The Clubman Test Drive

Tuesday night I drove to Frankfurt’s main MINI dealership. The trusted Reisegold Bimmer needed some movement anyway and was greeted with a big hello when I pulled into the dealer’s parking garage. After a bit of waiting I was greeted by Daniel Crespi, the MINI sales manager who I talked to on the phone the week before. About 10 minutes and a signature later and I had the keys to a Clubman in my hand. The car I got was a Cooper Clubman. So not the Diesel version I’m looking to buy, but the 120 hp petrol version. The color scheme was a nice Horizon Blue / Black combo with the optional Crown Spoke wheels, also in black. That was nice because I have a color combination in mind that also includes a black roof and wheels.
What do you think?


I sat in the car and quickly found my typical MINI seating position. Seat all the way down, backrest straight. Then steering wheel all the way up and – this is new compared to the 2004 model I owned – all the way out. For tall people like me the second generation new MINI offers an even better seat.
And then I pulled off the dealer’s lot, heading home with a big smile on my face.

The route from the dealer to our home is short and leads through Frankfurt’s inner city where the rush hour wasn’t over yet. I rolled slowly through thick traffic. And here I was able to experience and play a bit with the MINI MINIMALISM (or what the BMW brand calls “Efficiency Dynamics“). MINIMALISM is about reducing fuel consumption. And what’s more fuel consuming than a good traffic jam?
One of the MINIMALISM features is the MINI’s auto start/stop which turns off the engine as soon as the MINI comes to a full stop, with the manual gearbox in neutral, and the clutch released. It’s very easy to manage. When you expect to creep forward soon you simply keep the clutch pressed to avoid the engine shutting itself off. You can also press a button to switch the entire auto start/stop off. This is quite useful because I remember reading that turning the engine off at a stop and restarting it again only saves fuel when the engine is off for at least 9 seconds – it probably also depends on the engine’s size and a couple of other factors. Long story short; auto start/stop only saves fuels under certain conditions and a slow but steady forward moving traffic jam may not be one of them. Still, it’s a cool feature and has proven to save fuel while driving in the city. Standing first at a red light made me a bit nervous at first, but the truth is that as soon as you press the clutch in to shift into first, the engine is there immediately. It’s like it never shut itself off. Clutch, first gear, go. No waiting.
On top there is ton of other things that MINI does as part of the MINIMALISM concept which you best read on the MINI’s website.
I will come back to the overall fuel consumption of my test drive later.

Fitting everyone in.
Kerstin (my wife) was meeting with friends that night and so we instantly put the Clubman to the test. I drove her to the restaurant where they were meeting.

Clubman Backseat TimTim, my three year old, got his booster seat fitted behind the driver’s seat. The main reason for this was that the buckle for his belt was now easily reachable from the right, Clubdoor side of the car. To buckle up Tim was a snap now. He is old enough to climb into his seat by himself. All I had to do was climb into the wide open space that the Clubdoor provides with the passenger seat folded forward, grab the belt and fasten it. No squeezing in for me, no sitting on the back rest of the passenger seat, like I had to do in the MINI hatch.
Moritz, who is now 9 weeks old, was placed in his Maxi-Cosi on the back seat next to Tim. To buckle him up was easy as well.

The Clubman had the two-seat rear bench. I mention this as there is an optional three-seat bench available as well. If you plan to fit kids with their seats into the back, the I recommend the two-seat bench. The three-seat version has another buckle and seat area in the center.  This means that the buckles for the outer seats will sit a lot more closer to the children’s seats and buckling up will be not as easy – especially when you have Isofix seats.

Clubman Back Seats Back to Back

Clubman Back Seats Back to Back

The picture above shows both options, the three-seat to the left and the two-seat to the right. The green circles mark the outer seat’s buckles, the red ones mark the middle seat’s buckles, and the black covers that you can spot are for the Isofix openings.
Actually, even when you don’t have to think about kids in the back, get the two-seat option. Fitting three adults in the back of a MINI may possibly break human rights conventions.

The Clubman is certainly no family wagon, but with a bit of good will it shuttles a family of four just fine. In my MINI hatch I could only barely drive with the kids in the back as I had to move my seat forward for them to sit in the back. I admit that at 6.5″ I’m tall above average and maybe this my very special challenge. Nevertheless I think that anyone with kids will welcome the additional space the Clubman offers over the MINI hatch.

