The reasons why people buy a particular car are many and varied, and sometimes a bit bizarre. A friend who is a dedicated MINI fan, and who used to drive a MINI Clubman, bought it because it suited her dog. The hatch she had before was somewhat inconvenient for trips out with a boisterous Schnauzer, so the switch to the Clubman was decided largely for the comfort of canine Oscar.
It wasn’t a great success though. She found the weird arrangement of doors annoyingly inconvenient. She disliked the ‘club door’, that backwards-hinged rear side door on the offside of the car, where it opened into the traffic. She wasn’t entirely convinced, either, by the side-hinged pair of rear doors that were BMW-owned MINI’s quirky alternative to a tailgate. So next time around, it was back to a hatch.
She wasn’t the only one put off by the car’s idiosyncrasies. Customer feedback has influenced some changes in the new, second generation MINI Clubman, unveiled at last autumn’s Frankfurt Motor Show and now starting to appear on UK roads.
One more door
The big change is in the door department. Gone is the controversial ‘club door’, derided by critics as a ‘suicide door’ even though it was locked shut by the driver’s door closing over the edge of it. The side doors are now all conventionally front-hinged, and there are four of them instead of three.
Usefully there is remote control for those ‘barn doors’ in the tail of the car, so you can press a button on the key fob and first one, then the other, swings open. That’s handy for those shopping trips when you return to the car with a load of bags to stow. Handy, too, for giving a walk-tired pooch quick access. Must tell my friend.
The new Clubman has grown a little bigger, and as a result is better able to accommodate four adults. MINI claims five will fit, but it’s a bit of a squeeze to shoehorn three into the back seats, even with more practical doors.
Four engines, all Cooper
The new Clubman comes with a choice of four engines and two trim levels, all badged Cooper. They are the 1.5 litre petrol MINI Cooper Clubman and sportier 2.0 Cooper S, and the two-litre diesel Cooper D and quicker SD. The standard manual gearbox is six-speed, and there’s a new eight-speed auto.
The Clubman’s cabin is high-class, with furnishings that would look entirely at home in a prestige saloon. There are some nice touches too, like the MINI badge puddle light that appears on the ground just outside when you open the driver’s door at night.
Clubman pricing starts at a fiver short of £20,000 and a top-end Cooper SD ALL4 Auto with four-wheel-drive is £27,400. Our mid-range Cooper D test car is likely to be a popular version at £22,385.
Not quite so like a go-kart
MINIs are renowned for their fun-to-drive handling and the high calibre of the driving experience. The Clubman is no exception, but in a slightly diluted form. It is crisp, tidy on the bends and has good steering feedback. It isn’t quite as much fun to drive, though, as a MINI hatch. Which is probably why my friend reverted to one. She loves her dog, but she’s also a keen driver.