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Only MINI could have brought us a family hatchback like the Clubman. June Neary checks the second generation version out
More than most, I'm fed up with boring cars. I, after all, have to drive different cars day-in, day-out and over time, one tends to blur into another. This week's ride was a welcome change from that. The second generation version of MINI's Clubman, after all, is not a car you would easily forget. It would have been easy for BMW, when faced with doing a Focus-sized version of the iconic MINI Hatch, simply to churn out something larger and more conventional. Instead, they've brought us the MINI Clubman. Many will hate it but I love the thing.
I was pleased to find two things here. First, I need to tell you that here are two side doors this time round. Incredibly, the original version of this car only provided one, and it was positioned on the wrong side of the car, forcing me to unload kids and packages in the middle of the road. Not clever. The other thing I was happy about with this MK2 model Clubman is that it still looks like a MINI, even though it's quite a substantial thing, almost identical in height and width to a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus. If you're comparing against MINI's 5 Door Hatch, this car is 270mm longer and 73mm wider, which makes the difference in size between the two models as great as it is between a Focus and a Fiesta. As for the styling, well most who looked at my test model seemed to think that, if anything, this Clubman's stretched dimensions actually improve the slightly awkward aesthetics that you get on smaller MINI Hatch models. See if you agree. Inevitably, it's impossible with this car to discuss that subject without mentioning doors - specifically the twin-door arrangement at the rear that's supposed to hark back to the Austin Seven Countryman of the 1960s. The distinctive side-hinged split rear so-called 'Clubdoors' mark this model out from any other on the road. They open via a dual-section chrome handle or, with the optional 'Comfort Access' feature fitted, by waving your foot beneath the bumper if, key in pocket, you approach the car, laden down with bags. Inside, you'll find 360-litres of luggage space which is competitive with a Focus or a Golf. If that's not enough, then flattening the rear bench frees up more space than any MINI model to date has ever provided - 1,250-litres. Up-front, there's a design that's different, yet somehow still the same. What's changed is an interior that's more discreet and formal-looking than that of an ordinary MINI Hatch: it's much more spacious too, thanks to an extra 73mm of cabin width. Features like decent door armrests and a centre console that, for the first time on a MINI, extends up to the instrument panel make it feel more grown-up. In fact, you might even talk of a BMW-style feel were it not for familiar MINI touches like the column-mounted dials, the row of toggle switches below the ventilation controls, the personalisable interior light colours and, most familiar of all, the huge circular display that crowns the centre stack.
So what's it like on the road? A little different from the MINI norm is the answer - but thankfully, not too different. No, it doesn't feel quite as sharp and frisky as the 5 Door Hatch model to drive, but then this is a larger, heavier car. Anyway, compensation comes with better refinement and far superior ride quality thanks to a purpose-designed multi-link rear suspension system. If you want to tweak the damping, an optional 'Variable Damper Control' control system allows you to do it, working through the 'Green', 'MID' and 'Sport' settings of the 'MINI Driving Modes' system, another extra-cost feature. Engine-wise, the range starts with a three cylinder 1.5-litre 136bhp petrol unit that can return over 55mpg on the combined cycle and 118g/km of CO2, even if you order your car with the optional 6-speed Steptronic auto transmission. The bulk of the range though, is based around 2.0-litre power that gives buyers the option of an 8-speed auto 'box as an alternative to the standard 6-speed manual. There's a 192bhp Cooper S petrol model, but most buyers will want the 150bhp Cooper D diesel I tried that makes 62mph from rest in around 8.5s but can still approach 70mpg in regular use. A pokier 190bhp Cooper SD variant is also offered.
MINI isn't troubling to address the budget end of the family hatchback segment here, instead targeting this second generation Clubman at Volkswagen's Golf and better-specified mainstream Focus or Astra models in this sector. That means pricing in the £20,000 to £25,000 bracket. I tried the volume 2.0-litre diesel Cooper D version which at the launch of this car was the least expensive diesel variant you could have. I reckon it's the one to go for, offering punchy 150bhp performance at a premium of around £2,300 over the 1.5-litre petrol-powered base 'Cooper' derivative. If you do want to go faster, you'll need around £23,000 for the potent petrol-powered Cooper S and getting on for £25,000 for the top diesel, the 190bhp Cooper SD. Across the range, there are auto gearbox options; primarily BMW's 8-speed automatic that works with 2.0-litre models like this Cooper D and costs around £1,600 more. Ask for an auto on the base three cylinder petrol Cooper derivative though and you'll have to have the older 6-speed Steptronic transmission that'll cost you around £1,500 more.
Because I like to be different, I love it but I could quite understand why others would choose something else. It's a family hatch that you would buy for totally un-family hatch-orientated reasons. Only MINI could build such a car.