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But it almost had to be this way. The dimensions of the new Cooper four-door that joined the lineup this generation are so close to the first-generation Clubman that the new model had to grow significantly to justify its existence.
But Mini didn't just physically scale up the Clubman; the automaker is also taking the vehicle's style, amenities and image upscale as well. This is a more grown-up Mini. One that is less "quirky and cutesy" and more "premium compact." One Mini representative used the term "flagship" when describing the Clubman, which makes me think of it as the BMW 7er of the compact class.
The elongated profile preserves and exaggerates the Clubman's characteristic low and wide proportions. Its track is about 2.5 inches wider than before (overall width is up by 4.6 inches) and the wheelbase is 4.8 inches longer, but the roof sits within a quarter inch of the older car's. These proportions make the Clubman look hunkered down to the ground and still appear compact when viewed curbside.
For comparison's sake, the new Clubman is about an inch longer than the Mk7 Volkswagen Golf, but its roof sits about an inch lower.
The increased dimensions pay off in the cabin, where the Clubman has 2 more inches of knee space in the second row and more head and shoulder room all around. Of the current Mini lineup, this is the one that should be easiest to load a car seat into. There's also significantly more cargo volume than before, both with the rear seats occupied and especially when they're folded flat, when the Clubman's 47.9 cubic feet of cargo volume bests the Countryman by 5.7 cubic feet.
In growing up as a Mini, the Clubman loses the asymmetrical design that it debuted with. The first generation featured a small, rear-hinged coach door only on the passenger (right-hand) side. The new model uses a more traditional four-door configuration. Well, technically, a six-door configuration, since the Clubman retains its dual rear doors on the hatchback -- only now, those doors can be opened remotely with the touch of the key fob, which is pretty sweet to see in action, or by kicking a foot beneath the rear bumper while the key fob is on your person.
The Clubman is available with two turbocharged engine options, and it should come as no surprise that they're largely identical to the ones in the hardtop two- and four-door models that debuted previously.
Base Cooper models feature a 1.5-liter TwinPower turbocharged three-cylinder engine that makes 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. Before you pooh-pooh the idea of a premium three-cylinder engine, I should say that BMW's two-stage turbocharging does an excellent job of making this feel like a much larger engine and eliminating throttle-response lag. Everyone I've spoken to who's driven the 1.5-liter agrees that it's a good little motor.
With the aid of either a six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual, power reaches the front wheels. The manual gearbox is the more efficient of the two, with an estimated fuel economy of 25 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 28 combined, but only just so. The automatic, which I was able to test, only loses 1 estimated mpg on the highway by comparison.
The TwinPower engines are of a modular design, so just slap an extra cylinder onto the end of the three-banger and you've got the more potent Cooper S with its 2.0-liter TwinPower turbocharged four-cylinder engine. (OK, it's probably more complex than just slapping it on.)
The extra displacement nets the Cooper Clubman S extra output, which now sits at 189 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. The S can be had with either a six-speed manual transmission or a new eight-speed automatic transmission with optional paddle shifters and launch control. With the eight-speed in place, the S is good for an estimated 24 city, 34 highway and 27 combined mpg. The six-speed loses 1 to 2 mpg across the board.
Mini has also announced that it will be making the Clubman S available with the All4 all-wheel drive system, which it borrows from the Countryman and Paceman crossovers, as a $1,800 option.
I first drove the manually shifted example and found it pleasing, yet a bit odd. For starters, the shifter throw feels ridiculously long -- especially the 4-5 shift which I had to lock my elbow to reach. The clutch pedal is a much better built piece of the puzzle with a good weight that's not too light and not too heavy, and really good engagement. The Mini will also auto rev-match when shifting (blipping the throttle on downshift and holding on ups) which allowed me to be a bit lazy getting it into gear. The upshot is that this is the sort of car you could shift all day and not get tired, which I think works well with the Clubman's laid-back attitude.
Later, I was able to add to my experiences with more extensive testing of the eight-speed automatic transmission. As slushboxes go, this one is a peach. Shifts were quick and well-defined when the system detected that I was driving aggressively, particularly when in the Sport mode. Paddle shifters proved to be useful and easily accessible when needed for more spirited driving or to preselect a lower gear in anticipation of a pass. When driving in a more relaxed manner around town, those same quick shifts translated into smooth acceleration.
Both the Cooper and Cooper S feature three drive modes, which are selected with a ring around the shift lever. The first mode is Green, which adjusts the throttle mapping, climate controls and other vehicle systems to save fuel. The instrument cluster displays a readout indicating how many additional miles you're getting per gallon when in Green mode.
Mid is the odd name for the Mini's normal, baseline drive-mode setting. Think of it as the default. Finally, there's Sport, which livens up the performance, sharpens the throttle response, and on the Cooper S model, amps up and deepens the exhaust note. On Clubman models equipped with the optional adaptive suspension, the drive modes adjust the ride characteristics as well.
On the road, the new Clubman feels like a more refined ride -- particularly on the highway. Yes, it's a bit less dynamic than the earlier-generation Minis, but for that trade-off you get so much more space, comfort and quietness at speed. This is the Mini model that I'd choose for a road trip or long commute.
