September 13, 2016 @ 05:48 PM

Road Trip: Get ready to join the club, man

Longer, wider and more spacious. Who knew that a six-door Mini with everything a grown-up needed can still be fun?

Words: Chris Ng
Photographs: Chris Ng & MINI

The drive is an unusually slow-moving, relaxed and uncomplicated one. As is the custom, I would have screeched some tyres, string up a succession of corners and putting faith in the tyres just to see how fast the car on test can go.
Instead, today is the day to enjoy the scenery that would suit any hippy Instagram quote posts that usually states the obvious. You know the kind; a nice picture of the mountain with a line that would say “all adversity can be overcome with determination”… yup.

This Sunday-esque drive isn’t done by choice and it isn’t because today is Friday. The reason is this: at every 500m or so, there is a traffic sign that warns of a speed camera coming up in the next 500m or so, and they are serious about it.

Usually, I would match the speed of the locals but seeing as they are also embracing the speed limit, well, I think I should too. On this long stretch or tree-lined dual carriageway, the limit has been set to 70kph, sometimes 50 but mostly it is 60kph. This has been going on for the past 30km or so.

It’s really not a bad thing because Sweden is a country with beautiful scenery and painfully gorgeous roads. It is a country that is made out of either four or 221,800 islands, depending on which definition you apply. Yes, google that one up; it’s complicated. And it is much like the car I’m driving today.
According to the spec sheet, the new Mini Clubman has five doors but if you count the rear doors as two because it opens up on opposite sides and not a single unit, then this car has six doors. It all depends how you see it. So, let’s go with six.

The beautiful scenery and wonderful roads won’t mean much if the car is rubbish. Gratefully, the car that I’m driving is a galaxy and a half away from a world of uselessness. The long and broad Mini Clubman is the brand’s latest and it is also the biggest car you can buy. With it comes an adjective that you never thought would be associated with the Mini — practicality and spaciousness — unless you are of a certain vintage in body, mind and soul.

If you’re thinking of the Mini Countryman or even the Mini Cooper 5 Door as the point of reference for the Clubman, then I have to tell you that it goes even further back. Mini has been trying to shoehorn its car with practically and spaciousness as far back as 55 years ago, or the Pre-BMW era. 

Back then, it was the Morris Mini Traveller and Austin Seven Countryman that gave buyers the same classic Mini stretched 250mm longer from nose to tail with a wheelbase elongated by 10cm; space that was quickly occupied by extra humans and luggage.

At the back, the barn doors swing out more than 90-degrees to facilitate easy loading of inanimate objects, although animate objects were known to have been loaded in a similar fashion. After more than 200,000 cars sold, Mini has gone on to create the Clubman Estate that has 100mm added to the length for a total of 3.40 metres.

Many tears of the calendar and a number of size-ups later, even after BMW has acquired the small car brand, the newest Clubman still shuts the rear with two doors that close one-half of the car each. And there is where the first instances you realise that the Clubman is actually, repeat after me, practical and spacious.
It’s even bigger than the Mini 5 Door, which is shorter by 270mm and 90mm slimmer than this compact wagon. Or shooting brake, if you prefer. The Clubman’s wheelbase is 2670mm and the total car lengths have grown to 4253mm.

It is also 1441mm tall and 1800mm wide with front tracks of 1564mm and 1565mm at the rear. Yes, even the Countryman and Paceman only trumps the Clubman in height. And in spite of the larger dimensional numbers, the Clubman has beautiful proportions.
Say what you like about the new Mini’s looks; I think that each generation has its own distinctive shape and face that fits the heritage like a worn cotton t-shirt with the faded letters B-E-A-T-L-E-S running across the chest.
And the new one wears elements of the classic well — circular headlamps with chrome surrounds and a large grille also bordered with chrome. From there the line draws across the bonnet’s power dome, rises steeply with the windscreen, runs down a long stretch until it finally drops off the steep rear where the design takes a slightly modern turn.

