2017 Mini Clubman review, test drive
12th Apr 2017 4:14 pm
Is a longer Mini worth the stretch? We drive the Clubman to find out.
What is it?
The biggest Mini to hit our shores. With each passing generation, the BMW Group has made the Mini progressively bigger. This second-generation (modern era) Clubman stretches out to a length of 4,253mm making it the longest Mini here and, with a width of 1,800mm, it’s wider than sedans like the Chevrolet Cruze and the Corolla Altis. So mini it is not, but is it a Mini?
What’s it like on the outside?
The design is typically Mini – funky with all the retro cues from its stable mates but, of course, the added length is obvious. The Clubman is one Mini that has our office polarised, with one camp hating it for simply straying away from the original Mini concept and the other simply loving how it’s managed to keep its form so close to the Mini style. I belong to the latter group as the Clubman still looks very Mini- like, and the extra length and more upright D-pillar make the car a proper Mini estate, unlike the rather long 5-door hatch that tries too hard to pass off as a small car.
At the front end, the Clubman's looks are familiar. It is dominated by the chrome heavy and curvy hexagonal grille flanked by the large bug-eyed LED headlamps with thick chrome rings. The bonnet too is traditionally Mini; curvaceous with the power bulge set in the centre, towards the windscreen. On the outer section of the front bumper and at the rear of the front fender are sporty-looking vents that direct air around the wheel arches to reduce turbulence.
The chrome-laden front is complemented by the chrome on the sides with the lower window sill, door handles and the fender turn indicator all featuring chrome trappings. The rear holds the highlight of the Clubman which is the split two-door boot design popularly referred to as ‘barn doors’. These, technically, make the Clubman a six-door. The split-door design gives the rear windscreen a cool-looking aircraft-windshield-like centre bar, but this does obstruct your rear vision a bit. Completing the looks is the lavish chrome, the 'Mini' and 'Cooper S' badges and the center-positioned twin handles.
What’s it like on the inside?
Like the exterior, the interior is familiar too thanks to the large, circular 8.8-inch central display, the steering wheel with its round central boss and switches, the oval gear knob, the cool toggle switches on the dash and roof panel for the light and sunroof controls. The central screen forms the display for the music, phone, navigation and the car's various settings like the drive modes. The touchscreen is very responsive, though some of the on-screen buttons are too tiny to operate accurately while on the move. There are, however, hard buttons for select functions and a very handy but optional central controller knob which I found easier to operate than the tiny buttons.
A large LED panel arcs the central display and lights up based on the mood lighting or the varying values of the music volume, AC temperature, air flow, etc. Unlike the body which has a few portions devoid of anything except simple curves, every area of the interior bears some design detail with shapes and textures. The dashboard has a neat-looking decorative strip stretching across its width and the cabin has monochrome British tartan prints and Union Jack motifs. The AC vents have neatly styled direction knobs that also twist to completely close air flow. The speedometer is a large circular unit with a display housed within; the tachometer is built into a circle annexed to the speedo unit. On the safety front, the Clubman has front, side airbags and curtain airbags, and all seats get 3-point belts. Active safety features include ABS with cornering brake control and dynamic stability control.
This Mini may be one of the largest ones built but this does not necessarily mean outstanding interior room, however it isn’t cramped either. I would describe the cabin as cosy. The front seats are comfortable and well supported with a handy, extendable lower thigh support. The sides too are well bolstered. While Mini claims the rear can comfortably seat five, the middle passenger has a narrow and slightly raised seat base to contend with. This is due to the well-sculpted outer rear seats that keep those seated here in comfort. Legroom isn’t amazing but the scooped-out front seatbacks create enough knee room for average-sized adults.
Given the size of the interiors, storage space is more than adequate with the Clubman having a decent-sized glovebox, various cubby holes around the front, door pockets that can hold 1-litre bottles, rear door storage pockets and a 360-litre boot that can be extended via the flip-down rear back seats. With the run flats, the Clubman gets no spare and so the boot has a significantly large underfloor storage area that holds the warning triangle and toolkit but can easily (and secretly) hold a lot more.
What’s it like to drive?
Adolescent fun is probably the best way to describe a Mini’s driving characteristic. But for a car that’s built to attract an older customer, one seeking to travel with a family, eager road manners isn’t going to work. Knowing this, Mini has given the Clubman a revised steering and suspension setup that makes for a relatively less keen steering and more pliable ride. But make no mistake, the Clubman still delivers a driving experience that's very Mini. The car corners with hardly any body roll and while the turn-in is crisp and eager, you do feel the extra weight and length out back, especially during rapid lane changes. Hard acceleration will induce some amount of torque steer but in a car like this Mini, it is fun. Compared to the Mini hatch, the suspension does a surprisingly good job of soaking up our road irregularities but it does generate a lot of rumble going about it. Larger potholes also bring out a loud thud from the suspension and it makes you wince in anticipation of rim damage. The low profile tyres have an extended rim protector but with the potholes of Mumbai, I wouldn’t advise pushing the car or your luck.
For India, the Clubman comes with a petrol engine mated to an eight-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox that’s quick to shift and also has a launch control function. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol is the same unit that powers the 3-door hatch and the convertible and features tech like turbocharging, direct injection with central injectors, the Valvetronic variable valve lift and the double VANOS variable valve timing system. Peak power output is at 192hp and a maximum torque of 280Nm from a low 1,250rpm makes the Mini very drivable with hardly any lag despite being a turbo. The engine is responsive with the Clubman pulling off the line quickly until about the 2,300rpm mark where it catches a second wind and pulls even harder in a firm and linear manner. The Mini has three drive modes and the second wind character can be experienced across all modes at varying degrees of urgency. The modes also alter the steering response and the transmission the shift speeds too. Sport mode is very lively and brings out the Mini’s best driving character. But for everyday driving, the mid setting is good enough, but (aside from the peppy character of the Sport mode) you will miss the lovely lift-off blat-blat from the exhaust and I found myself simply switching to 'Sport' for this exciting (or juvenile) feature. In the Green mode, the car isn’t very lethargic but the throttle feels too heavy and un- Mini like. The Steptronic box also has a coasting function that decouples the drivetrain and puts the engine in idle for minimum consumption; this activates when the throttle pedal is released at speeds between 50kph and 160kph.
Should I buy one?
If the Clubman finds its way to your shortlist then it’s pretty obvious that you crave standout style and maximum fun but still need practicality and a car that lets you take your family around in comfort. The Mini does this in spades. But it is pricey, and with a fairly light ‘standard’ list, you could end up spending a lot more speccing it. For far lesser you could have a choice of premium hatchbacks like the Mercedes A-class or the Volvo V40 that do offer a fairly good level of unique styling and are loaded with features. However, they do fall short on the ‘fun’ aspect. Then there is also the similarly priced A3 Cabriolet with great standout value but it's hardly practical. But the overriding reason to buy the Clubman would be its ‘Mini’ charm. The style is funky, it’s simply brilliant to drive and, on the whole, steps away from the norm: a true Mini indeed.