There are a lot of good tech options available that we didn't have in our test car. The navigation system, which uses the same traffic reporting system that BMW gets, mounts in that big circle where the speedometer lives. Bluetooth hands-free cell phone integration is also the same as in BMW models, with the capability to download your contact list into the car. A connector for iPods and USB drives is also part of the Bluetooth package. We've used these systems on other cars, most recently the BMW 135i, and have been very impressed.
Our most significant tech option was an upgraded audio system, which uses 10 speakers over the standard 6. Mini puts a tweeter, a mid, and a woofer on each side in front, and a tweeter and woofer on each side in back, powered by 310 watts of amplification. In practice, we didn't feel that this system produced much better audio than the standard system. It sounded decent, but we didn't hear as much separation or clarity as we would expect from a premium system.
For audio sources, we had a single disc player that can read MP3 CDs, broadcast radio, and Mini's standard auxiliary input. HD and satellite radio are optional, with satellite offering the unique feature of a lifetime subscription. The interface for MP3 CDs is easy to use, but not particularly informational.
As for cabin space, the extra 9 inches in length may not seem like much, but the cargo area looks significantly bigger than that of the standard Mini Cooper. The rear doors open to the sides and are on pneumatic struts that make it seem as if they open automatically.
Under the hood
As we found out at the autocross, despite the extra length and weight, the 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman retains a lot of the handling and zippiness of its shorter brethren. According to Mini's figures, the Cooper S Clubman's 0 to 60 mph time is 7 seconds, just a bit slower than the Cooper S' 6.7 seconds. The Clubman is motivated by the same turbocharged 1.6-liter engine that's found in the Cooper S. It produces 172 horsepower at 5,500rpm and 177 foot-pounds of torque between 1,600rpm and 5,000rpm. Behind the wheel, you get satisfying acceleration without torque steer or turbo lag, an impressive feat of engineering.
Our Clubman had a six-speed manual transmission, which we really liked using. It was quick and precise to shift, and had good ratios. Because of the relatively small engine, we had to shift up to fourth on straightaways among the twisties, but third works well for sport driving. We've previously used the optional automatic in a Mini Cooper S and found that it downshifts appropriately when you tap the brakes on an approach to a turn, but the manual is much more fun. There is also a button labeled Sport in front of the shifter, which sharpens the throttle response. We noticed some immediate acceleration when we pushed the Sport button while underway.
For fuel economy, the EPA rates the 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman at 26 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. Those numbers sound good, but you will have to drive your Mini fairly conservatively to hit them. In our more high-revving driving, we barely made it up to 25 mpg, and that was because of some concerted sixth-gear freeway driving. Still, considering how many cars struggle to get even 20 mpg, we have to praise the Mini for good mileage. For emissions, the Mini Cooper S Clubman meets California's ULEV II standard.
Our 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman started out with a base price of $23,450. Some notable options included the Premium package, which brings in an impressive dual-pane sunroof, automatic climate control, and the premium audio system, for $1,500. The Sport package includes sport suspension and xenon headlights for another $1,500, and $500 for a limited slip differential. Along with various cosmetic options and a $650 destination charge, our Mini Clubman came up to a steep $29,700. Given our choice, we would have included the Convenience package, which combines Bluetooth, iPod, USB, keyless start, and a multifunction steering wheel, and dumped a few other options.
For cabin tech, we give the Clubman a strong score, mostly for its available options. We're also very impressed with its performance. Even with the extra length, it is still a fun and economical car to drive. As for its design, although we like some elements, and still like the general Mini look, we have a problem with the asymmetrical side doors, using a half door on the passenger side but not on the driver's side.