I should point out that being the largest modern Mini still means that the Clubman is pretty small and tossable when compared with most vehicles outside of this lineup. With its broader stance and a still-low center of mass, the Clubman can still be enjoyed through a series of sweeping bends -- though I expect maybe not hairpins; the Clubman has never been the Mini of choice for enthusiasts.
I first drove the Clubman on roads outside of Savannah, Georgia, which range from bone-straight to slightly sweeping -- great for testing the more relaxed side of the more premium Cooper's performance, but not the best grounds for evaluating how the braking and handling stack up with the Mini Cooper four-door and Volkswagen's Golf.
Fortunately, I was able to spend a week with the Clubman S on the more mountainous roads around Roadshow's San Francisco offices. The Cooper S feels more lively than the non-S model thanks to more power, a retuned suspension and other performance upgrades. My initial impression was that it feels like a worthy alternative to the GTI for drivers who want a bit more style and a bit more comfort and space than the VW can offer while maintaining some of that hot hatchback performance. Though a bit soft around the edges when pushed to the limits, the Clubman S is still an absolute motoring joy -- a grin-generating machine -- at seven or eight-tenths.
The new Clubman is more grown-up inside, too. The interior design does away with some of the Mini's more annoying quirks -- for example, the window switches are now on the door cards, rather than at the base of the dashboard -- but keeps much of Mini's character intact. For instance, instead of buttons, the dashboard switchgear uses toggles with chrome separators between. The materials feel better -- more premium -- to the touch and an interesting herringbone accent panel that runs the length of the dashboard adds visual and tactile texture.
The design uses circles everywhere, from the vents to the door pulls to the infotainment pod, but the Mini trademark massive dinner-plate speedometer is gone. I was never a fan of the big, white speedo, but even I am a bit sad to see it go.
The speedometer is paid homage by way of an LED light ring around the infotainment that can act as a giant, glowing tachometer, flash for a precollision alert warning, glow in a number of static colors or just be disabled. The Clubman also features optional accent lighting around the cabin and standard puddle lights that cast "MINI" logos on the ground as you approach the car at night.
Inside the circular center stack is the Mini Connected infotainment screen. Mini Connected is basically the BMW iDrive infotainment system with brighter, more playful graphics and a few uniquely Mini features.
There are two infotainment options available: a basic 6.5-inch display and a larger 8-inch system that adds navigation and an enlarged physical controller with a touch sensor for writing addresses one letter at a time. Aside from the larger screen and navigation, I didn't notice much difference between these systems: both have access to Web-connected features when paired with a smartphone running the Mini app, and both boast similar lists of digital media sources.
As an Android user, I didn't have access to many of Mini's more quirky connected features -- such as the weird Mission Control feature that lets the car's various systems talk to you -- but you can check out our review of the Cooper four-door or, more recently, the Cooper Convertible for a rundown on how the system works with iPhone devices.
The Clubman is being offered with "the full range of driver assistance systems" available to the parent BMW Group. As far as announced features, that means a Park Distance Control system that adds proximity sensors and a rear camera. However, the star feature is the Park Assistant semiautomatic parallel-parking system that automatically steers the Mini into a parking spot while the driver manages the accelerator and brakes.
Mini's releases make no mention of lane-departure alert or prevention, adaptive cruise control or blind-spot monitoring, but cutouts on the round instrument cluster shaped like BMW's readouts for these systems seem to indicate that they'll be available in at least some markets or added post-launch. Until Mini makes further announcements, this is just speculation.
Finally, the Clubman debuts a new head-up display (HUD) option that adds a semitransparent visor to the instrument cluster hood upon which are projected the current speed and turn-by-turn directions if navigating. It looks about as good as the one in we saw in the Mazda3 -- which is to say, not that great. I vastly prefer my HUD to be projected directly onto the windshield. I found the HUD to be more distracting than useful and a cheap-looking sore thumb in the otherwise well-appointed cabin. I was glad to find that it could be hidden with the touch of a button, but you may want to avoid it altogether.
In the US, the 2016 Mini Clubman starts at $24,100 for the Cooper model. The more powerful Cooper S variant starts at $27,650. And then come the options. Premium amenities come at a premium price and nearly everything on this Cooper is an a la carte option. A fully loaded Cooper S can pass the $40,000 mark once you start adding line items like a $1,500 for the automatic and $250 more for the paddle shifters and launch control, a $4,750 "Fully Loaded Package," $1,000 for adaptive cruise control, $750 for a HUD, $750 for heated seats, $500 for burgundy metallic paint, $1,500 for matching burgundy leather seats and so on.
Finding competition for the new Clubman is tricky. Going larger allows the Clubman to cross into the premium compact class (from a subcompact), but it's still a pretty small car that only just barely makes it over that line. My first instinct is to cross-shop with the Volkswagen Golf -- the two cars are similar in size. Mini admits that the Clubman is a more expensive than the VW, but seems to justify its price with a much more premium list of amenities.
Meanwhile, the rest of the premium compact class -- including the Audi A4, Acura ILX and Lexus' CT200h -- are simply much larger vehicles, which leaves the 2016 Clubman, for better or worse, in a bizarrely small niche. I'm leaning toward "better."