The formula for making a hot hatchback sounds simple enough. Pack in a lot of power in a car that's unassuming and practical, as it offers extra thrills behind the wheel. Getting it right however, is a different matter.
Mini's latest answer to the hot hatch conundrum is the all-new Clubman. Marginally bigger than its predecessor (which was basically a stretched Mini 3-door Hatch), the second-gen Clubman now has a ‘shooting brake’ inspired design which makes the six-door Mini look more like a small wagon than hatchback. Yes you read that right, the “Clubdoor" has been replaced with two full-size rear doors.
Designed with practicality in mind along with improved interior space, the Clubman Cooper S appears to tick all the boxes of a family car. So, it's set for the more mature folk but, has it compromised the fun factor the brand is known for? We find out.
The Clubman is by far one of the company's largest models to date, but a quick look at the dimensions show that it still stays true to the Mini name. Measuring in 4,253mm long, 1,800mm wide and 1,441mm tall, the Clubman is small for a C-Segment hatchback. Side-by-side with the previous-gen, the all-new hatchback is longer by 293mm, wider by 116mm and taller by 16mm. The 2,670mm wheelbase also meant there was more space for both the rear passengers and cargo, eclipsing the older model's 2,548mm wheelbase. Did I mention the new Clubman also rolls on 18-inch wheels?
With its distinct looks, the Clubman Cooper S proved to be quite the attention grabber. As I drove this around town, this six-door hatch garnered many looks from passers-by. The signature face with the large circular headlights and grill is a timeless design that pays tribute to the original Mini. The sleek profile of the Clubman is further accentuated thanks to the two-tone Pepper White on Black body paint. But perhaps my favorite part of the Clubman are the rear barn doors and horizontal taillights that highlight the Clubman's width.
Step inside the Clubman Cooper S and you are greeted by funky interior that reflects the youthful vibe of the brand. While some may lament the loss of the center dash-mounted speedometer from the old model, the motorcycle-inspired three-pod instrument panel actually looks better in my opinion. All of the seats come with leather upholstery, with the front benefiting from wide side bolsters that keep both the driver and passenger planted when driving on the limit. The rear seats could do with better seat cushions as the ones currently in place caused a bit of discomfort.
As always, providing in-car infotainment is a 6.5-inch display that can be managed with a BMW-style i-Drive system. Beside supporting several audio inputs like USB, Aux, Bluetooth and AM/FM radio, the system also has other features like navigation, average fuel economy meter, tire pressure monitoring and a reverse camera as such. Below that sits the dual-zone climate control and the aircraft-inspired toggle switches that deliver an air of nostalgia. Even the engine start-stop button is a toggle switch which let's face it, was always a joy to press when you're about to go on your merry way.
At the heart of the Clubman Cooper S is a 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo inline-four. A healthy horsepower rating of 192 PS is achieved at 5000 rpm while peak torque of 280 Nm is easily accessible at 1250 rpm. Power is then routed through the front wheels via an 8-speed automatic gearbox.
At startup, the engine does not sound like much. For a hot hatch, it actually sounded pretty docile. Put it in drive and take a stroll around the city and it behaves like any hatchback. It's only when you put your foot down on the accelerator and hear the throaty exhaust note emanating from the dual exhaust pipes that it reminds you are in something special.
With nearly 200 horses under the hood and weighing less than 1,500 kg, the Clubman Cooper S is no slow-poke. Whether you're climbing up mountain roads or overtaking other cars on the highway, the powertrain will not disappoint. There was practically no turbo lag from the engine as it sent all available power to the front wheels with ease. Bury your right foot on the gas pedal and it will easily reach highway speeds.
The 8-speed automatic gearbox goes through the gears smoothly whether you're driving at a fast or steady pace. It's also intelligent as it immediately adjusts its gearing when one is at an downward incline. This meant I did not have to step on the brakes all the time when going down steep hills. I just wished, however, that the transmission delivered smoother downshifts.
Like all Minis, the Clubman also has three driving modes to choose from; Green, Mid and Sport. This can be activated by twisting the ring around the gear selector. From its namesake, Green sets the powertrain in its most fuel efficient mode while Sport configures the engine and transmission at their most aggressive. Mid, on the other hand, acts as the go-between, setting the car with just the right amount of pep. Personally, I always put the car on Mid as I find Green and Sport too extreme from both ends of the spectrum.
Exceptional handling is always expected from any hot hatch and the Clubman is no different. I have to thank our photographer, Kelvin, for suggesting we take the car to Tanay where we were able to experience the go kart-like handling Minis are always known for.
With an uprated suspension, stiffer dampers and sticky Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires, the Clubman felt right at home among the many twisties and bends of Tanay. Carving through the mountain road was a thrilling experience with the Mini as I felt directly connected with the car. It may sound cliché but this is a point and shoot car through and through. Turn the wheel in and the car follows through with no delay.
What's the downside of having a stiff suspension setup? You guessed it, a harsher ride. Don't get me wrong, I will always appreciate cars that can turn on a dime, but if you're the kind that drives to work daily, the Cooper Clubman with its softer damping has a nicer ride.
Fuel economy was not on top of our list of concerns when we test drove the Clubman Cooper S. But for those interested, the hatchback is capable of averaging around 7 km/l in the city. Take it out on the highway and it will return about 11 – 12 km/l, depending on how much fun you're having fun with the car.
So, the all-new Clubman is bigger, more practical, gets off the line quicker and can actually fit three full-sized adults at the back with enough luggage to spare. All well and good but has the company created a leviathan masquerading as a Mini? No they have not.
Sure it may look big but it still has the same characteristics of the smaller hatchback models. The increase in size was needed to make the Clubman a more practical choice without penalizing performance. It's for those that want a hot hatch and a family hatchback in one.
Retailing for PhP 3,300,000, the top-of-the-range Cooper S Clubman is quite the investment but if you're the kind that wants to ferry the family in a hot hatch including the kitchen sink, then this Mini can fulfill that duty.