The facelifted Clubman remains the Mini for sensible folk, combining much of the hatchback’s dynamism with a dose of the Countryman’s practicality...
It’s a curious thing, the Clubman. It isn’t the compact Mini founder Alec Issigonis would have imagined, nor does it make quite as strong a lifestyle statement as the chic hatchbacks (although whether the five-door is a successful styling exercise can be debated for hours), stylish Convertible or adventurous Countryman. Instead, the Clubman is the Mini for those fans of the brand who desire the best of both worlds: the driving pleasure of the hatches melded with some of the Countryman’s practicality. The question is, more than four years into its model cycle, does the Clubman retain enough clout to woo those buyers?
Mini hasn’t been resting on its laurels, however. Last year, the barn-doored Clubman underwent somewhat of a subtle transformation, gaining a wider front grille, LED headlamps encircled by daytime-running lights and Union Jack-motif taillamps (the team were split right in the middle on these). As standard, the Cooper S model – one of three, by the way – features 17-inch alloys; items going up to 19 inches in size are on offer.
Inside, little changed because widescale revisions arguably weren’t needed. The Clubman still features a different facia design to those of the smaller Minis but the same level of impressive perceived quality, with extensive soft-touch surfacing and a rock-solid feel. The perfectly aligned driving impression is present, too, and the driver’s seat can be lowered right to the floor to accommodate pilots of all shapes and sizes. Legroom aft is acceptable rather than generous, and the boot is a moderate size.
Of course, one of the defining qualities of a modern Mini is the sheer breadth of customisation options, should you be willing to increase your monthly instalments. For the facelifted Clubman, Mini offers the aforementioned new range of alloy wheel styles, as well as fresh interior trims and matrix LED headlamps (for R6 100 more).
The biggest change was recently wrought underneath the lightly refreshed skin. The last time we tested a Cooper S Clubman, it featured an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission from ZF shared with myriad BMW models. It was unquestionably one of the finest slush boxes ever fitted to a production car and we were therefore surprised that Mini had decided to replace it with a seven-speed dual-clutch option.
We needn’t have worried. There’s little of the low-speed lethargy that often afflicts such transmissions and changes on the move are quick and seamless.
In similar ambient conditions to those in which we tested the older model, the new Clubman shaved 0,13 seconds from the 0-100 km/h time and was quicker in some of the 20 km/h in-gear increments and slower in others due to the gearchange points of the ‘box being different. Effectively, the speedier dual-clutch has made little performance difference and it’s odd that gearshift paddles are a pricey R8 100 option.
However, the cultured drivetrain combination is a more fuel-efficient one borne out by Mini’s claim: 6,2 L/100 km on the mixed-use cycle versus 7,90 L/100 km previously. We recorded a 1,2 L/100 km drop on our standardised fuel route. Even accounting for dissimilar traffic conditions on either days on which the testing was done, that’s a mighty impressive improvement.
The Clubman’s driving manners are much as before, despite the option of a 10 mm reduction in the ride height, as well as adaptive dynamics. There’s a slight restlessness to the ride that soon smooths out as speeds increase and a chuckability that’s absent in its more grown-up rivals. The steering is quick and direct, the brake pedal firm underfoot and understeer sets in late. The Clubman is a joy to drive.
There remains much to like and admire about the Clubman. Yes, it’s priced more than R40 000 above the mechanically identical Cooper S five-door and some spec items such as the gearshift paddles and leather trim should be standard. However, viewed as an alternative to the Mercedes-Benz A200 and BMW 118i (the latter we rate very highly), the Cooper S Clubman offers better performance, more engaging driving characteristics and equally impressive interior appointments. That Audi A3 40 TFSI is tempting, however.
That said, there are many idiosyncratic reasons to consider the quirky Clubman, and they’re all those pleasurable qualities lacking in the accomplished but otherwise straight-laced Germans.
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See Full MINI Clubman price and specs here