Small is big these days, but some car companies s are shifting away from their small-car roots.
BMW's Mini designers are stretching their lineup. Soon, you'll see a Mini crossover utility vehicle on the streets; the concept made its debut at the Paris auto show last fall and a production version is slated to appear at the Frankfurt Motor Show next September.
But for now, the biggest Mini is the Clubman - a funky, functional five-door hatchback. But can a bigger Mini remain true to its roots? Some might not think so, but the Clubman does retain the iconic traits of its smaller sibling with a few extra bonuses, including more space in the cabin and cargo area.
But there's a price to pay for the privilege of owning a Mini Clubman. And it's steep. Available in three trims, the base model starts at $26,400. The S trim is $31,500. And my tester, a fully loaded and fast John Cooper Works version, is $39,990. Add some options and the price as tested hits north of $45,000.
But once you get behind the wheel, you may be willing to overlook the price. The Mini John Cooper Works Clubman, like the regular Mini Cooper, is a blast to drive.
Powering the JC Works Clubman is a 1.6-litre turbocharged inline-four with 208 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque. It's the most powerful Clubman of the bunch (the S trim delivers 172 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque). Mated to the engine is a six-speed manual transmission.
The front-wheel-drive vehicle handles like a go-kart; when you're zipping around town it'll keep you grinning the entire time. It's agile and nimble, but handles straightaways with strength and confidence. It'll go from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.8 seconds, so merging or passing slower-moving vehicles won't be an issue. On rough roads, however, the ride is choppy.
Parking is a cinch, too, so I'd skip the optional $450 park distance control system. The fuel economy is excellent, averaging 7 litres/100 km in combined highway and city driving. The Mini Cooper/Mini Clubman actually won the 2009 ecoEnergy award for the most fuel-efficient subcompact in Canada - it tied with the Toyota Yaris, but it has way more panache and personality. Unfortunately, the Clubman requires premium fuel.
The Clubman shares its classic retro looks with the Mini - its iconic styling is instantly recognizable. Even though the Clubman is 24 centimetres longer and 2.5 cm taller than the regular Mini, you barely notice the difference from the outside. The wheelbase has also increased by 8 cm.
So when you step inside, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the space, especially in the rear seats. They're actually useable for adults - not just kids.
Getting inside is easier, too, thanks to a handle-free passenger door dubbed the "Clubdoor." It opens toward the rear, making it easier to enter and exit the back seats. At the rear, a split-door opens to the left and right to simplify loading and unloading items in the trunk, which is also larger. The Clubman has 260 litres of cargo room compared with 161 litres in the Mini. Fold down the rear seats and you'll expand it to 930 litres in the Clubman, versus 679 litres for the regular Mini.
You can customize your Clubman by adding white or black hood stripes for $130. One of the features for which you won't have to pay extra is either a white roof and mirror caps or a black roof and mirror caps.
At the rear, the JC Works Clubman gets twin chrome exhaust tips on the left and right side, as well as JC Works badges on the rear hatch, front grille and side door sills. It also has a more aggressive front fascia with distinct grille inserts.
The interior is youthful and hip, complementing the exterior nicely. Like the Mini, the dashboard has funky metal toggle switches, chrome accents and a gigantic central speedometer. You'll never get away with the excuse, "No officer. I don't know how fast I was going!" The speedo is just too big to miss.
On the flip side, some gauges are too small and awkward to use - especially the radio buttons and toggle switches for the windows. However, controls on the tilt-and-telescoping, multifunction leather three-spoke steering wheel makes it easier to change the radio.
A CD player with MP3 capability is standard, but my tester has a six-disc CD player, which costs $700, in addition to the $750 HiFi sound system.
There are ample storage spots, including a glove box, a centre console bin and front seatback storage nets. There are two cup holders in the front centre console and one in the rear, as well as cup holders in the rear side panels.
A Comfort package costing $1,900 adds heated front seats and a glass sunroof. A navigation package costs $2,500, but it's only offered with the Comfort package.
Safety features include six airbags, antilock brakes, automatic stability control, brake assist, dynamic traction control, a tire-pressure monitoring system, a collapsible steering column, cornering brake control, bi-xenon headlights, electronic brake force distribution, and hill assist, which prevents the car from rolling back on an incline.
The John Cooper Works Clubman is a Mini through and through - it looks, feels, and drives like a Mini, but it'll cost you slightly more.
2009 MINI JOHN COOPER WORKS CLUBMAN
Type: Five-door compact hatchback
Base Price: $39,990; as tested, $45,530
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, DOHC, turbocharged
Horsepower/Torque: 208 hp/192 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km) 7.9 city/5.8 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Nissan Cube, VW GTI, Audi A3, Volvo C30, MazdaSpeed3
- Fun to drive
- Extra space in the rear seats and cargo area
- Great on gas
- Clubdoor simplifies access to the rear seats
- Takes premium fuel
- Toggle switches and radio buttons too small
- Price of JCW trim