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Mini Cooper goes maxi (sort-of) with extended Clubman

Andy Stonehouse
Special to The Vail Trail
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During a recent cross-country airline ride, possibly the most talkative and opinionated individual I have ever met sat next to me. When I could get a word in edgewise, she announced that the new Mini Cooper Clubman was going to be her next purchase.

An extended take on the endearing and tremendously popular new Mini, the Clubman ” in her yakky eyes ” offered both the regular Mini’s charm with some sort of ill-defined micro-SUV adaptability as part of the package.

Not wanting to entirely burst her bubble, I shared with her my experiences with the Clubman, explaining primarily that the newest Mini had not quite managed to bend the laws of physics and pack a third row or a couch-sized space into its slightly larger body.

Rather, as the very epitome of dork chic, the Clubman, with a 9.45 inch-longer body and 3.15 extra inches of wheelbase, remains largely the same in terms of driving feel and presence (or lack thereof, compared to most larger cars).

What is new to the equation, besides a tad of extra legroom for rear passengers, are three extra doors: a suicide door on the right hand side, dubbed the “Clubdoor,” as well as twin barn doors on the back, designed to mimic past maxi-Minis such as the Countryman and the Traveller.

The side door provides a somewhat easier access route for rear passengers ” I’ve had a number of full-sized humans riding in the back of the traditional Mini and despite relatively comfortable seating, getting in and out was always a bit of a circus act.

The new rear doors, however, are straight out of a Barbie-mobile. Precious little door handles, the cutest little individual, MG Midget-sized windshield wipers and even a charmingly Lilliputian click when you close it all up ” all blend together to produce a feature that’s perhaps a bit too precocious for its own good.

The barn doors do add a bit of flexibility for loading slightly larger than normal cargo to the Mini, but don’t plan on using it to help the neighbors move their pool table; there’s only 9 cubic feet with the back seats up, although you do get a handy 33 total cubic feet with the seats dropped. The doorframes do, however, conspire to create a significant rear sightline blockage.

The slightly stretched feel doesn’t significantly change the Mini’s handling, still go-kart-on-steroids in its demeanor, but the standard 1.6 liter four cylinder cranks only 118 horsepower and, with a six-speed Steptronic transmission, had to be rather severely coaxed to produce much mayhem.

You can opt to step up to the S model with its twin-scroll supercharger packing 175 horsepower or the sure-to-scream John Cooper Works model, cranked up to 208 HP and a 147 mph top speed; the icy, end-of-season weekend I drove the standard model Clubman, I opted not to push my luck at all with a nighttime I-70 jaunt up to the mountains, which was probably the best move (I did the same last year in rainy weather and remember being blinded for three hours, as the Mini sits at the same height as most automobile’s headlamps).

After that speedy trip last year in the manual version of the regular Cooper, I was actually a little disappointed with the Clubman’s standard jolt and bouncy ride, even when running the car through the gears via a set of wheel-mounted shift paddles. Speed demons will make a more appropriate package purchase, I suspect.

2008’s refresh to the Mini Cooper interior adds an optional dual pane panoramic sunroof, and the gigantic mid-dash speedometer cluster also contains a tremendously non-intuitive stereo and trip computer system, a CD slot, challenging AC controls and a bank of toggle switches controlling the windows, door locks and perhaps the hottest heated seats I’ve ever experienced. Your remaining fuel is displayed in an equally precious flower petal-styled readout, which your 6-year-old daughter may appreciate.

There’s also a new flying saucer-shaped keyless entry fob which must be plugged into a slot in the dash in order to fire up the car’s pushbutton starter; it matches the multiplicity of circular vents and metal circles bedecking the Mini’s interior.

The car is still something of a miracle, especially in that folks who find that the car’s roofline comes up to their waist can fit quite comfortably into the driver’s seat.

Oversized Mini? Not quite. But an interesting variation, absolutely. Gas panic enthusiasts beware: despite its size, even the standard Mini generates just 26 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway, so it’s not quite the fuel panacea one might imagine.


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