MINI Clubman Cooper Exclusive: long-term test review
We love how our MINI Clubman drives. It has all the sense of fun and agility that you get in the smaller MINI hatchback but with that bit more practicality. However, the boot still seems a bit strange, given that it brings big benefits and drawbacks.
Our MINI Clubman has been with us for about six months now. We’ve talked plenty about its oddball rear doors, which are admittedly the most notable feature of the car; nothing else out there has them. But all this chat about the doors means we haven’t talked enough about how the car drives, which is one of its best aspects.
I found out more about that on a trip down to Milford on Sea and Lymington in Hampshire just before the country went into lockdown. We had originally planned to go on holiday to Italy, then Spain when it became clear Italy wasn’t safe. But in the end we decided to stay in Britain and take the MINI down to the coast.
The drive there proved what my colleagues who have gone on longer trips have already found out: that the Clubman is comfortable on the motorway. Along the M3 from London it remained settled and composed, and the driving position kept me upright – helping to keep away any aches from spending time at the wheel.
Creature comforts such as the heated seats and decent stereo system kept us happy on the trip down, too. The car’s sat-nav was clear and easy to read, so there was never any danger of missing junctions or taking a wrong turn.
We already knew that the MINI works well around town because its small size means it’s easy to park and nip through tight gaps. But thanks to that small size, it’s also great on country roads, because there’s lots of space in your lane to place the car. It means you can get out to the edge of the road to get a better view of an upcoming corner, allowing for a smoother drive.
It’s fun, too. The steering is quite fast, which gives the car a lively feel as you turn into corners. The three-cylinder engine is punchy and makes a sporty noise, which adds to the driving experience. Even the auto gearbox joins in, as it shifts smoothly and I’ve never found it gets in the way or changes at the wrong moment. A manual might be more fun, but I think I’d still pick the automatic gearbox because it makes town driving so much less stressful.
It’s not just on the motorway where the MINI is comfortable. While it’s not perfect – some potholes and rougher roads cause it to shuffle and shake – almost no car of the MINI’s size and cost would shrug those roads off, so we don’t hold it against the Clubman. For the most part, it remains composed and rides smoothly.
The small windscreen has its pros and cons, a bit like the rear doors. It provides a unique view out, giving the MINI character, but it restricts visibility – though it’s not so bad that I feel unsafe, because it’s mostly sky that it blocks out, rather than road.
There was plenty of room inside for me and my husband Dave, thanks to the front seats being nice and spacious. And that brings me back to the car’s practicality.
My daughter cycled over to see us when we returned from our trip, but to save her a long ride back we loaded up the bike into the MINI to take her home. To our surprise, it slotted in without even having to take a wheel off. That’s pretty impressive from a car with a MINI badge, so with the seats down, the car is more practical than we’d thought. On paper, there’s an unremarkable 1,250 litres of space, but the wide opening and decent packaging inside mean the Clubman makes good use of the limited space its fairly small body allows.
Our MINI Clubman Cooper has been called upon to do its load-lugging thing
It’s recently been pressed into action as a delivery car, as you can see in our main image. We met my stepson at a local driving range to deliver a 49-inch TV he had been storing at our house – and of course while they were there, he and his dad had to hit some balls, so my husband’s set of golf clubs had to come too.
When I first received the keys to the Auto Express MINI Clubman, I had mixed feelings about running it; I’m just not a massive MINI fan. I’ve had a couple of breakdowns in older versions in the past, and the design of the dash – which has stayed similar even over three generations of the Clubman – has always seemed overly fussy to me. But after spending the past few months with the car, I’ve been won over.
With the back seats folded, the TV and clubs fitted with ease, and this is where the MINI’s ‘barn door’ rear end comes into its own. The doors open with a press of a button on the key, while the opening is nice and wide, so loading large items is easy. The only real nuisance is that you need to park with enough space behind you to get them open.
There’s a hidden section in the boot which came in handy during our shoot, because snapper Pete Gibson was able to put his camera bag in this under-floor compartment. For smaller items, there are pockets on both sides of the boot, and even small cubbies within the doors.
The back doors dominate discussions about the Clubman, but there’s good reason for that: they’re a genuinely unique feature, and the rest of the car is so well sorted that it really makes them stand out in your mind when thinking about this compact estate.
My cars usually spend most of their time in London, because I don’t often stray too far from home, but we have taken the MINI on a few longer journeys. My brother came over from the United States recently, so a trip up north to see the beautiful city of Sunderland was in order. We stopped off at the Stadium of Light, too.
