpm. The engine has a broad powerband, too, and a slightly rubbery but positive enough manual gearshift. Mini claims all of that is good for a 0-62mph time of 8.6sec, which is utterly believable.
Certainly, it was good enough to keep on top of the chassis, which is in ‘good enough’ territory: the ride’s a bit brittle, the steering nervous, but generally it feels sound.
But the better thing about the engine is how quiet and refined it is; relatively hushed at idle and quite capable of revving out. It was rather frugal, too: right from the start of our time with the Clubman Cooper D, it looked like it was going to return in excess of 50mpg, and so it did. Sometimes it dipped under on the occasional tank, and it was hard to persuade it to do much more unless you drove very, very carefully, but in everyday, often brisk driving, I reckon that’s pretty good. Having a 500-plus mile range on a car like this is terrific.
So far, then, so good. But that, finally, brings us to the Clubman’s reason for being: those wacky/funky/ cool/clever/retro (delete depending on your mood) rear doors. I’m going to cut them some slack. Sure, you can’t see out of them properly. Yes, I don’t doubt they’re heavier and more expensive than the single hatch you’ll find on many of this Mini’s key rivals. And, yes, it’s possible to box yourself in between them if you’re parked tight against something. But they also make this car one of the more interesting small cars to look at, so to hell with functionality.
If you fancy one like it, there are plenty of Clubmans around, with a big price variance because of the options you could squeeze on it. Given this one was optioned up to nearly £30,000 means that it’s worth around its non-option retail price on a forecourt. But you could get this style for less. And, if I had a proper job, I might do just that.
Mini Clubman long-term test review: testing the smaller brother
Regular readers might remember the last Mini long-term test car we had before our current Clubman. It was a 2014 Cooper three-door hatch, one of the first third-generation BMW Minis off the line, and I ended up buying the thing because I liked it so much.
The purchase was a U-turn that Theresa May would have been proud of. Previously, I wasn’t a fan of what BMW had done to the Mini brand, making it a rather cartoonish and gimmicky parody of what it used to be. I thought it had become distinctly uncool in the process. However, I loved the new-found maturity in the new three-door hatch. It was still great fun to drive when you wanted it to be, but not so draining or intense as previous generations of Mini when you just wanted a relaxing cruise.
I still own the three-door Cooper, so I was intrigued to find out how the Mini brand had further evolved with the Clubman when Stan Papior leant me the keys to his for three weeks.
What’s quite hard to get your head around is just how similar the two cars are to drive. Mini has given the Clubman the same pointy front end and quick steering and responses as the smaller hatch, rather than the more mature dynamics you might expect from a much plusher and bigger car. When driving the Clubman, I found myself frequently doing a double-take in the rear-view mirror to see just how far away the rear windscreen was and to confirm that I wasn’t in my smaller car.
But I can’t say I’m sold on the fact that it drives that way. It just feels a bit weird and lacking in subtlety. On the one hand, the Mini’s interiors have been made ever more mature and more premium. Even the Mini badge and company logo have been redesigned to show that Mini has become all grown-up. Yet on the other hand, it seems Mini can’t quite shake this need to make its cars drive in an intense way, something I’d thought it had solved.
It’s a shame, because it got the blend of fun and maturity absolutely bang-on with the first model in this third-generation range. However successful the company’s growth has been in boosting sales and allowing more people to stay with the brand in bigger models, Mini’s smallest car remains its best in my opinion.
MINI CLUBMAN COOPER D
Price £21,810 Price as tested £29,925 Economy 49.5mpg Faults None Expenses None Last seen 14.6.17
Mini Clubman long-term test review: split doors that split opinion
The side-hinged double rear doors on the original Mini estate – the wooden-framed 1960 Austin Countryman, I mean – were there for very sensible reasons. The Countryman was a more practical Mini, yet it was still compact and cheap; the fact that the rear doors were side-hinged meant there were no complicated, heavy and expensive spring arrangements to keep a rising tailgate open.
A top-hinged tailgate would have had to be larger and heavier than the Mini’s roof would probably have allowed without strengthening. Besides which, the Mini was low, so a top-hinged door would have required the limbo to get at the boot. No wonder side-opening doors were the answer.
