MINI has enjoyed an extremely successful return to North America. Following the introduction of the first-generation MINI came an equally successful second generation. However, the automotive public is a fickle bunch and they do not remain satisfied long, particularly here in America. We tend to be a "want more" society and that looms over new vehicles.
The original MINI began life in the early 1960s morphing into a myriad of variations. It had become an icon in Great Britain as a jack-of-all-trades vehicle. Anyway, folks who are aware of MINI history asked for a MINI with more room. So, what did MINI designers come up with?
Presenting the roomy, MINI Clubman. Basic design can be recognized as all MINI because it looks to be a MINI from the front. However, move to the side and you quickly see the stretched body length. Adding more than 9 inches to the body and over 3 inches to the wheelbase opens the MINI Clubman to a new audience.
As with the original MINI, the wheels are pushed to the outside corners, increasing the handling characteristics and making the MINI incredibly stable. It is the same with the Clubman, but with the longer wheelbase, it smoothes the ride considerably.
Two models are available with the Clubman: one is equipped with a 118-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The other, and my favorite, gets a turbocharged 172-horsepower four-cylinder that is an even bigger kick to drive. In addition, I found that no matter which transmission variation I picked, the Clubman has the spirit to make your drive fun. Although I preferred the 6-speed manual, the 6-speed automatic with its Formula-1 style steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters is cool, while bringing the convenience of an automatic. This mode also offers the driver control of a manual to the automatic.
Of course, the stretched body offers a lot of additional room, which was sought by buyers. Fans loved the MINI Cooper but wanted more room. The extra legroom for the rear passengers is noticeable. Moreover, the ease with which the addition of the right-side rear Club door and the right passenger seat's easy-access position make the rear seating more accessible.
One cool design feature is the uniquely designed split rear doors. The contrasting paint color acts as a frame to accentuate the rear of the Clubman. It also is another way the untrained eye will recognize this car is a Clubman. To adhere to legal requirements and add a distinctive flair, designers mounted the rear lights to the body so that they remain visible with the rear doors open. They seem to float in midair.
Remaining in place to remind all that this still is a MINI Cooper derivative are the strong front grille and lights and the signature contrasting white or black roof.
Interior background lighting can vary from a warming orange to cool blue. An interior feature that caught my attention originally in a BMW line (MINI is part of the BMW) is the waterfall illumination directed from above onto the center console, door storage bins and handles.
From high-speed freeways to challenging backcountry roads, I put this car through a tough test. Merging into traffic on a busy California freeway was effortless. The power from either engine choice propelled the car to the speed limit with no complaint. The turbo model just did it quicker.
Even today, a "normal" MINI continues to be noticed and I was particularly amazed to see the number of double takes my Clubman and I received as we cruised from city to town. Passers-by would look, see a MINI, take a quick double look to see this Clubman was different and then give a big "thumbs up." Moreover, this is a vehicle virtually anyone can afford.