The Mini Cooper Clubman is a stretched Mini Cooper, and with that come the advantages and disadvantages of larger size. Also along with it come the advantages that make the regular Cooper such a hit and a Cars.com staff favorite. Unfortunately, though, some of that car’s disadvantages also carry over, and they’ve gotten no less troublesome since this generation’s 2007 debut.
I reviewed the regular Cooper S for 2007, and it’s unchanged for 2008. Most of those impressions hold true for the Cooper S Clubman, so I’ll concentrate here on how this new body style differs from the smaller one. (The more-affordable, less-powerful base Cooper Clubman is covered in a separate review.)
As the table shows, the Cooper Clubman is almost 10 inches longer from bumper to bumper than the regular model, which makes it look different enough to draw stares from passersby. I don’t think they knew why they were staring, but they could tell something was going on. Mini doesn’t spell it out for you in the form of a badge; the only place my car said “CLUBMAN” was on the floormats.
|Specifications: Cooper S vs. Clubman S
|How they differ
|Curb weight (lbs.)
|Turning diameter (ft.)
|Cargo volume behind seats (cu. ft.)
|Cargo volume w/seats folded (cu. ft.)
|Front headroom (in.)*
|Rear legroom (in.)*
Though the car’s pretty much the same from the B-pillar forward, a couple other characteristics stand out: There’s an additional access door on one side, and a pair of opposing swing doors in back replace the liftgate.
The extra overall length translates to more interior space, which is basically the point of the Clubman. The biggest difference is in the cargo volume behind the backseat, which is up 61 percent in the Clubman. In the regular model, you have little space to work with if the 50/50-split folding backseat is occupied. When the Clubman’s backseat is folded flat, the total cargo volume is 37 percent greater than the Cooper’s. It doesn’t sound as impressive when stated in cubic feet, but the extra length definitely makes a difference when you’re loading cargo.
It makes a difference in the passenger compartment, too, with 2.4 inches of additional backseat legroom. That may not seem like much either, but inches really count when it comes to interior dimensions. (Competing vehicles are often within an inch or two of each other in this regard.) If you’ve never been in a Cooper, you may not know that the headroom is actually quite good; the challenge has always been for front occupants to give backseat passengers enough legroom without crowding themselves. It’s still an issue, but at least there’s more room to work with.
The access door might be more attractive to shoppers than the extra legroom because it makes it easier to climb in. The Clubman is by no means as workable as a four-door, but it’s better than climbing into the backseat of a two-door — or even the driver’s side of a Clubman. It’s good to have this extra door on the curb side rather than the street side, for safety’s sake. Technically, the Mini brand is from Great Britain, where cars are steered from the “wrong” side of the car on the “wrong” side of the road, so we’re lucky the door doesn’t open into traffic. Perhaps it’s because Mini is owned by BMW, of Germany, where steering wheels are on the correct side and they generally do things right.
Speaking of doors, the opposing “Dutch” doors on the hatch have a couple pros and cons. The main pro is that they require no overhead clearance to open. They also need less overall room behind the car than a liftgate would, though a liftgate might have an advantage when a car is parked close behind you; it can swing up and clear the other car, whereas the Dutch doors extend back at a lower level, bumper height. If space is limited, you may open the doors then find yourself trapped between them.
Give the spring-tensioned doors a tug and they slowly open the rest of the way. They’re hinged way outboard, so they open well clear of the cargo hatch, leaving the taillights behind. I don’t know why, but there’s something cool about the taillights poking through cutaways in the doors. Lots of people mention it. The headlights, likewise, peer through cutaways in the hood, and people think that’s cool, too. Come to think of it, the previous generation Cooper’s headlights were incorporated into the hood and raised along with it. People though that was cool, too. Is everything Mini does cool? Elements that are deemed an abomination on other cars — like a speedometer located in the center of the dashboard — are quirky and fun in the Cooper. Mini is the Teflon brand.
Yes, the Clubman is bigger inside, but it’s also bigger outside. We ranked the regular Cooper No. 1 in Cars.com’s Top 10 Urban Cars list mainly because its small size makes it nimble in traffic and able to exploit parking spaces other cars must pass up. I saw just such a parallel parking space, and the Clubman simply couldn’t fit in it. In the grand scheme of things, the less-mini Mini is still short from bumper to bumper, but it’s longer than a Toyota Yaris hatchback and a couple inches shy of a Honda Fit. Its turning diameter has also increased by a foot, to 36.1 feet. The regular Cooper’s 35.1-foot turning circle wasn’t top-notch to begin with; it’s wider than those of longer cars like the Honda Civic (34.8 feet), Hyundai Elantra (33.8 feet), Nissan Versa (34.2 feet) and Toyota Yaris (also 34.2 feet). Turning-circle tightness reflects not just a car’s ability to hang a U-turn, but also how sharply it can cut into a parking space.
Though the Clubman is like the regular model in many ways, its longer length affects performance. The main difference I felt was in the car’s handling, which is probably the result of its longer wheelbase and additional weight behind the driver. The regular Cooper’s short wheelbase is key to its darty, go-kart feel. The Clubman’s rear wheels are only 3.2 inches farther back, but in terms of a car’s geometry, that’s significant. I took to a skid pad in regular and Clubman versions of the Cooper S, back-to-back, and found the Clubman to be less darty. The steering ratio is the same, so the response isn’t quite as sharp when combined with a longer wheelbase. The car is admirably balanced when pushed hard into corners, and you can get a decent four-wheel drift going, but it’s more difficult to swing the rear end. It feels like the yaw axis — that’s the point around which the body rotates — has shifted rearward compared to the regular Cooper. To me, this makes the driving experience less involving. The Clubman has very good dynamics, and is more fun to drive than many — I might even say most — cars you can buy, but it doesn’t quite match its smaller brother.
