First drive: 2016 Mini Clubman Cooper S in the UAE
BMW’s little sub-brand Mini has been catching a lot of flak lately for, well, not being so mini any more. Having driven every “new” Mini for the past decade, we can attest to the fact that they’ve been growing, but it’s also become more refined and practical as time went on. Of course, there’s a limit to how much space you can get out of a 3-door hatchback, so a few years ago, BMW had the bright idea to turn Mini into an entire range of cars that aren’t so small any more. One of them is the Clubman you see here, falling somewhere between the 5-door Mini hatchback and the 5-door Countryman crossover in terms of size.
While the previous Clubman had a rear-hinged rear door on only one side, the new model is a full-fledged 5-door wagon (or 6-door if you count both the side-hinged barn doors on the boot). It’s more of a stretched hatchback rather than a true wagon, with the VW Golf-level boot space to match.
The extra wheelbase does help with rear legroom immensely though, with great space for average-sized adults. The width is still limited though, so even front passengers will fight for the centre armrest. Otherwise, it’s a great-looking little car that’s actually about the length of a VW Golf GTI.
Trim materials are passably decent, the upholstery is excellent, the seats are manual, and the multimedia tech is extensive. There’s even little gimmicks like the LED-lined door panels and the colour-changing ring around the high-res central screen with sharp graphics. There’s also a rear camera to take care of the poor rearward visibility. We didn’t have enough time to fiddle with the system though, with its rotary-dial controller and myriad of short-cut buttons around it. However, while stylistic touches such as the toggle switches on the centre console remain, the cabin design is more buttoned-down than the previous-gen Mini, as the brand attempts to extend its appeal to family men.
The Clubman Cooper S we drove gets the 192 hp 2.0-litre turbo engine as standard, with an 8-speed automatic. If you pay extra, you get a John Cooper Works package that adds unique bumpers, wheels and interior trim, with the JCW badging relegated to just the door sills.
The grunty engine is immensely satisfying, with a turbo-fed 280 Nm of low-end kick that makes the Mini feel way quicker than, say, the naturally-aspirated 200 hp Toyota 86. It drinks more petrol though, averaging 11 litres/100 km in our time together.
That traditionally-exciting Mini handling is carried over to the Clubman as well. It is easily one of the best-handling front-wheel-drive cars we’ve ever driven, and that’s a very tiny list. Throw it into corners, and it doesn’t understeer or oversteer. It just goes around the curve with no audible tyre squeal.
It’s still very chuckable, but it is noticeably a bigger car and that final bit of hair-trigger response is missing, unlike what the previous-gen Minis used to have. The Clubman’s steering is sharp and short-ratio with average feedback, while the sensitivity of the throttle pedal and gearbox shift-points can be changed by choosing between Eco, Normal and Sport modes. Manual shifting is possible too, but there are no paddle-shifters.
The new Clubman rides better than any older Mini models though. While still firm and float-free, the suspension now soaks up bumps better with minimal jitter. Wind and road noise are at moderate levels at highway speeds, making the Clubman a better daily-driver than before.
Honestly speaking, the Clubman S is an excellent car, even if it isn’t a true Mini. But its pricing is unpalatable when you can get an equally-excellent VW Golf GTI Clubsport for less. However, while its positioning in the Mini line-up is as awkward as your middle-aged uncle trying to gain pre-teen followers on Snapchat, the Clubman is a cool car that turns heads and is satisfying to drive. Don’t be surprised if we pick up a used one in the near future.
For prices and specs, visit the Mini buyer guide.