EXPERT REVIEW

Mother Proof's view

Photo of Kristin Varela
Former Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars. Email Kristin Varela


When I was little, I had this cool toy that melted broken crayons and molded them on to little wheels with axles, turning them into Hot Wheels. I can’t help but think of the 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman in the same way: a toy, but without the weird, waxy crayon smell. As with many toys, the more you use them, the more the fun begins to wear off. I really love the Clubman, but if I were driving it every single day, I might tire of it much more quickly than I would something less toy-like.

Driving the Clubman feels kind of like driving a go-kart; its suspension is stiff and a little harsh, but cornering and overall handling are impressively tight. The Clubman gets an EPA-estimated 28/37 mpg city/highway and requires premium fuel. As long as you accept the Clubman’s go-kart-like qualities from the beginning, and keep your expectations in check, you’ll be good to go. If you compare driving a Clubman to a regular car, you’ll have problems.

The Clubman is 9.4 inches longer than the Cooper. These extra inches makes the Clubman a great family car- think extra legroom and cargo space.

Exterior

There’s no denying the Clubman’s cute factor. It’s not cute like a puppy falling asleep in its food bowl; it’s a more sophisticated version of cute, like a beautiful Italian man who just happens to be pint-sized. It’s a perfect blend of grown-up sexy and cute, if such a thing exists. The Clubman’s extended length elongates the lines of the Mini, making it look more adult. However, after meeting a friend for dinner, he exclaimed, “What is that? A Mini station wagon?” Somehow, I don’t think “station wagon” is the look Mini is after.

The clubdoor- a reverse-hinged half-door (again, totally toy-like)- on the passenger side makes the Clubman so much more usable, especially for families with kids climbing in and out multiple times per day. However, opening both the regular door and the clubdoor was tricky for my girls. The door handle’s trigger-pull mechanism constantly baffled my kids. They would accidentally touch the autolock sensor button, locking the car door rather than opening it. Also, the angle of the clubdoor’s semi-circle-shaped interior door handle made it difficult for my kids to operate it from the inside, requiring me to reach over from the driver’s seat to let them out of the car for school dropoffs.

The cargo doors are also unique, with two halves that open to the sides. I love the usability of these swing-out doors, and with a slight tug on the handle, the doors open fully on their own. However, from the inside, the center seam of the cargo doors proved to be initially distracting to me. I eventually got over it.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times

Interior

You’d be seriously shocked by how much usable interior space the Clubman offers. There’s plenty of legroom in the second row for kids and their backpacks, which always seem to end up on the floor of the second row. There’s even enough legroom for an adult in the backseat. Although there’s enough room for a rear-facing infant-safety seat, I wouldn’t want to be ducking under the Clubman’s low roofline to buckle an infant or toddler into a car seat.

There was plenty of cargo space behind the rear seats for a full week’s worth of groceries. With my springtime nesting instinct in full hatching mode, I dropped the kids off at school, removed their booster seats, folded the rear seats flat with a quick tug of the handle and drove off to the plant nursery. I managed to fit two huge hanging pots, four one-gallon containers of pincushion flowers and a flat of assorted veggie plants. I still had room to spare for a jasmine vine and accompanying trellis. Amazing!

There aren’t a ton of interior storage compartments, but there are enough to get the job done. I appreciated the in-door cargo bins in the front doors and rear hatch doors; they come with blue LED lights to help you see what’s in there at night. My daughters got tons of use out of the cupholders in the second row. If only they’d use them for cups! Instead, they were utilized as Wikki Stix storage compartments.

My biggest complaint about the Clubman is noise: road noise and engine noise, but mostly wind noise. My test car had the optional $250 roof rails and the $1,000 panoramic sunroof. While the sunroof is lovely, when combined with the roof rails they made a maddening sound, as if the sunroof were propped open at all times. This interfered with family conversations, and it interfered with my emerging audiophile tendencies, competing for ear space with my music.

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

Safety

Once in the car, my kids commented regularly about how easy it was to buckle their seat belts. Having just two rear seats in the Clubman gives plenty of lateral space back there. My kids didn’t have to fight to find their seat belt buckles as they sometimes do in other cars, where the buckles might get tucked under their booster seats. The backseat was flat, which made for a stable base for their booster seats.

For parents determined enough to put an infant or toddler in the Clubman, once you get over the obstacle of ducking under the low roofline to do so, the Latch connectors are phenomenal! All car manufacturers should take note. These Latch connectors are hidden behind hinged covers and are my absolute favorite industry-wide.

Of course, the Clubman has plenty of safety features, including four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control and stability control. It also has front- and side-impact airbags as well as side curtain airbags for both front and rear passengers. What I really like about the Clubman is its four-year, unlimited-mileage Mini Roadside Assistance Program, which gives you an extra bit of reassurance, just in case.

FAMILY LIFESTAGE

In Diapers: I wouldn’t want to duck under the roofline to heft an infant and/or infant seat in and out of the Clubman.

In School: You might have to help kids get in and out of the car, however, there’s plenty of room in the backseat for the young ones.

Teens: The cool factor for riding in or driving this car would be extreme for tee

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