Clubman Boot

Loading it up.
The next morning it was time for some action.
I opened the two doors to the boot. These are what makes this car so special. I really love them.
I loaded three empty crates into the back of the Clubman. And there was some more space for Tim’s toys. The car was fitted with the “flat load boot floor” and there is plenty of more space underneath. Good to stash stuff that you may be carrying around all the time but you don’t want in the way all the time – like that large umbrella, an extra pair of shoes, or your secret lover. And then even underneath that space there is more room. The room where some engineer once designed the spare wheel should go. Empty in the German version, even if you choose to not get the now optional run-flat tires.

I dropped Tim at Kindergarten and quickly turned in the empty crates for full ones at a nearby store. This needed me to maneuver around a bit. And here two observations.
I heard some complain about the bad view when looking into the rear view mirror due to the rear doors. While the view is a bit limited I didn’t feel it’s too bad. You can see a picture below I took from my view angle. I have to admit that being 6.5″ tall I probably see better because I look atop the rear bench and the head rests. Also the car didn’t have three but only two back seats and therefore no additional head rest in the middle. You can see the child booster seat in the left of the picture and that may give you an idea of what it’s like if your neck doesn’t stick out like mine. But aren’t you going to drive ahead of the pack not looking back anyways?


The other thing is that the Clubman had the Park Distance Control (PDC) option.
It made me laugh when people with compact cars have them. Because I think if you can still turn around to look back, you don’t need them. And if you can’t turn around to look back, you shouldn’t be allowed to drive a car anymore. But I have to stop laughing. The PDC makes reversing quicker. You have the additional assurance from the PDC’s beeping on how close you are an obstacle – in addition to seeing it. Personally I believe the PDC should never be used as a substitute for watching out through the rear window. I think I will actually get it on my new Clubman.

But how was the car in motion??
The MINI feeling was definitely there. Not so much when the (also optional) Sport Button is not pressed, but once the Sport mode is activated the steering stiffens and acceleration feels to be a bit quicker. Compared to the 170 hp Cooper S I owned before, the 120 hp of the Cooper were a disappointment. It’s really an OK drive. Acceleration is OK for inner city driving. But I was missing the punch, some sort of sporty exhaust sound, something that gives me the feeling that I’m driving a goer. Well, I’m aiming for the Cooper Diesel and heard it has more punch. I hope I get the chance to drive one soon, just to be sure.
On the Autobahn the Cooper was really a letdown. It’s hard for me to describe. Although I pushed it, it just wouldn’t go. It accelerated, but in a way that just didn’t feel appropriate for this car.
Other than that the Clubman was doing good. It has the MINI’s well know appetite for corners. While it is a bit dimmed, due to the longer wheel base of the Clubman – it’s definitely still there. You feel the road, you point the car with the steering into the corner and it goes. You can switch lanes in a sharp snap. It’s just great to be back in a MINI.

And now more about fuel consumption.
The question for me was, how will the Cooper Clubman do compared to my sold 2004 Cooper S hatch?
My daily commute to the office is an 8 mile (13km) drive. 3.7 miles (6 km) of those are through inner city traffic and 4.3 miles (7 km) are on the Autobahn with a speed limit of about 60 mph (100 km/h). And it’s about the same on the way back home. I consider my driving style to be speedy but not aggressive. So I’m not driving as fuel conscious as possible and I don’t try to beat the clock all the time.
The on-board computer of my old Cooper S told me the car uses around 11 l/100 km – which translates to 21 mpg. The average consumption of the Cooper Clubman was 7.8 l/100 km (30 mpg).
Not bad but also not exactly the 7.1 l/100km (33 mpg) MINI advertises in Germany for the Cooper Clubman’s urban consumption, or the 5.5 l/100km (43 mpg) combined.
Well, as I wrote earlier I’m looking for an eco-friendly car, but there were also a lot of other things on the list. Like “fun to drive”. So I think the Cooper was doing quite OK. Now if I could only drive a Diesel to have all the facts …

Now what?
I want one. I think of all compact car it’s the sexiest choice. The rear doors make it a special car. The Clubdoor makes it a practical car when kids are in the mix.
Yes, in comparison, it is quite expensive. But you know what?
Get a Corolla if you’re on a budget and want something dull. Ha!


2 responses to “The Clubman Test Drive

  1. It’s a great looking car. I wish we had the option of getting a Diesel engine in a MINI here in the US, because I would be getting one. So I’ll just stick to the petrol engine. I really like how the clubamn looks as well from front to back, but I haven’t taken a test drive yet, when I do I’ll post my reaction on my blog.
    My dillema is this, get a nicely loaded MINI Clubman or get less options but get Clubman S or get very minimal options and get John Cooper works Clubman?

  2. Pingback: Cooper vs. Cooper Diesel « Our MINI Clubman Diesel

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