After perhaps being over-expanded in the last generation into too many niche vehicles, Mini is turning back the focus on its key competencies - style and fun. Proof of this is in the all-new Mini Cooper Clubman.
Initially launched as a nod to the Traveller variant of the 1960s, it had a longer body than the standard hatch, rear barn doors, and a small suicide door for the second row passengers. It had a few fans, yet the long body penalized its handling, and that little suicide door did little to help the entry and egress of rear passengers.
That, and then some, has all been addressed with this all-new model, launched just recently, and serving as the envoy of a more mature, practical, yet still stylish Mini identity.
For starters, the new Clubman (codenamed F54) has grown dramatically. It's no longer a stretched Mini 3-door hatch, being on a newer, wider platform shared with the BMW 2-series Active Tourer. This allows it to fit proper doors (on both sides) for the rear passengers, helps it retain visually pleasing Mini proportions, as well as give occupants more room, both for themselves and their cargo.
Like the hatch, it retains that trademark bulldog façade, with more steeply raked headlights and a protruding grille. Instead of a quarter panel, rear passengers get proper doors and windows. Gone is the color keyed D-pillar in favor of a blacked out one which maintains the 'floating-roof' look. Tail lights now stretch across the barn doors, making it distinct from the rest of the Minis from afar.
Like its stablemates, the Clubman has a modern and youthful cockpit, changing up your standard layout with a style that is uniquely Mini. Such examples are aircraft-style toggles instead of buttons, LEDs for a fuel gauge, volume levels, and even driving modes, and door handles that hark back to pedal-cars of yesteryear. Even the in-car entertainment system, controlled by a BMW-style i-Drive, features menus and options with less corporate jargon, making it far easier to understand.
Keep the smart key in your pocket and press down the red toggle in the center to bring the three-cylinder 1.5-liter turbo to life. Like the Active Tourer, it can generate a surprising 138 Ps with 220 Nm of torque, paired to a six-speed automatic.
Selecting one of the three driving modes is done by twisting the ring around the gear selector to either Sport, Mid, or Green modes. Glance at the center display and it explains rather adorably how the car will react. 'Mid' mode, gives the best mix of throttle response and efficiency. There's also the stop-start system that can be toggled on or off to aid fuel efficiency.
Twist it to Sport mode makes it far more responsive and fun. Simply floor it and the engine note becomes surprisingly throaty, like a refined four-banger from a 90's rally car. There's also some serious punch from the turbo from 3,000 rpm upwards.
Easily the most appreciated improvement in the Clubman is its handling. Its predecessor was prone to heavy understeer and lots of body roll. This new one, however, is leaps and bounds better. It feels just as sharp and zippy as its 3-door hatch brother, disguising the fact that it is a longer and wider 6-door. It stops impressively well too, keeping great control of that extra mass. The only downside is the rather stiff ride.
Finally, another feather in the Clubman's cap is its sheer practicality. The doors are spring loaded and swing out wide and upward with just a touch, be it on the handle or on the fob. They (both doors) can also be opened hands-free by performing a kicking motion under the bumper. The cargo space may seem small, visually, but is actually large enough to fit a full size baby stroller. Baby seats can also be attached easily, thanks to several points on the rear seat. Best of all, even packing the Clubman with four passengers is not as claustrophobic as it used to be. No more unintended shoulder rubbing with your passenger.
The short weekend jaunt with the Mini returned an impressive 9-km/L consumed in the City, rising to 13-km/L in the highway. This, combined with all the impressive improvements, make the Clubman a very practical model. At around P2.8 million, there's very little reason to lust after the small 3-door hatch or its 5-door derivative, when the Clubman offers the same driving fun with the space and practicality to do more.