REVIEW DATE: 30 Jan 2009
The stylish MINI Clubman is at its most affordable in One Clubman form. Steve Walker reports.
If the Clubman is the MINI in its most utilitarian form, it should make even more sense with the MINI's most utilitarian engine. It all bodes well for the MINI One Clubman. Say what you like about the MINI's iconic design, zesty driving experience and exemplary economy, it's not the most practical destination for around £12,000 of your hard earned cash. Those stingy rear seats and the less than captious boot on the hatchback model mean that family journeys can be a bit of a squeeze. The Clubman was created to address this point and did a decent job without setting the world alight. More affordably priced in One form, the Clubman could be at its most appealing.
If your main reason for buying a MINI is the very fact that it is a MINI, the entry-level One version makes good sense. It's the most affordable way to get that classic MINI look and it doesn't feel noticeably low rent compared to the more expensive Cooper versions. The Clubman initially hit the streets without the benefit of a One model but now BMW has moved to put that right and the One Clubman should have a positive impact on sales.
The MINI One Clubman has a 1.6-litre petrol engine and with 98bhp, it isn't the most vigorous performer. Give the accelerator pedal a sound stomping and, if you're slick enough with the gearbox, 60mph can be reached in 11.1s. That and the 115mph top speed makes this the slowest MINI Clubman but neither the Cooper's 9.8s nor the Cooper D's 10.4s are particularly rapid and yet those cars are more than capable of getting their drivers grinning. Like all MINI products, the Clubman's fun factor comes from its responsive steering, firm suspension and tight body control, the One Clubman should be no different, particularly as it shares the Cooper's sporty suspension set-up.
With a longer wheelbase and around 2cm of extra roof height plus identical components as far back as the B-pillars, there doesn't seem to be much scope for the Clubman to dramatically exceed the interior space of the MINI. Crucially though, it's 24cm longer overall thanks to the extended rear overhang and that has helped BMW squeeze in 8cm of extra rear legroom while upping the boot capacity from a paltry 160 litres to a respectable 260. The rear seats take the form of a three-seater bench in the standard car but the standard MINI's two-person pods can be reinstated as a no cost option if you don't need the middle berth.
"The One Clubman is the quirky estate car at its most affordable"
The Clubman is a five-door car but the doors aren't exactly where you'd expect them to be. It's business as usual at the front but access to the rear seating is through a single 'suicide' door on the right-hand side. Hinged on its rearmost edge so that it opens in the opposite direction to the front doors, it's positioned on the right-hand side of the Clubman and there's no equivalent on the left. It means that rear seat passengers in right-hand drive markets like the UK are forced to exit into the road. MINI recognises the problem but explains that shifting the rear door to the left would mean relocating the fuel filler cap, the costs of which would be "prohibitive". At the back, there's more access fun and games. The Clubman employs a pair of side-hinged doors reminiscent of the old Mini Traveller. These are a key design feature of the car and the one that does most to differentiate Clubman from MINI. They feature cut-outs for the rear light clusters that mirror those in the bonnet.
The One Clubman comes in at around £1,200 less than the Cooper Clubman, a decent saving that will bring this more practical MINI into range for a wider group of buyers. There's a small crop of supermini-based estate cars out on the market at the moment but while the likes of the Renault Clio Sport Tourer and Skoda Fabia Estate better the MINI Clubman's interior space and undercut it on price, they're nowhere near as trendy. That's what the Clubman boils down to in the end, it's the car for those who desperately want a MINI but can't quite fit everything or everyone they need to inside it.
BMW may charge customers a premium for buying into its carefully nurtured MINI brand but it has also engineered the cars to be highly fuel efficient with buoyant residual values meaning that overall running costs are very reasonable. The MINI One Clubman can return 51.4mpg on the combined cycle which is very good for a petrol model and its emissions are a similarly strong 129g/km.
The Clubman features an integrated package of technologies designed to maximise efficiency and reduce running costs. In the BMW model range it's called EfficientDynamics. In the MINI it's called MINIMALISM but it's no less impressive or effective. Brake energy regeneration uses energy recovered under braking and low engine loads to recharge the Clubman's battery so that the engine can divert more of its efforts to powering the car. Auto Start-Stop switches the engine off automatically when the clutch is released and the gearbox is in neutral, reducing fuel consumption when the Clubman is stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. Finally, the Gearshift Point Indicator shows the driver when to change up or down for optimum efficiency and all of the above works in tandem with the Clubman's highly advanced engines.
The MINI's retro looks and sprightly persona are always going to come at a premium over more mundane small cars and the same goes for the MINI Clubman's more practical take on these MINI themes. The One Clubman is the quirky estate car at its most affordable but customers shouldn't be afraid of getting in at this lower end of the market. The solid basics of style, driving enjoyment and low running costs will be very much in evidence and with a chunk knocked off the asking price, the package will look appealing to a wider group of buyers.
Anyone looking for a small car with loads of space and practicality built in might not appreciate the MINI Clubman. There are far better ways of accommodating the family comfortably for this kind of money. As a MINI with a bit more space, however, it's a fine product and that holds true regardless of which engine is installed.
|For MINI ONE CLUBMAN|
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|