Once placed vertically, the rear lights are tilted by 90-degrees and fully incorporated into the doors. Each door has its own handle finished in chrome. And if you don’t have your fingerprints on it, the Comfort Access option lets you open the doors automatically with a ‘kick’ just below the rear bumper.
The back doors of the Clubman open to a cargo space of 360-litres which can be expanded to a maximum 1250-litres when the rear backrests are folded down. You could, if need be, manipulate the space to carry passengers and objects by configuring the 40:20:40 backrest split.
Or at default, the Clubman has the capacity to carry three people in the back without any chance of your passengers feeling as if their sexuality is questioned, no matter which team they play for.

Space opens up more when you move to the front. The large dashboard aside, the gap seems to have widened between the driver and front passenger, effectively enlarging each other’s speech bubble. You’ll appreciate this new-found spaciousness for the simple fact that it is easier to move around or reach for things and not crash through your co-pilot.
Although it is said that the interior has been redesigned — it bears very little resemblance to the Mini Cooper S 5 Door — the Clubman retains all the visual cues that make it instantly recognisable. If the brief asked for “more of the same yet have enough bits and bobs to make it different”, then the designers are spot on.
The large circle that houses the colour screen still dominates the better part of the centre stack. Rocker-switches, steering and metre cluster still has that retro-modern styling that befits the heritage.

While most design elements have been incorporated into the Clubman, it is a relief to see that the centre rails have been left out in the new Minis in favour of more practical solutions.
The landscape slowly changes but the speed limit remains the same. The tree-line that has accompanied me for some uncountable kilometres starts to let through visions of blue water. Lake or sea? I cannot be completely certain, but my money is on the body of water being a lake.
The road twists and curves ever so gently, and then gradually narrows as it trails down into the woods. Up ahead, the last car in front of me turns off into another trail, clearing the path ahead. Tempting; I give in.

One tug on the plastic ring around the gear shifter and the Clubman goes into Sport. The Clubman is available in the three flavours of One, Cooper and Cooper S with either a petrol or diesel engine. No prizes for guessing which ones we’re going to get. Coming from the Cooper S gene pool, the Clubman I’m driving gets motivation from the most powerful engine available now… at least, until the John Cooper Works’ version come on the market.
In any case, the 192bhp and 280Nm coursing from the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine through the eight-speed Steptronic transmission and into the front wheels is plenty enough to accomplish the task before me.
Should I need more, the Mini has a secret stash of 20Nm more from the engine that can be summoned by kicking down the accelerator further. On a perfect piece of straight road with pristine conditions, the Clubman needs only 7.1 seconds to the century. However, on these kinds of roads, power means naught.

The road funnels into a tight lane that doesn’t really give any tolerances for error. On my left is the side of a hill with appropriate decorative items of rocks or trees. On my right, the occasional traffic that’s heading out of the woods.
This road has everything — sharp and blind corners, crests and dips, and corkscrew turns — I’m in Mini’s playground! And this is where the complication begins. In the Clubman, the Mini has grown up, got a job and isn’t ready to play.
Mini has always flaunted their go-kart feeling and so far the Clubman is handling more like a typical hatchback than a barebones tiny racer; still good, could be better. It may well be that the go-kart feeling only applies to the Hatch because the Mini 5-door has lost some of its on-rails shine and in the Clubman removes the polish even more.

This is not to say that the Clubman’s handling is all over Scandinavia. In fact, the Clubman packs the right equipment so it retains some, if not most of what makes a Mini drive the way it does. The Clubman’s acceleration is squirty, the handling remains peppy and the grip is simply obsessive. But carry more speed into the corner and understeer starts creeping in to drag the nose away from the corner.
Having said all that, I didn’t mind that the Clubman isn’t as on-the-rails as the other smaller Minis. This one is different and you know what, the Clubman doesn’t need to follow Mini’s standard convention. By doing so, this all-grown-up Mini with its spacious interior and extra doors is really a rebel at heart. And that’s enough reason to join this club.

Mini Cooper S Clubman
1998cc, 4 cyl, turbocharged, direct injection, fully variable valve control, variable camshaft control, 192bhp @ 5000rpm, 280Nm @ 1250rpm (300Nm with overboost) 
8-speed Steptronic, front-wheel drive
7.1 seconds 0-100kph, 228kph max speed, 5.8l/100km,
Dimensions (l/w/h)
4253mm / 1800mm / 1441mm

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