“Let’s Motor Hard!” That’s what the infotainment screen displays when you switch on Sport mode, along with a little grey graphic of the car highlighted by red racing stripes and thought bubbles filled with a classic cartoon spaceship rocketing upwards and a cute little go-kart. That pretty well sums up the 2016 MINI Cooper S Clubman.
Then again it’s a car with multiple personalities. Default Mid mode simply reads “Let’s Motor” with the same image of the car without stripes, while Green mode smartly says “Let’s MINImalize” with a thought bubble of warning and alert pictographs (environmentalists are so serious).
The iconic British brand is about having fun while you’re “saving the planet,” two concepts that rarely coexist.
MINI grows up
Before jumping into the driver’s seat, I need to touch on the subject of maximizing the MINI brand. The Clubman is long, more than 25 cm longer than the already stretched 5 door hatchback, which is based on a redesigned MINI 3 door that’s longer and wider than the car it replaced and so on. Speaking of width, the Clubman is 9 cm wider than that same 5 door model, and all of this adds up to the largest MINI ever created.
Putting things into perspective, it’s only 2 cm longer than a Volkswagen Golf and 18.3 cm shorter than the Mazda3 Sport, which ideally ushers MINI into the smaller-sized portion of the much more popular compact car segment. In other words, this maxi MINI is still a small car by today’s standards.
Whereas the outgoing Clubman was more of a niche player due to a funky and only slightly more useful reverse-hinged half-door added to the passenger’s side, the new 2016 MINI Clubman adds 30 cm of length to that predecessor while getting four normal-sized doors for easy access to all seating positions. This should make it similarly popular to the new MINI Cooper 5 door, although it’s hard to say if its unorthodox, Dutch-oven rear cargo doors will turn buyers on or cause them to pine for a common liftgate. After two weeks of use, I didn’t experience any drawback other than a lack of temporary shelter when raining and slightly awkward access when loading from curbside.
Room for the whole family
Where the Clubman expands one’s preconceptions about MINI is in overall usefulness. The new model delivers considerably more rear seating space, at least for hips, shoulders, knees, and feet, but headroom for those over 6’0” might be a bit compromised.
Cargo capacity wins big, too, with 495 litres behind the rear seats (about the size of a full-size family sedan’s trunk) and a considerable 1,356 litres when those 60/40-split seatbacks are folded forward, which is not only 170 litres more than MINI’s own Countryman SUV, but also more max loading space than the much longer Mazda3 Sport mentioned earlier.
Still as refined as a luxury car
The rest of the 2016 MINI Clubman is terrific. It starts with a cabin that’s much improved in terms of refinement thanks to more soft-touch surfaces and a new driver layout that doesn’t depend as much on tradition for tradition’s sake, instead placing primary gauges right in front of the driver and leaving the circular centre stack for infotainment and HVAC components. The A-pillars remain fabric-wrapped, there’s lots of glossy piano black trim all around, and the leather-wrapped and contrast-stitched sport steering wheel is a cut above most anything else in the compact hatch segment ― with a black and silver Union Jack on the lower spoke no less.
All of the car’s switchgear is well made and some of it even brilliantly retro. Highlights include the chrome power window buttons and the two rows of chrome toggles, with one set lining the overhead console for controlling various lights and the panoramic sunroof, and the other set for shutting down the auto start/stop system, stability control, and forward-sensing crash protection functions. These controls surround a fabulous, groovy, and ultimately cool bright red engine ignition toggle.
Top-tier tech that rivals premium brands
Other key elements in the 2016 MINI Clubman include a dual-zone automatic HVAC interface with colourful digital readouts integrated within each of its three chrome-rimmed and rubber-gripped dials. My tester was filled to the brim with goodies like a back-up camera featuring active guidelines as well as special yellow and red warning graphics to let you know you’ve gone far enough (this is the best rear-view camera I’ve ever tested), bright and clear navigation mapping with excellent route guidance, easy phone connectivity with Bluetooth audio streaming, and the list goes on and on.
It’s all integrated within a full-colour, high-resolution display that’s as good as anything from the best premium brands, while its BMW iDrive-style rotating dial controller, complete with a touch pad on top that lets you use finger gestures to draw out words and more, is equally impressive.
The driver’s seat is fabulously comfortable, fully supportive, and even includes extendable thigh support, while all seating positions in my tester were finished with solid leather bolsters and textured leather inserts that helped hold the backside in place during hard cornering.
Still nimble for such a big guy
This sport-tuned 2016 MINI Cooper S Clubman takes to those curves easily, as you may have guessed. Its extra wheelbase and width seem to provide a new level of stability as speeds increase, the bigger car not as flickable as its smaller siblings, yet feeling more planted on the highway. It’s quiet, too, at least when compared to other MINIs: The pumped-up 4-cylinder’s exhaust note is easily audible and wind noise is still noticeable, but the Clubman certainly is a more refined machine overall.
That direct-injected and turbocharged engine under the hood makes 189 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, resulting in 0-100km/h sprints in 7.2 seconds with the standard 6-speed manual transmission (as tested) or 7.1 seconds with the advanced 8-speed automatic featuring paddle shifters. For just $1,000 more you can upgrade the engine with ALL4 all-wheel drive for a slight 0.2-second advantage off-the-line and of course much improved traction in inclement weather.
Priced to please… until you add features
Speaking of pricing, the 2016 MINI Cooper S Clubman starts at $28,990 plus freight and dealer fees, while the base 134-horsepower, 3-cylinder turbocharged model retails for just $24,990. My tester seemed to include everything MINI could throw at it, as you may have noticed when I was running over the features a moment ago, but even though the options included its gorgeous Pure Burgundy metallic paint and continued on to add proximity access, an auto-dimming mirror, powered seats with driver’s side memory, rear parking sensors, a head-up display unit, navigation, MINI Connected smartphone integration, leather upholstery and more, there was still much left on the options menu that could’ve been added.
Anyone questioning whether MINI is targeting entry-level or premium buyers only needs to configure one on the brand’s recently updated website and it will quickly become apparent. The Clubman I tested topped $40k with freight.
Back to driving, the available Sport mode made a dramatic difference to performance, the car taking off much quicker than in default Mid mode. Conversely, Green mode caused a sort of drug-induced lethargy, which I didn’t mind too much while touring around town since traffic in my part of the world almost always sucks the fun out of A-to-B motoring.
Fun, yet efficient
The aforementioned auto start/stop system no doubt helped achieve the Cooper S Clubman’s impressive official fuel economy rating of 10.6L/100km city and 7.4L/100km highway with the manual (9.7 and 7.0, respectively, with the autobox).
Of note, the base engine doesn’t really save you much at the pump unless going for the manual gearbox that’s rated at 9.5L/100km city and 6.6L/100km highway. Still, it delivers a robust 162 lb-ft of torque, which means the entry-level Clubman is hardly a slouch.
Sizing up the MINI Clubman
As you can see, it’s difficult to find fault with MINI and especially hard to knock the new 2016 Clubman. It embodies all of the brand’s notable quality, delivers exciting driving dynamics, offers multiple powertrains and drivelines, achieves enviable efficiencies, is available with otherwise unfathomable feature sets, and continues on iconic British style, albeit within a larger, more accommodating body that should go far to win over new buyers who might have never considered MINI before.
So far this year MINI sales are up 7.7% in Canada, which probably has a lot to do with the Clubman, a model that will literally play a big role in the iconic brand’s growing future.
Want a second opinion? Read this other 2016 MINI Cooper S Clubman Review by Miranda Lightstone.