Today, though, those arguments aren’t a concern, which is why virtually all estates come with tophinged tailgates. All except the Mini Clubman, that is.
However – and there’s little other way of saying this – it has its side-hinged rear doors for the sake of fashion and nostalgia. Which aren’t necessarily bad reasons, of course.
In fact, I rather like the look of the back of the Clubman – more than the back of any other current Mini. I like the way its tail-lights’ chunky surround adds muscular width and the way they continue to go deeper into the bodywork. But the split doors can be annoying. You can’t see out of them easily, they need two wipers and when you’re parked near the front of another vehicle and you open one door followed by the other, you sometimes box yourself into a space between them.
But the other day the split doors inadvertently became a saving grace on a colleague’s beach trip, providing a useful screen for changing in and for a toddler who needed a wee.
Modesty and good taste dictate that pictures of extracurricular activities with our cars are absent this time.
Otherwise, the Mini continues its passage of impressing in parts. The more small cars I try, the better the Mini’s entertainment, communications and sat-nav systems appear to be. The range of more than 500 miles is terrific, too, although the drive itself is average. Still, happy to find a positive reason for the doors.
MINI CLUBMAN COOPER D
Price £21,810 Price as tested £29,925 Economy 49.9mpg Faults None Expenses None Last seen 12.4.17
Mini Clubman long-term test review: a mix of good and bad
The Mini remains an uncanny mix of brilliant and slightly irritating. I’ve never known a car to be filled with such extremes of good and bad. A car is usually consistently good or consistently poor, and in a BMW product’s case, most often the former.
Let’s start with the good.The range is tremendous, with a 49-litre fill being good for a waft of 500 or more miles. Then there are some things that soothe those miles away, such as what is basically BMW’s iDrive system but with more cutesy graphics, the funky interior lighting and the fun manner in which the Mini will assess how economically you’re driving. Thanks to the Driving Assistant pack (an £810 option), it’ll tell you all kinds of things, like if you’re going to drive into somebody, or that you don’t need to worry about the headlights yourself. There are some proper big-car features here.
Then there are the niggles, which are small but annoying. That the rear window is tiny because it’s a slave to styling is to be expected. But the mediocre wiper arc isn’t. The rearview mirror doesn’t help; instead of a tab to raise it to stop yourself being blinded by following cars at night, the Clubman gets a rotary knob that’s so stiff I can barely turn it.
Then there’s the steering, which is light at straight-ahead and way too quick to dart in to corners, as if Mini’s engineers knew this was a bigger car but wanted to retain that dynamic ‘Mini’ feel. In a conflagration of good and bad, then, I have to turn the little dial that surrounds the gearlever to Sport. That in turn gives ‘maximum go-kart feel’, it says here, but the firmer steering response actually results in more solidity in a straight line. But it doesn’t stop the dial itself from fizzing and rattling. Shame.
MINI CLUBMAN COOPER D
Price £21,810 Price as tested £29,925 Economy 50.9mpg Faults None Expenses None Last seen 1.3.17
Mini Clubman long-term test review: 1500-mile round trip
With family split between London, Yorkshire and Scotland, a great deal of my time tends to be spent behind the wheel.
So when it was time to divvy up long-term test cars among the road test team, I was secretly hoping to secure something fun, frugal and spacious, requirements that were largely met by our Mini Clubman.
The first challenge on the Mini’s schedule was a 470-mile jaunt to Glasgow. The 2.0-litre diesel engine provided impressive roll-on performance, the optional sports seats gave generous support and the navigation system (also optional) displayed clear and reliable instructions.
The only real complaint came at higher speeds, where wind noise increased to a conversation-disturbing blast – no doubt a result of the Mini’s steep windscreen.
Surprisingly, where the Clubman felt less at home was back on the demanding country roads of East Yorkshire. Although Mini claims that the Clubman has been tuned for “maximum go-kart sporty feel”, the combination of its soft suspension and the overly quick steering rack results in a car that feels unstable and rather out of tune with itself through quick direction changes – a characteristic that I simply failed to get accustomed to.
