MINI has re-invented its Clubman model as a Focus-sized family hatchback. And it makes a fun and practical choice in volume Cooper D diesel guise. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
MINI is suggesting that family hatchback buyers wanting something a little different at the upper end of the Focus and Golf segment should 'go with their gut' and choose this second generation Clubman model. Drawing inspiration from the MINI estates of the 1960s, it's the most accessible car the brand has ever produced and also the largest. Unique twin rear doors add a dash of uniqueness too. We tried the volume 2.0-litre 150bhp Cooper D version.
MINI has never really gone mainstream. To date, the brand's BMW-era products have been stylish, quite up-market but a little different. Here though, is where that policy starts to change. This second generation Clubman model, launched late in 2015, is the company's first serious attempt at a volume market segment, in this case that for Focus-class family hatchbacks. It's a very significant car.
The concept of a slightly more spacious MINI is nothing new. But the delivery of one with the practicality and sophistication to directly take on the Focus fraternity very definitely is. This Clubman model can offer this because BMW itself has also entered this market with its 2 Series Active Tourer, the company's first front-driven design. The two cars share the same engines and underpinnings - which means that Clubman buyers will get more sophisticated mechanicals than they might expect from a MINI: an engine as large as 2.0-litres in size, for example, in the volume Cooper D diesel variant we're trying here.
So what's it like on the road? A little different from the MINI norm is the answer - but thankfully, not too different. No, it doesn't feel quite as sharp and frisky as the 5 Door MINI Hatch model to drive, but then this is a larger, heavier car. Anyway, compensation comes with better refinement and far superior ride quality thanks to a purpose-designed multi-link rear suspension system. If you want to tweak the damping, an optional 'Variable Damper Control' control system allows you to do it, working through the 'Green', 'MID' and 'Sport' settings of the 'MINI Driving Modes' system, another extra-cost feature.
Engine-wise, the bulk of the range is based around 2.0-litre power that gives buyers the option of an 8-speed auto 'box as an alternative to the standard 6-speed manual. Most buyers will want the 150bhp Cooper D diesel we tired, a car that makes 62mph from rest in around 8.5s. A pokier 190bhp Cooper SD variant is also offered. Of course you can't have everything. This Clubman's larger size will make it a touch less wieldy around town than you might expect a MINI to be; the turning circle, for example, has risen from the 11.0m reading you get in a MINI 5 Door Hatch to 11.3m here. Still, we'll take that in return for the improved ride quality, something complemented by impressive refinement that would be even better if MINI could find a way of keeping tyre roar down.
Design and Build
There's no disputing that from the outside, the Clubman still looks like a MINI, even though it's quite a substantial thing, almost identical in height and width to a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus. Two distinctive side-hinged split rear so-called 'Clubdoors' mark this model out from any other on the road. They open via a dual-section chrome handle or, with the optional 'Comfort Access' feature fitted, by waving your foot beneath the bumper if, key in pocket, you approach the car, laden down with bags. Inside, you'll find 360-litres of luggage space. If that's not enough, then flattening the rear bench frees up more space than any MINI model to date has ever provided - 1,250-litres.
Enough on practicality: time to move up-front. Here, there'll be a conflicting mix of impressions for those familiar with modern MINIs thanks to design that's different, yet somehow still the same. Features like decent door armrests and a centre console that, for the first time on a MINI, extends up to the instrument panel make it feel more grown-up inside. In fact, you might even talk of a 'BMW-style' feel were it not for familiar MINI touches like the column-mounted dials, the row of toggle switches below the ventilation controls, the personalisable interior light colours and, most familiar of all, the huge circular display that crowns the centre stack.
Market and Model
MINI isn't troubling to address the budget end of the family hatchback segment here, instead targeting this second generation Clubman at Volkswagen's Golf and better-specified mainstream Focus or Astra models in this sector. That means pricing in the £20,000 to £25,000 bracket. Here, we've been trying the volume 2.0-litre diesel Cooper D version which at the launch of this car was the least expensive diesel variant you could have, prived at just over £22,000. We reckon it's the one to go for, offering punchy 150bhp performance at a premium of around £2,300 over the 1.5-litre petrol-powered base 'Cooper' derivative.
Equipment levels are pretty generous, with the Cooper receiving 16" alloy wheels, sat-nav, Bluetooth handsfree phone connectivity, a central display with LED ring and start/stop with keyless start. You also get an 'Excitement Pack' which adds extended interior lighting and projects the MINI logo onto the ground when you open the door, just in case you forgot what you were driving. Options include the popular 'Chilli Pack' which has been around since the original 'new' MINI was first introduced. Here, it includes part-leather upholstery with heated sports seats, park distance control, climate control, LED headlights and LED fog lights - all for just shy of £3,000 extra. Expect the usual range of MINI safety features, including ABS, stability control, traction control and optional adaptive cruise control.
Cost of Ownership
Let's get one thing out of the way first: this MINI won't be the cheapest car in its class to run. The big 2.0-litre engine you get on Cooper D and Cooper S models makes sure of that. That's not to say the Cooper D won't be frugal; official figures suggest it'll get 68.9mpg, while chucking out 109g/km of CO2. That isn't much worse than some smaller 1.6 litre rivals.
Buyers should expect a standard 3 year 60,000 mile warranty, with fixed price servicing under MINI's TLC scheme a worthwhile option. Residuals have always been a MINI strongpoint, so your Clubman should retain a good chunk of its value when you come to sell. Just make sure you don't go overboard on the extensive options list; the 'Chilli Pack' has most of the essentials. Speaking of options, try to keep any paint combinations on the tasteful side to maximise resale value. Almost all MINI buyers opt for the no-brainer TLC package, which, for around £350, gives you comprehensive servicing cover for five years or 50,000 miles, whichever is reached first.
In summary, if you need a practical car from this brand and find the Hatch 5-Door model too small and the Countryman Crossover too quirky, then Clubman ownership could be tempting, particularly in this Cooper D guise. Forget the compromised and poorly executed first generation version of this car: this MK2 Clubman model is a very different proposition. Some other family hatches still offer a little more practicality but there's no doubt that the prospect of going Club-class and enjoying this car's eager uniqueness will seem very appealing to many of the new buyers MINI is seeking to target.
Of course, Clubman customers must still be people unafraid to fly in the face of convention. If that's you though, then a bigger MINI adventure beckons.