With a lineage that goes as far back as 1959, one can say that the Mini is more than a car, it's practically a British institution. The brainchild of Sir Alec Issigonis started out in life a simple commuter car but, throughout its life, the Mini has proven itself to be formidable competition car. It could be said that fun has always been part of Mini's DNA.
Admittedly, my experience with Minis are limited to parking and riding the classic ones. When Mini invited us to try out their newest car on track, I was naturally curious and the next thing I knew, I was preparing myself for a drive in Mini's newest baby at Clark International Speedway.
When I arrived at the track, it seemed like a regular track day albeit with various Minis and Mustangs running around the track and in the paddock was a line of all-new Cooper Clubmans.
First thing I noticed was the size of the second generation Cooper Clubman and boy has it grown up. No longer sporting the quirky suicide door set up, the new one came with four conventional doors while the split tailgate was its only connection to the previous generation model. Upon opening the doors, I noticed that they were rather heavy and gave a bank vault like sound when you close them. Normal in something like a luxury car but it got me thinking about the new Cooper Clubman's weight. I was starting to wonder how the extra kilograms would fare on the track. Of course, the folks at Mini assured us that it will still be a fun steer around Clark.
I decided to do a little more research on Mini's latest baby before we went in for track briefing. Like its three-door and five-door hatch counterparts, the Cooper Clubman is available in two powertrains. First is the turbocharged 1.5 liter three-cylinder mill and the other is the 2.0 liter which powers the Cooper Clubman S models. The three-cylinder motor puts up impressive power figures considering the lack of an extra piston. It produces 136 PS and 220 Nm of torque which is a significant bump from the old 1.6 liter that produced 120 PS and 160 Nm of torque. Meanwhile, the new Cooper Clubman S ditches the old turbocharged 1.6 liter which produced 184 PS and 260 Nm of torque. The new 2.0 liter engine now puts out 192 PS and 280 Nm of torque.
Before heading out on track, we were given simple track driving guidelines by Georges Ramirez such as properly taking a corner, how to tackle a slalom and gymkhana. Next thing I knew, I was in the driver's seat of the all-new Cooper Clubman. The first part was to get the initial feel of the track and was essentially a warm up lap. From there, I felt as though the three-cylinder motor was enough for the task of daily driving with a turbocharger that spools quickly when it comes to overtaking maneuvers. We took some corners at a faster pace and the wider stance of the new Cooper Clubman kept handling tidy and secure.
The pace picked up in the second half of the testing. We were to follow Stefan Ramirez in a three-door Mini for a fast lap in the east layout of Clark Speedway. Again, I was behind the wheel of the standard Cooper Clubman. While power was enough, I was itching for more because the chassis remained composed and balanced throughout the hot lap. I felt like the chassis can easily handle more power too.
Enter the Cooper Clubman S and it was quite the difference. It gets off corner exits with less effort and, thanks to the sport automatic transmission, was quicker to respond compared to its more pedestrian sibling. Handling felt more taut too, exhibiting less roll and more grip when taking on fast corners.
Just when we thought the activities for the day was over, Willy Tee Ten open up the track for all of us and all the cars on display were available for a test drive. Needless to say, my attention was drawn to the Cooper Clubman S yet again. With more seat time, I noticed it was easy to gain confidence driving this car fast. In all honesty, I was never really a believer in the post-millennium Minis but all that changed with this track day.
The experience erased any doubt that Mini's were no longer fun. I was ready to dismiss the new Cooper Clubman as just another front wheel drive wagon but playing with it on track made me think otherwise. At the risk of sounding cliché, it does have quick reflexes like a go-kart but also offers a healthy amount of refinement in the mix.
Bigger, more practical and grown up, the new Mini Cooper Clubman retains the sense of fun past Minis offered. No longer do you have to sacrifice practicality to have a fun daily driver and the new Cooper Clubman is proof that growing up doesn't confine you to being boring.