Demand for the Clubman, that fleeting, economical car, is so great that most buyers won’t get one until next fall. But the wait is worth it.
Plus: Excellent fuel economy, sporty handling, more spacious interior
Minus: Long wait before getting one, quirky interior, back seat always cramped,
Race results: The vehicle in its class compared to the Toyota Prius.
BMW’s sporty yet economical Mini Coopers are some of the most demanded cars on the market right now. The company’s factory, located in Oxford, England, is in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but cannot meet the high demand. Jim McDowell, the vice-president of the section managing the Minis, recently told Automotive News magazinethat US Mini Cooper dealers are missing cars and that they will mainly be selling pre-ordered parts for the remainder of this model’s manufacturing year. So unless you’re lucky and find a 2008 Mini Cooper in a dealer’s lot, the best bet you can make is to commit to buying a model right now. year 2009 which will not be delivered before this fall.
Is the wait worth it? In one word: yes. No other model matches the Mini Cooper for combining sporty looks, low price and excellent mileage. And the model I would commit to buying is the new Mini Cooper Clubman, 24 centimeters longer and more spacious than the old version of this car. Equipped with a gearshift, the basic Clubman has a consumption of approximately 3.6l/100km on the highway and 4.9l/100km in the city, for an average of 4.1l/100km in the combined cycle. (Consumption drops considerably when the automatic transmission is engaged). The base Clubman is more fuel efficient than Toyota’s TM Prius, but it’s definitely more fun to drive.
For thrill seekers, there is an ‘S’ version of the Clubman which has a turbocharged engine and is very fast, and which, despite having a gear lever, does not exceed 5.3l/100km on the highway and 8l/100km in the city, for an average of 6.3 l/km in the combined cycle. (Here again, consumption drops considerably when the automatic transmission is engaged.) If one can consider my experience as a reference, one can at least trust the classifications that I have established at the top of the page (if the you don’t press too hard on the accelerator all the time, like I do.Over about 1420 kilometers of very fast driving, mostly on the highway, I reached 5l/100km in an S Clubman with the automatic transmission engaged.
The main doubt I have about the Clubman is whether it is of high quality, especially when the factory manufacturing the Minis is pushed to its limits. Consumer Reports magazine rates the Mini Cooper hatchback’s reliability as ‘well above average’. However, in the 2007 JD Power Vehicle Veracity Study, the Mini Cooper ranked well below average with 247 problems per hundred vehicles tested, well above the average of 216 problems.
The Clubman is different in many ways from the regular Mini Cooper. The axle spread is about twice as long as the regular Mini, leaving almost all the extra legroom for the rear passenger. It has a small half door on the passenger side that looks a bit like those found on the extended cabs of pick-up trucks. At the rear, instead of a tailgate, there ishas two twin doors that open like those on delivery trucks; a retro side borrowed from certain models of the 60s, such as the Austin Mini Countryman, the Morris Minor Traveler, or the Mini Clubman Estate. The luggage space behind the rear seats has been increased by almost two-thirds, reaching 280.4 cm³. When folding the rear seats, the maximum available space has been increased by 37%, reaching almost 1006 cm³.
The Clubman is powered by the same engines as the regular Mini Cooper. The basic model has an engine that roughly corresponds to that of a four-four, which can contain 1.6 liters and has the power of 118hp. In the regular S Clubman, the engine is turbocharged, increasing its power to 172 horsepower. The six-speed automatic lever with a manual engagement function increases its price by 900€ .
The minimum price for the 2008 Clubman is €23,000 for a base model with a shift lever, and €25,800 for the S Clubman. Starting prices are expected to rise by $250 for 2009 models, according to Automotive News.The Clubman has a long list of options, including a navigation system and sports leather interior, fog lamps, performance tires and 25.6 centimeter alloy wheels, plus HD radio and a system. improved sound (350€ each), as well as a central armrest at 250€ (highly recommended). Other options include numerous interior and exterior color combinations, many of which require no additional down payment.
