For the 2008 model year, the iconic Cooper lineup welcomes a new member, holds on to a young one and keeps an old version around for at least another year. The new Clubman is an extended version of the hardtop Cooper. The regular Cooper hardtop was redesigned for 2007, but the convertible has returned for 2008 still unchanged
All three bodystyles come in base and S trim levels, with S models being turbocharged or supercharged for more power. No car is quite like a Mini, but the Cooper competes in the market with hatchbacks like the Honda Civic coupe, Mazda3 and Volkswagen Rabbit.
The design of the second-generation hardtop looks enough like the first that the convertible doesn't appear outdated at all. The convertible has a powered soft-top that can be moved back like a moonroof or opened entirely. Based on the newer-generation hardtop, the Clubman adds 9.5 inches of overall length and 3.2 inches in wheelbase. It also has a third door on the curb side for ease of backseat entry, and in lieu of a rear liftgate are two doors that swing to either side.
The stretched Clubman adds just over 3 inches in backseat legroom and increases minimum cargo capacity from 5.7 to 9.2 cubic feet. When the seats are folded, volume increases to 32.8 from 24.0 cu. ft. The convertible's cargo volume is more than respectable at 5.8 cu. ft. Lowering the top doesn't decrease the trunk space at all, and the backseat can be folded to increase volume to 21.4 cubic feet.
If you're looking for backseat space, the convertible would be your last choice and the Clubman your first. Overall, the Cooper line is much roomier inside than people expect.
The hardtop Coopers' new interior features a center-mounted speedometer that incorporates the audio system and optional navigation system. The convertible has the older design, with a slightly smaller but somehow more legible center speedometer, minus the extra controls. Cloth seats are standard and leather is optional.
Under the Hood
Cooper hardtops have new 1.6-liter four-cylinder engines that produce 118 horsepower and drive the front wheels through six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. The Cooper S version has 172 hp thanks to a turbocharger. The convertible uses the previous-generation engine that's the same size but is a different unit that produces 115 hp in the base trim or 168 hp in the S version, which in this case is supercharged. The base convertible comes with a five-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic transmission. The S offers a six-speed manual or automatic.
All Coopers have side-impact airbags for the front seats. The hardtops add side curtain airbags. All-disc antilock brakes are standard, but an electronic stability system with traction control is optional.
The Cooper is, above all, fun to drive. We haven't driven the Clubman yet, but its longer wheelbase isn't likely to detract too much from the car's solid feel and go-kart-like handling. The turbocharged S model has plenty of power and almost no turbo lag, making moot our concerns that the change from a supercharger to a turbocharger would change the character of the car. The brakes are also confidence-inspiring. If you've always thought the Cooper was an image car, do yourself a favor and take one for a drive.