Not all was lost, though. My bank balance was grateful for the Clubman’s impressive 52mpg (averaged over 1500 miles) and the split tailgate made loading and unloading my sister’s wheelchair a relative breeze. If the Clubman sported more cohesive dynamics, Mini would have a genuinely exciting alternative to a mainstream estate on its hands.
MINI CLUBMAN COOPER D
Price £21,810 Price as tested £29,925 Economy 52.0mpg Faults None Expenses None Last seen 30.11.16
Mini Clubman long-term test review: connectivity overload
Knowing that our Clubman’s regular keeper, Stan Papior, would sooner treat his iPhone to a hilarious comedy case than download an app to it that he wasn’t sure he’d need, I thought I’d take an opportunity to run through the various added-connectivity options that you can use with the car.
To my mind, they’re one of the better ways that the Clubman justifies its premium status. Our test car is fitted with the £1010 Media pack, which boosts its infotainment system up to ‘XL’ status and nearly 9.0in of display size, as well as adding wireless smartphone charging and something called Mini Connected XL.
The infotainment system is very good indeed, whether you choose to get involved with the added connectivity options or not. The primary function of the Mini Connected bit is to allow you to plot navigation routes before you get into the car and finish them on foot. Sounds gimmicky, but it’s impressive when the car has already sussed the traffic situation and knows where it’s going as soon as you get in.
Added to that, you can download umpteen online music sharing and streaming apps to use in the car, such as Spotify, Deezer and Napster. There’s an app for Audiobooks, called Audible, which I plan to take advantage of on my next long trip, a GoPro app that can sync up with your dashcam and a Life360 app that’ll track your location for other members of your family.
I may not tell my wife about that last one, but overall I’m not sure how much more ‘connected’ you’d ever want your hatchback to be.
MINI CLUBMAN COOPER D
Price £21,810 Price as tested £29,925 Economy 49.6mpg Faults None Expenses None Last seen 2.11.16
Mini Clubman long-term test review: interior issues
It’s funny how your opinions on a car can change so dramatically with a little time, the initial wave of contentedness morphing into annoyance, dislike or even hatred.
It’s not like the catalyst for this change of mood even has to be particularly big. Sometimes the little things make all the difference.
And so we come to the Clubman. I would argue that one of its finest attributes is its interior, a classy and well-built environment that invites you in with supple leather seats, high-quality finishes and enough Mininess to make it a more interesting alternative to the ubiquitous Audi A3.
Even so, within that cabin is something that would grate if I had to drive this car every day. Surprisingly, it’s not to do with practicality. (It may not be as roomy as an A3 Sportback, but it’s perfectly acceptable.)
No, it’s the interior lighting that really grinds my gears – specifically, the LEDs that surround the central infotainment screen. No matter what you do, they always seem to be flashing one colour or another. Switch driving modes and the colour changes. Increase the volume on the stereo and the lights flash. Have the sat-nav on and they signal your approach to a turning.
During the day, this isn’t really a problem.If anything, the sat-nav linkup can be quite handy. Try driving the Clubman at night, though, and the LEDs go from an amusing light show to a serious distraction.
Where an infotainment display adjusts itself to account for darkness, the Clubman’s LEDs continue to glare with the ferocity of a vintage Wurlitzer jukebox. Factor in their continual changes in colour and brightness and you feel like reaching for the duck tape to cover them up.
I have since found a sub-menu for the central display that allows you to adjust the brightness of the disco lights at night or turn them off completely. Hopefully that means the duck tape won’t be necessary…
MINI CLUBMAN COOPER D
Price new £21,810 Price as tested £29,925 Economy 49.6mpg Faults None Expenses None Last seen 12.10.16
Mini Clubman long-term test review: first report
“A Mini?” I said. “I’m a photographer. Don’t you know how much stuff I need to carry? I’m not some trendy young Islington estate agent who can get away with a branded, dark green three-door supermini you spend £20,000 on.”
