Welcome to the new world of Mini. BMW has been rethinking its Mini brand, and the new mantra for the lineup is fewer, bigger, more premium.
In particular, Mini sees compact premium as one of the fastest growing segments, and it had to be there. Thus the second-generation wagonoid Clubman not only moves up a size class from its subcompact predecessor, it also leapfrogs the SUV-esque Countryman.
In fact, the new Clubman is almost identical in size to the Volkswagen Golf. Coincidence? Still, Mini reps assert with apparent pride that the Clubman remains the smallest vehicle in its new peer group, and Minis won't get any bigger than this.
If Mini were mining its roots properly, this car would be called Traveller, like the wagon version of the original Morris Mini. But the rights to that name slipped through BMW's fingers when it acquired the brand 21 years ago, so it revived another original-Mini name that had nothing to do with wagon-ness per se. Whatever you call it, the original Mini wagons inspired the Clubman's most distinctive feature – its split rear cargo doors (available with hands-free operation triggered by waving a foot under the back bumper).
In Europe, the Clubman comes with a choice of three diesel and three gasoline engines, but the only version present at this international preview was the one coming to Canada – Cooper S, with a 189-hp, 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder. The base Cooper in Canada will have the 1.5-litre three-pot shared with the hardtop. A six-speed manual is standard with either engine, while the optional automatic is a six-speed on the Cooper and a new-to-Mini eight-speed on the Cooper S.
With either transmission, the turbo-four doles out solid performance with effortless ease and an engine note that occupies a sweet spot between the zest-iness you'd expect in a Cooper S and the refinement appropriate for a larger, more premium car. Turbo boost builds smoothly from below 2,000 rpm, and on the highway the engine settles to a subdued hum.
Coarse-textured Swedish tarmac generated a fair bit of tire roar but failed to expose any weakness in the suspension's ride motions.
But can Mini preserve its trademark go-kart handling in a car so much larger than the seminal three-door hardtop? No, but don't worry about it. There are advantages to size. A wider track and longer wheelbase enhance stability, while most of the added mass is in the rear, so the weight distribution is less nose-heavy. The Clubman may lose the darty, hyper-agility of earlier three-doors, but in its place is a more mature blend of balance, stability and fluent dexterity.
You'll like this car if ... Your right brain wants a Mini but your left brain (a.k.a., your life stage or family status) mandates more function with your fun.
- Base price: $24,990
- Engines: 1.5-litre turbo three-cylinder; 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder
- Transmission/Drive: Six-speed manual, six-speed auto or eight-speed auto/front-wheel drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBA
- Alternatives: Ford Focus ST, Hyundai Elantra GT, Mazda3 GT, Subaru Impreza 5-door, Mercedes B-Class, VW Golf/GTI
- Looks: It blends Mini design cues effectively into the larger format, with a long-and-wide stance that makes it look lower than it is.
- Interior: Cluttered-looking dashboard retains Mini design cues and adds new levels of premium finish – plus countless available “Mini Yours” trim options with which to pad the bottom-line.
- Technology: New-to-Mini features include electric park brake, power front seats, LED interior and ambient lighting, hands-free cargo door opening, adaptive cruise, pre-collision braking and pedestrian detection, rear-view camera, and state-of-the-art infotainment features.
- Performance: For the Cooper S, the factory claims 0-100 km/h times of 7.2 or 7.1 seconds for the manual and automatic respectively – a tad behind its rival, the VW Golf GTI.
- Cargo: What it lacks in capacity, it makes up in flexibility – available 40/20/40-split rear seat, and a removable trunk floor that provides hidden storage when it’s in place, or a deeper hold when it’s out.
If you "get" Mini but your life is getting too big for one, the advent of the Clubman means you can still get yourself into a Mini after all.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
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