Theoretically, a longer wheelbase should provide a smoother ride, but I can’t confirm or refute that for the Clubman because my test car had not only the S trim level’s firmer suspension, but also an additional Sport Package option that includes 17-inch wheels and extra-firm suspension tuning. To put it indelicately, my test car’s ride quality was miserable. From the condition of the roads around Cars.com’s Chicago headquarters, you’d think we’d had a winter of record mortarfall rather than snowfall, but that’s been a challenge for everything we test, and the Cooper S Clubman was just plain unpleasant.
Of course, it did face one challenge the other cars haven’t faced: fried chicken. I can’t imagine the tragedy that led to a banquet-sized pile of fried chicken in the middle of Congress Parkway, but after rolling over a flattened aluminum tin, I found myself staring down the tastiest-looking obstacle I’ve ever come across, directly in my lane. Traffic was too heavy to swerve around it, and soon the horns started blaring; I had no choice but to drive over it.
Why do I tell you this? Two reasons: One, how could I not? Two, after driving over the fried chicken with the Clubman’s extra-rigid suspension, I’m confident that there were exactly two dozen pieces.
Fortunately, we also got a regular Clubman in for review, and it was dramatically more livable. I can’t draw any direct conclusions, but you certainly shouldn’t give up on the S trim level. With the base suspension and/or better roads, you might be perfectly happy.
As for acceleration and braking, the character is pretty much the same as in the Cooper, but the S Clubman’s additional curb weight — almost 200 pounds more than the regular Cooper — cuts its 0-60 mph time by a few tenths of a second. According to Mini, the manual Clubman S does it in 7.0 seconds and the automatic takes 7.2 seconds. There’s no gas mileage penalty for the Clubman body style, as shown below. How is this possible in a heavier car? It could be because aerodynamics tend to improve as a car’s length increases. Unfortunately, premium gas is recommended for all Minis, but they can run on regular with slightly diminished power and efficiency.
|EPA-Estimated Gas Mileage (city/highway, mpg)
|Cooper & Cooper Clubman
|Cooper S & Cooper S Clubman
|Cooper S Convertible
The mileage difference is between manual and automatic versions of either trim level. My car had the six-speed automatic, which does the job, but I prefer the manual, as I always do. The automatic has regular and sport modes for Drive, and it also has a clutchless-manual function controllable by the gear selector or steering-wheel paddles. I’m accustomed to pulling the left paddle for downshifts and the right for upshifts, but Mini is one of the brands where you push either side to downshift and pull either to upshift. I can’t say which is better; paddles are kinda silly to me, so it would be like debating the merits of dysentery versus salmonella, but it’s probably most important that you don’t drive both types regularly, as that causes me some confusion, if not discomfort.
The interior has no great drawbacks compared to the regular Cooper. The view to the rear is pretty good; the C-pillar is similar in size, but it’s farther away than in the regular model, so it seems to obscure less of your view. The Dutch doors result in a center post, though, which blocks the rear view somewhat. It’s not too bad when looking over your shoulder, but it takes up a significant chunk of what is already a small rearview mirror.
Most of the Clubman’s drawbacks are also found in the regular Cooper. Sometimes we adjust to problems over time, but these have become more annoying. The dual-pane panoramic moonroof is great, but the mesh sun shades fail utterly at their main task, which, to my way of thinking, is to provide shade from the sun. They don’t isolate you from noise or temperature extremes, either.
The center-of-dash speedometer is still a problem. I don’t mind its location, but when I look at it I see a dominant glowing gas gauge and lots of dots and lines. What I don’t see easily enough are the numbers that tell me how fast I’m going. The controls are scattered and the silver plastic is cheesy in an otherwise well-executed interior. This time around I also noticed that the center of the LED display disappears if you wear polarized sunglasses (see the photos). On the upside, the car now has both an analog audio input and a USB port. The latter lets you connect any cheapo flash drive full of music and have the stereo itself serve as the MP3 player, complete with menus. Mini’s isn’t the best I’ve seen, but it’s a nice alternative to buying an expensive MP3 player or always having to bring one with you.
Back to the gripes: The center armrest isn’t growing on me. It’s relatively small, and it raises but doesn’t let you select the height. Most annoying is the pad, which serves as the cover for a compartment so small it’s hard to justify it even being there. This thing was constantly sliding open under my elbow when I didn’t want it to. The edges on either side of the armrest are so rough you’re likely to scrape your hand every time you put on or take off your seat belt — or attempt to adjust the ill-placed backrest adjustment levers, which sit on the console side of the seat. I think everything between the seats, starting with the center control panel, needs a redo, but this armrest especially should return to the drawing board.
Since Mini brought out the Cooper convertible, I’ve been wondering what it would do next. It had to broaden its product line at least somewhat — but would a Mini SUV still be a Mini? Probably not. The Clubman seems the right move, addressing the major drawbacks of the original. I don’t know if it goes far enough in that regard, but greater growth would risk changing the character of the model, if not the brand. Now that fuel prices are high and seem likely to stay that way, small and efficient is a good way to go, and for its turbocharged acceleration, the S trim level is relatively efficient. As a whole, the Cooper model is not the cheapest small car, but I think it’s well-priced, and Mini is way ahead of the curve in offering individual, a la carte options so you can pick and choose what you want — especially cosmetic features — without making you pay for things you don’t.