“Stan,” they said, “no estate agents have run branded Minis since 2004 and the Mini isn’t just a three-door supermini any more. They’re much bigger now. Proper cars. This one is a five, well, actually, technically a sixdoor hatchback. Actually, technically it’s not a hatchback, either, more of an estate, and although this one’s price starts with a two, that’s only because it’s so carefully optioned that it’s £175 away from starting with a three.”
The Clubman is Mini’s take on a premium family hatchback, then. It sits on the same platform as the regular Mini, but with bespoke suspension, a 4.2-metre-long body and a layout that’s much more practical than that of the previous Clubman. That car had a rear side door but on only one side of the car – on the right, or the wrong side for kerbside parking in the UK. This rather limited its appeal, but if the number of Clubmans I’ve seen on the road since its launch last year is any guide, that’s less true this time round. In fact, only those twin-opening rear doors prevent it from being an entirely conventional hatchback.
This Clubman has arrived at Autocar Towers in Cooper D specification, which means that its on-the-road price is £21,810 before options, of which there are a few fitted. There’s a full list on the opposite page, but the biggies are a Media Pack (£1010), which includes navigation and better connectivity, and the £2785 Chili Pack, which brings seat upgrades, climate control and separate drive modes. Other options important to me will be a through-loading system (£200) and luggage-separating net (£155).
First impressions? From a stacking-it-with-kit perspective, the boot floor is a touch high and the roof a touch low and, at 360 litres with the seats up, the load capacity is smaller than I’m used to. But then I have just stepped out of a Skoda Superb Estate, alongside which your average crosschannel ferry feels quite small. The Mini will do just fine.
To drive, the Clubman is a mixed, mostly enjoyable bag. It’s smaller, lighter and more agile than the Superb, and Mini is always keen to give its cars – even the bigger ones – that ‘maximum go-kart sporty feel’ that it goes on about. So the car responds quite quickly to steering movements. That’s a slightly strange quirk in its nature. It’s not as firmly sprung as a conventional Mini hatch, despite being in Cooper specification, so it feels to me like it’s quicker in response than its suspension is really ready for. I suspect I’ll get used to it.
I’ve already got accustomed to the powertrain, a 2.0-litre diesel making 148bhp. That’s good for 0-62mph in 8.6sec, apparently, which is utterly believable. But the better things about it are that it’s quiet and refined. It’s relatively hushed at idle and quite capable of revving out, and initial observations are that it’s going to return in excess of 50mpg.
Most of the time, I’m only lugging myself around, often with work gear, so the fact that this is less roomy in the rear cabin than the Superb – and, more to the point, most of its genuine class rivals – is no big deal. I can sit on the back seat and shoot car-to-car tracking pictures out of a rear window comfortably enough, which is my odd but standard gauge of roominess, and often I photograph harnessed inside the boot. That the rear doors come as a pair means I should be able to open one and shoot out of it, with the other making me feelingmore secure inside. Whether the open door obstructs my view is one of the odder, less worldly relevant tests we’ll put it through…
And finally, although this is at last a grown-up Mini, it would not be, I suppose, a Mini were it not fitted with a fairly funky interior. There’s a speedometer and rev counter in front of the diddy (optional) steering wheel, while the navigation and other infotainment options take up position in the centre of the dashboard. They’re bespoke Mini items, but the controller is clearly derived from the iDrive system of Mini’s parent company, BMW. That means it all works splendidly well and is a lesson in how you can get a system to function very effectively without reverting to a touchscreen set-up, thus avoiding grubby finger marks on the dashboard.
As I write, the Mini has been with us for only a matter of days, so I’m still learning about it and confirming what our road test concluded: that as an alternative to the mainstream, it’s a bit of an imposter but a likeable rogue. That feels about right so far.
MINI CLUBMAN COOPER D
Price new £21,810 Price as tested £29,925 Options Chili Pack (inc sports seats, storage compartment, heated seats) £2785, Media Pack (nav, enhanced Bluetooth) £1010, leather trim £815, driving assistant pack £810, 18in alloy wheels £670, metallic paint £515, park sensors £335, Burgundy interior £320, through-loading system £200, luggage compartment net £155, anthracite rooflining £150, leather steering wheel £125, silver roof £125 Economy 50.9mpg Faults None Expenses None
Source: Autocar Online