Does the XL sized Clubman stay true to the Mini DNA?
Think Mini and it is easy to picture a curvy little hatchback with retro-modern appeal that is quick and fun to drive. But the latest one to enter the Indian market is anything but little. In fact, the Cooper S Clubman is the longest Mini ever made. But is it really a ‘Mini’?
Before we get to answering that question, let's first shed some light on some aspects that are definitely not mini (pun intended) in the Clubman. First, it's dimensions. A quick look at Minis through the ages and you will notice that they have only gotten larger. At 4,253mm, this one is the longest of them all. And it isn't just the length. The front and rear wheels are 2,670mm apart which makes it’s wheelbase almost as long as the Skoda Octavia. And that brings us to the second aspect which sets its apart from the other Minis – the space.
With the kind of leg and knee room that the Clubman has, I wouldn't mind sitting in the back seat of this Mini. That being said, I wouldn't want to be the third passenger at the back. The seat back is contoured well for support but will only be comfortable for two adults at best. And then there is the transmission tunnel and the rear air con vent eating into the space of the third passenger. The rear seat is also a bit too upright for my liking – a little more reclined would have made it absolutely spot on!
The front seats manage to achieve that perfection thanks to good support for your torso, adjustable lumbar support and extendable under thigh support. For the price that it comes at, we wish it came fitted with electrically adjustable front seats. Space aside, the interior is typically Mini with the signature round instrumentation, door handles and the touchscreen infotainment. Quality is on par with what you'd expect from a Mini. Visibility for the most part is good, the joint of the barn doors does obstruct vision, especially while reversing. This could have been easily fixed by installing a reversing camera but sadly the Clubman just makes do with parking sensors.
From behind the wheel is where the real Mini experience begins. The Clubman’s direct injection 2.0-litre motor has been fitted with a turbocharger and BMW’s VANOS variable valve timing tech. Its peak torque output of 280Nm from as low as 1,250rpm makes it extremely eager. Going hard on the throttle from standstill you feel a bit of torque steer but that's just the sign of how enthusiastic this engine is. As the tacho goes past the 2,400rpm mark you feel a spike in its performance and it doesn't lose steam right up till it's red-line. It doesn't take much for the engine to please you - whether you drive sanely or even when you want to go bonkers pushing it to the limit.
The Mini Clubman comes with three driving modes that alter the responsiveness of the steering, engine and transmission. In the Green mode, the throttle feels a bit heavy but the engine is by no means lethargic. But it is in the Sport mode that the Clubman really impresses. An exciting drive and the the sweet soft exhaust note just lures you into digging your right foot deeper. There's also the Mid mode that finds the middle ground between the two – ideal for highway duties. The 8-speed gearbox shifts briskly but just not as well as dual-clutch transmissions. That said, it surely doesn't play spoil sport to the engine’s enthusiastic manners.
Being a Mini for a family man, the Clubman has been marginally softened compared to its smaller siblings. This makes it the most comfortable car in Mini’s product portfolio. The smaller bumps are addressed in a rather civilised manner but the larger bumps do send an angry thud into the cabin. Given the low profile tyres you might even run the risk of rim damage in case you hit a large pothole at high speeds. While the Clubman is slightly softer than the rest of the Mini range, by no means does it feel timid in the handling department. Turn-ins are sharp and the wider track ensures that the feels planted even when cornering at high speeds. Of course it doesn't feel as surefooted as the 3-door Cooper, but it promises to be more fun than most other cars in its price range.
Finally moving on to the most debatable characteristic of the Clubman – it’s design. While the Clubman does have the curvy design cues and the retro appeal that is typical of the brand, it is by no means compact like its siblings. And that is sure to attract mixed reactions from people. Some might just love the way the Mini design has been incorporated in a larger car, some other loyalists would argue that Mini should stick to compact offerings. But there is no denying that there are a lot of design elements that scream Mini – the round headlights, hexagonal grille and the flat roofline to name a few.
Every once in a while, large companies move away from the norm to develop something that is not typical of them. Just the way Apple did with the iPhone, Mini has done it with the Clubman. But the trick is to stay true to your core values and that is something that Mini seems to have managed quite easily. The Clubman looks like a Mini, drives like one too and now also comes with a high dose of practicality. So to answer the question we set out to find – yes, the Clubman is a ‘Mini’ alright, but it surely isn't the one that you will picture in your head when you hear someone say Mini.