A couple of my colleagues who have borrowed the car for long trips didn’t find it comfortable enough, blaming the seats rather than the ride quality, but neither I nor my husband had any complaints on our near-600-mile round trip – and my brother must have been comfortable in the back given that he spent at lot of the return journey asleep.
The MINI is great on the motorway, too; it stays settled even on bumpy sections, and the engine is really quiet. Plus I like the way the small windscreen keeps it cosy in the cabin, so your eyes don’t get tired from bright sunlight on long trips.
We also travelled to Swindon during the weekend of Storm Ciara – in hideous conditions both ways – and the car felt really solid on the road, despite the wind and rain.
In fact, the only time the ride isn’t as good is when the MINI is in town, which is a shame, because this is where it spends most of its time. The combination of the big wheels and fairly low-profile tyres means you feel every pothole, which can make you wince.
Initially I wasn’t very keen on the layout of the dash, but it’s grown on me; the big round screen is useful, and I find the wireless Apple CarPlay function handy. I’ve not used CarPlay in the past because I rarely have a cable to connect to it, so this is great.
The charger in the armrest is also useful, and while I’ve always found the ‘don’t forget your phone’ message that some cars give a bit pointless, with my phone hidden away in the armrest, I have left it there, so maybe it’s a useful feature after all!
There's a lot to learn about our new MINI Clubman, but we can’t wait to get stuck in
My new fleet car is here, and the latest MINI Clubman has so many features that I feel like I’m going back to school learning about them all. After a little while without running a car, I’m glad to be back in one, and I’m even more glad that it’s this particular car. Looking at the specifications on paper, our Clubman should be perfect for my life in south-west London.
Being a MINI, it’s small enough that I shouldn’t have any trouble fitting into tight car parks or down streets with vehicles that are parked all over the place. But because it’s the larger Clubman model, the MINI should also have enough room for family trips – and even though I’ve only had the car a short while, my husband Dave has already tested out its ability to carry his golf clubs (it passed).
Our Clubman is a petrol Cooper model, which means it has a 1.5-litre engine, and it’s fitted with an automatic gearbox. This should also be great for me, because London traffic can be a pain in a manual car. So far, the box has been smooth and easy to use, which I’m happy about, and the engine is really quiet.
These are all fairly normal things for a family car like this, but there are a handful of key differences with the Clubman that I’ll need to come to terms with over the next six months with the model.
The doors are the most obvious and immediate difference to pretty much any other car on the road. Instead of a tailgate that lifts upwards, the Clubman has two ‘barn doors’ that open outwards.
To open both doors you need to pull them one at a time, or you can use a button on the key. They flip open on hydraulic struts, and I’ve already noticed how fast they move – I’ll definitely have to make sure I don’t open them if I’m parked up close to a wall or another car, because they could be damaged very easily.
This odd set-up means there’s a big blind spot in the main mirror, because the seal in the middle of the door blocks your view out to the rear. I like to have a clear view of what’s behind me, especially in London traffic where there are lots of bicycles and motorcycles cutting in and out, so I noticed this problem straight away.
It’s hard to say at this stage if the benefits of the back doors will be worth it, but that’s just what this long-term test will be for: over the coming weeks and months we’ll find out how exactly useful they are.
Another thing I’ll need to spend time getting used to is the infotainment system in the Clubman. Our car is fitted with MINI’s Navigation Plus Pack, which costs £1,300 and adds a lot of features. I’ve not gone further than the radio screen just yet, but looking at the specs there are loads of functions for me to play with in the future.
The screen is an 8.8-inch display, so it looks great, and it has sat-nav with traffic info included. Other features include integration with Amazon’s Alexa, weather info and wireless phone charging. I’m not sure I’ll actually use these features, but one I’m keen to try is Apple CarPlay. I’ve used this on some other cars and found the phone-based system to be really easy to use and convenient, so I’m keen to see how well it works in my new car.
Another option that adds lots of features is the Comfort Plus Pack, which costs £1,600 and adds heated seats, an armrest, parking sensors, a reversing camera and auto-dimming mirrors. My car also has a head-up display, which costs £500; it’s expensive but I can see why you might order this option, because it’s really handy not having to look down from the road ahead to see my speed.
There’s a lot to play with, then, and plenty to learn, too, but I’m really looking forward to finding out more about our new MINI Clubman as I spend more time behind the wheel. I just hope those odd rear doors don’t get in the way too much.
*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.
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