Most people don’t know this, but the MINI Clubman title dates all the way back to the swinging 1960s when it was first being developed, and as MINI provides us with information on the new one, we see that it has indeed come a long way. Tech-savvy, spacious, quirky, and over-sized “the new Clubman strikes a perfect balance between MINI’s heritage and future” said David Duncan, Vice President of MINI of the Americas. And while it does look a bit more grown-up than its predecessor, it appears that MINI doesn’t want its flagship to become a dithering boor either.
MINI has gone with a potent three-cylinder petrol engine that surprisingly belts out 162 foot pounds of torque, with the four-cylinder version offering us 189 horsepower to the wheels courtesy of a TwinPower Turbo Technology Engine stuffed beneath the bonnet. Tested extensively at the Nürburgring in pre-production mode, the beefier S Clubman will hit 60 in seven seconds flat before topping out at 142 miles per hour. It’s going to be fun getting there too, as American models will be made available with manual transmissions, and an eight-speed automatic will be available as well. The eight-speed Steptronic will come complete with shift paddles and launch control, and we can’t stop geeking out over MINI’s new automatic transmission control system, which constantly draws from navigation data to tweak gear and shift points.
Something called “MINIMALISM Technology” comes standard on all new Clubmans and features a shift display, brake energy regeneration, active cooling flaps, and independent control of the fuel and coolant pumps. Cars outfitted with Steptronic transmissions can use a coasting function, where the drivetrain disconnects at higher speeds when the accelerator pedal is untouched, and driving modes are activated by a rotary switch and come in Mid, Sport, and Green modes. The car is lighter and stiffer too, with a redesigned rear suspension that adds more interior room, and an optional Dynamic Damper Control system allowing compression and rebound to be adjusted from within the cabin for cushier or sportier rides. There are more braking and traction control features than you can shake a stick at on this thing too, with the most intriguing being the DTC mode (Dynamic Traction Control), which permits controlled slip if driving on loose sand or deep snow.
Sixteen- and 17-inch lightweight alloy wheels come standard, as do six airbags, children’s seat attachments, and a tire pressure display for each wheel. There’s also the Park Distance Control sensors, rear view camera, Parking Assistant, and self-braking cruise control. Tech nerds will rejoice when they realize MINI’s Driving Assistant notes speed limits while the Head-Up-Display projects driving-related information onto an extendable display to show speed, navigation arrows, graphics, junction sketches, collision warnings, and entertainment program details.
For those who fancy posh interiors, MINI has incorporated Indigo blue leather in a classic English Chesterfield sofa pattern, with burgundy leather as an available alternative. The luggage compartment only has a volume of 17.5 cubic feet, but fold down the 60:40 split or the optional 40:20:40 split to reveal 47.9 cubic feet of storage space.
MINI went LED crazy too, outfitting the Clubman’s fog lights, head lights, tail lights, turning lamps, and running lights with these energy-efficient bulbs. They also installed collision and pedestrian warnings, rain sensors, park assist, and a rear view camera. The new “MINI Connected XL Journey Mate” is pretty far-out too, as it plans trips and provide facts along the way, all while social networks and infotainment functions are being integrated via smartphone apps. Another neat tech feature in the Clubman is the LED halo surrounding 6.5-inch and 8.8-inch color screens that respond to road conditions and serves as a warning light to drivers.
On the outside the new Clubman is 10.9 inches longer and 2.9 inches wider than a typical hardtop four-door MINI, and its not just bigger, but smarter too: Aerodynamics are controlled by vertically arranged “Air Curtain” openings in the outer sections of the front bumper to channel air around the wheel arches. Thankfully the area between the glass sections of the two rear doors has also been narrowed to boost visibility, and with the optional Comfort Access function a key in one’s pocket and some foot movement under the tail is all that is needed to open the rear doors.
Notable add-ons we liked were the heated front seats, a 47.2-inch panorama glass roof, various leather steering wheels, roof rails, electrically heated folding mirrors, and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. But with the new Clubman going on sale at the beginning of 2016, and pricing nowhere to be seen, we cannot help but wonder if all of these improvements will be worth the added cost. Sure, there is a lot to love in such a small car; but if MINI wants to continue to compete in the mid-size market with the likes of an Audi wagon or any number of reasonably priced compact crossover, it is going to have to offer its base models at a comparable price to its competition.