No crash test has yet been performed on a Clubman in the United States. However, just like the regular Mini Cooper, it comes with a safety package, including airbags in the front, sides and to protect the driver’s head; traction and stability control; finally, anti-lock brakes. If an accident occurs, the trajectories of the optimum weight exerted on the body and the chassis take the force of the collision away from the passengers of the vehicle.
In the United States, sales of the Mini Cooper increased by a third in the first half of this year, going up to sell 26,400 cars. The company sold 4,874 Clubmans in the first half, which is an excellent start for a new model.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
The Mini Cooper is truly fun to drive, and you don’t lose much of that excitement when you upgrade to the Clubman. For starters, the Clubman comes with the same engines as the regular Mini Cooper, and acceleration is about the same. The S Clubman leaps from 0 to 100 km/h in about 7.6 seconds, compared to 10.4 seconds for the regular Clubman.
Despite being longer, the Clubman retains a lot of the ‘go-kart’ feel you get when driving the original Mini Cooper, although its driving style is less unstable. It sits low and close to the ground, and the car’s steering reacts almost instantly whenever the driver intervenes. The S comes with a sport-tuned suspension. There is also a ‘Sport’ button which stiffens the car’s suspension and makes the automatic transmission engage faster and more aggressive.
As with other powerful front-wheel-drive cars, the direction of the S Clubman brings it to the left or the right when the accelerator is pressed hard. But that ‘torque driving’ really isn’t enough to compete with models like Chrysler’s MazdaSpeed3 or Dodge Caliber SRT-4.
The S Clubman’s interior isn’t terribly spacious, but it’s noticeably roomier than the regular Mini Cooper. One of the surprising things about all Mini Coopers is the amount of reserved space to the legs of the front passengers. The front seats can move back a lot, and the telescoping steering wheel offset gives tall drivers the freedom to create more space. A few readers taller than 1.82 meters have told me that this is one of the few cars they feel comfortable driving in.
It has nothing to do with rear space. It is designed to accommodate only two passengers, instead of the usual three, but it is still cramped. The 6.35 cm of additional space reserved for the legs of the passengers rear of the Clubman isn’t enough to make normal-sized adults comfortable on long trips, especially if the front seats are pushed back. On the other hand, the 280.4 cubic centimeters increase reserved for luggage behind the rear seats gives the Clubman almost as much luggage space as other compact cars. The 2008 Honda Civic EX Coupe, for example, has a luggage compartment of 350.5 cubic centimeters.
The Clubman’s cabin suffers (in my opinion) from being as overly corny as the regular Mini’s. In the center of the dashboard is a huge round speedometer which takes up more space than necessary and would be easier to use if it were located directly in front of the driver. The retro look of the climate control sound system is starting to look dated. The alarm that sounds when you forget to fasten your seat belt, which sounds like something straight out of the 2001 movie, A Space Odyssey, is fun at first, but quickly becomes irritating.
BUY IT OR FORGET IT?
It’s hard to find a direct rival to the Mini Cooper Clubman. It’s a unique vehicle, and either you want it or you don’t.
The base Clubman is probably sporty enough for most people, especially when you consider its grand five-cost advantage. The average selling price of the base model, so far this year, has been €23,000, compared to €25,800 for the S, according to the Power Information Network (PIN). Whichever model you choose, no sporty rival can match the fuel economy of the Clubman.
Perhaps the Clubman’s toughest rival is the Volvo C30, which has quintessentially Scandinavian styling and can be had on average for paying £23,500, only around £500 more than the regular Mini Cooper, according to the PINE. The C30 goes from 0 to 100 km/h in just 6.7 seconds by engaging the gear lever, which makes it faster than the S Clubman.
Another European-styled rival to the basic Clubman is the Saturn Astra, a Belgian-made General Motors hatchback that was imported to the USA.
Sporty but less economical models that rival the Clubman include the Volfswagen GTI, the 4WD Subaru WRX, and the MazdaSpeed3.
What matters in the end is that once When you take fuel economy into consideration, there’s nothing quite like the Mini Cooper Clubman. The wait is worth it.