A quirky British estate car goes all-wheel-drive
It is almost a decade ago since the MINI Clubman first appeared. It was an oddity with a bizarre arrangement of doors that defied common sense. It had five of them: one on the passenger side, two on the driver’s side, and a pair of opposite-opening ‘barn doors’ at the back.
Some loyal owners liked the rear-hinged ‘suicide’ door that sat behind the driver’s door and – confounding the popular name-tag – was clamped securely shut by it. One owner rationalised this weird arrangement to me as a handy access for grabbing a briefcase off the back seat, but the fact that it opened on the traffic side of the car seemed nonsensical to most people.
The design might have been ok in left-hand-drive markets, with the extra side door opening onto the kerb, but it was generally panned here in the UK. So when the second generation Clubman arrived on the scene last year, it was welcomed for a return to sanity with the revision of its doors. It now had six: two each side plus the same barn doors arrangement at the back.
Power delivery all round
Now an additional version has been added to the Oxford-built Clubman range, with a four-wheel-drive model, or ALL4 in MINI parlance. The system is on-demand, so that in normal driving conditions the car runs in front-wheel-drive mode to optimise economy. But when the going gets tricky, and some extra traction is needed at the rear, the system shifts some of the power delivery to the back of the car.
Clever electronics control where the power goes, and they not only react to changing conditions but also predict when all-wheel-drive is about to be needed. By constantly monitoring a range of factors such as wheel speeds, steering angle, throttle position and the car’s motion both forward and laterally, the system decides when to kick in and engage a rear differential to drive the rear wheels as well as the front ones.
Dry mid-summer UK roads are not the most testing environment for feeling the effectiveness of the Clubman’s ALL4 set-up, but much of the car’s development was done in northern Sweden in mid-winter to hone the system for grippy composure on cold slippery roads. Is the extra cost of having part-time 4×4 worth it here? Maybe, for peace of mind.
All MINIs are fun to drive, although the oft-stated ‘go-kart handling’ may be overstating it a bit in this case, with the extra weight of the long-roofed body and all those doors damping its exuberance just a bit.
Even so, the Clubman ALL4 is perkily enjoyable from behind the wheel, steers crisply and tucks into corners very tidily, so it is a engaging drive. It is also practical as a small estate car with those novelty back doors, that can remotely be opened individually by pressing the key fob.
There are two engine options, either a sporty petrol Cooper S, or our test car’s turbodiesel Cooper SD, a two-litre, four-cylinder motor that packs a 188 bhp punch and gives the car gutsy performance. Economy isn’t too bad either, nudging 59 mpg on the (admittedly optimistic) combined official figure.
MINI Clubman ALL4: Stats Review
Model tested: MINI Cooper SD Clubman ALL4 Auto
Top speed: 138 mph
0-62 mph: 7.2 secs
CO2: 126 g/km