Review: A week with the not-so-mini 2016 Mini Cooper Clubman

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After a week in the 2016 Mini Cooper Clubman, we found that it keeps the quirky, fun nature of the Mini(Credit: Aaron Turpen / Gizmag)

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The full redesign BMW did on the Mini Clubman for 2016 has done a lot to make this more versatile version of the Cooper series a lot more practical in the real world. The Clubman is larger in both girth and length, adding a lot more interior space and improving handling a bit. But there are some losses, most notably in acceleration and the car's driving nature. The Clubman, though, retains enough of the Mini brand's core nature to continue to appeal to Cooper fans who might need more than a tiny coupe.

When first laying eyes on the 2016 Mini Cooper Clubman, it still appears small despite the enlarged dimensions it's been given. A four-door hatchback in style, the Clubman comfortably seats five and has most of the unique features expected of a Mini – the bulbous headlamps, rounded front fascia, and low roofline are all recognizable Mini traits. Nuances like the double-door rear opening (in place of a traditional uplifted hatch) and round, goofy side mirrors are right out of the Cooper playbook. Our test model was the S with the John Cooper Works package, with a surprisingly hefty window sticker at US$37,000. A fully-loaded Cooper S Clubman can top $40,000.

Climbing into the Clubman reveals that the Mini quirks of the exterior can be found on the inside as well. The dash and controls looks almost identical to other Mini Cooper models, but the added width of the Clubman has them stretched out a bit, which creates a far less cluttered, packed-in feeling. The large round bezel housing the infotainment screen dominates the center of the dashboard and the Cooper's ubiquitous aircraft switches are seen below it for the vehicle's keyless start, traction control, and so forth. They're also found above as toggles for the sunroof option. Sadly, the rounded vents in the smaller Cooper are not there, being replaced by less fun (and less useful) square vents. The bottom edge piece that curves in a hockey stick to the center console is also gone.

What is readily apparent upon sitting down, however, is that the Clubman is far roomier and has much better seating than will be found in the smaller Mini models. There is more shoulder and legroom and the rear seats can accommodate full-sized adults without cramping. The cargo area is similarly expanded, ringing in at 17.5 cubic feet (495 L). Folding the rear seats ups that to almost 48 cu.ft (1,360 L). The dual-opening rear doors give more access, but can make curbside loading and other things a little more work. It also takes a few tries to get used to shoving hard and slamming those doors shut as the pistons are very tight.

Infotainment in the Mini Clubman is based around Mini Connected, a branded version of BMW's iDrive. Nearly everything is customizable and though there is a learning curve to navigating the very top-down menu system, it is easy to use after that. Like other BMW vehicles, the Mini's dial-based controller has a touchpad on top and is located just forward of the center armrest for easy access. The high position of the screen and its sharp graphics make it easy to use while on the go, too.

There are two engine options powering the 2016 Mini Cooper Clubman. The base engine is a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder that creates 134 horsepower (100 kW) and 162 lb-ft (220 Nm) of torque. This runs through a six-speed manual transmission as standard with a six-speed automatic available as an option. All Mini Coopers are front-wheel drive as standard, although an the an AWD option AWD was added this year. The EPA rates fuel economy at 28 mpg combined (8.4 l/100km) with this engine and either transmission. BMW advertises just under nine seconds for the 0-60 mph (0-96.5 km/h) times in this Clubman.

Our Cooper S Clubman John Cooper Works edition contained the upgrade engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that has been making the rounds in several small BMW vehicles, such as the new X1 crossover. This engine produces 189 hp (141 kW) and 207 lb-ft (281 Nm) of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and an eight-speed automatic is an upgrade option. Fuel economy for the latter is rated at 27 mpg combined (8.7 L/100km). Our manual transmission-equipped Clubman had an EPA rating of 26 mpg (9 l/100/km) combined, with 22 mpg (10.7 l/100km) in town and 32 mpg (7.4 l/100km) on the highway. In real world driving, we saw a 22 mpg average over about 200 miles (322 km) of mixed driving, while seven-second 0-60 mph runs are the norm in the S Clubman.

On the road, especially on twisty highways with a lot of steady speeds, the 2016 Clubman is a joy to drive. It feels a bit sluggish getting up to speed and the added girth is definitely noted there, but the wider stance also means that the long little car does well on corners and bends at speed. The refined suspension BMW added for 2016 aids in highway driving as well, bringing the Mini Clubman up to par with contemporaries for compliance and comfort.

In very hard cornering and performance driving, however, the Mini Cooper S Clubman is nothing like the smaller Mini Cooper coupes, losing most of the thrill of acceleration and fun power cornering that the little Mini is so well known for. One thing that will not be a surprise to BMW fans is the almost complete lack of understeer in the corner despite the FWD design of the chassis.

In all, the 2016 BMW Mini Cooper Clubman is a practical little car that won't disappoint fans of the brand too much. It's pricey and not as versatile (or fast) as some of its competition, especially those from other German makes, but the signature and quirky Mini styling goes a long way towards remedying that. It's definitely the not-so-mini grownup's Mini.

Product page: Mini

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