First Drive: 2016 MINI Cooper D Clubman

Test Drives | December 15th, 2015 by 12
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Leaving behind the general idea that a car wearing the MINI badge also has to be minuscule in size, the Clubman was introduced by the …

Leaving behind the general idea that a car wearing the MINI badge also has to be minuscule in size, the Clubman was introduced by the British brand as a bold step in an entirely different direction. Presented as the company’s first ever ‘premium compact model’, a lot of eyebrows were raised when the size of the thing was mentioned.

Sitting at 4,252 mm (167.4 inches) in length, it is now the biggest car the Oxford-based manufacturer put into production, overtaking the Countryman that falls short with its 4,133 mm (162.7 inches). Yes, this is the biggest MINI ever made and it’s not shy about showing itself in front of you in all its glory.

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EXTERIOR DESIGN

The moment you look at it, a couple of interesting things are instantly noticeable. First of all, the design doesn’t necessarily strike you as interesting. The same old approach was taken here, bloating and stretching the old MINI design of the hatch to fit a much larger body.

It’s not necessarily ugly but more like unbefitting, for a car so big to be wearing the same design cues as a MINI. Furthermore, since MINI had the courage to leave old misconceptions behind, maybe they could’ve worked harder on the exterior design of the Clubman. Notice how we’re only referring to the exterior. There’s a reason for that and we’ll get into more details in a minute.

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Round the back is where you’ll notice a new take on the taillights and that’s something we can wholeheartedly agree with. The new lamps have a different design, one that sets the Clubman apart from the rest of the range but most of the attention of the onlooker will definitely go to the trademark barn-style doors that have been the defining signature of the car ever since it was initially launched.

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They have been kept on and are truly the one thing that set this car apart from anything else in the segment. The loading floor is flush and loading things in the back will be an easy task. Being able to open them by kicking your foot under the rear bumper is another interesting trick, even though it can be tiresome at times. That’s because you’ll need to do it twice, once for each door, if you want to access the entire boot. Furthermore, you’ll need to make sure you have about 22 inches left behind your car when parking, to make sure you can actually open them. That’s something you really can’t overlook.

INTERIOR DESIGN

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Once inside you’ll notice that the designers actually wanted customers to feel like they are sitting in the most expensive model of the range today. Being based on the same UKL platform as the rest of the new cars launched in the last two years, this MINI has plenty of space to offer inside.

Breaking automotive customs and taboos isn’t an easy thing to do but the Brits are definitely not going to give in and they have created an incredibly spacious cabin inside the new Clubman.

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Two six-foot people can sit behind each other without any issues and even travel long distances together, a feat that says a lot about how the car was designed in the first place. Up front, the dash has a fresh feel to it and it’s drastically different from what the hardtop versions are offering.

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Glossy black trims decorate the cabin and, even though some things were kept intact such as the infotainment screen and the airplane-style toggles on the center console, the novelties give you a whole new feeling.

We absolutely loved the circular trim piece that goes from right under the windscreen around the side air vents and then under the dash trims. We also fell in love with the new shape of the trims used on the door panels that have LED lights behind them that can change color and create a cozy feeling at night.

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The Harman Kardon sound system is also worth a special mention, coming with big speakers on the door panels with huge grilles that even go around the door opening handles and create a charming overall look.

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Furthermore, the center console was redesigned and accessing the MINI Connected controls (that are basically the same as BMW’s iDrive setup) is no longer a pain if you also want to use the armrest. That’s an issue inside the new MINI models that have the touch-sensitive controller placed down on the floor and reaching it with the armrest in place can become a hassle.

The rest of the dash is mainly intact, with the same speedometer and rev counter as on the rest of the range being used. The gearbox lever is identical as well, with the only remaining difference being the glovebox that is now sitting under the trim of the dash, just like it would on any other car, unlike on the Hardtop.

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Our tester also came with a panoramic roof that didn’t seem to cut too much into the headroom and was a treat to use, especially during sunny days. Furthermore, it felt as if it made the whole cabin feel more airy thanks to the rays of sun coming in through the roof. We highly recommend it.

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The rear bench offers plenty of head and leg room, even in this configuration, but we did find the seats extremely firm for some reason. The backrests were absolutely fine but over a longer drive, the bottoms of the rear passengers started getting sore due to what felt like insufficient padding. Maybe it was a one-off issue but it really did cause some aches over a six-hour long trip.

That’s the only complaint regarding the inside of the Clubman we could come up with, though. Everything else was on par with what we expected from a premium offering. The materials were nice to the touch, the leather soft and chrome details here and there offered an exquisite feeling.

DRIVING DYNAMICS

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How about the driving then? How does the drastic increase in size and weight (as this car tipped the scale at 1,435 kg) affect the ‘typical MINI driving feel’? Well, let’s just say we weren’t blown away.

The Cooper D we tested comes with a new-age B47 2-liter 4-cylinder diesel engine tuned to make 150 HP and 330 Nm (243 lb-ft) of torque which is enough if you only want to take your kids to school and go grocery shopping with it. Hooked up to an optional six-speed automatic gearbox, we didn’t feel all that fast reaching 100 km/h (62 mph) from a standstill in 8.5 seconds, even though it’s not a feat to overlook easily.

The engine feels solid, especially under 3,500 RPM, where it pulls strong, even better than we expected. Taking it over that threshold, though, doesn’t bring forward the added performance you’d expect. Furthermore, the driving modes didn’t really seem to affect the way the engine/gearbox combo responded.

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Maybe it was only our tester but we didn’t notice any real difference in the way the car accelerated when using the Mid or Sport modes. Sure, the steering got heavier and the dampers harder and you could feel them, easily, but regarding power delivery, nothing changed.

It’s a whole different story with the Green mode, though. That, when activated, will transform your car into an eco-friendly snail. To each his own, though, and we did manage to reach 30 mpg (7.8 l/100 km) on average driving around town using this mode which isn’t bad at all.

However, that figure will vary by a considerable amount if you plan to use the Clubman for its added practicality. The boot offers 360 liters of cargo volume with the rear seats up (which can be folded in a 40:20:40 split) and goes up to 1,250 liters with them down. That’s enough to fit plenty of luggage in there if you plan to move out or something. Accessing all this space is easy too, thanks to the barn-style doors that will hinder your rearview mirror visibility, though.

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Outside the city confines, the car is more enjoyable to drive. Don’t get us wrong, you’ll navigate through narrow city streets with ease but somehow the Clubman feels a bit clumsy when it doesn’t have enough space to manifest itself.

On the open road, you’ll get to see just how pleasant things can get. The adaptive dampers in the Mid mode are a peach and they make long trips a pleasure. Chip in the impressive fuel consumption we recorded that sat around the 40 mpg figure most of the time (5.8 l/100 km) and you might just fall in love with the new Clubman.

You can even have fun with it in tight corners where you’ll start noticing that the UKL platform BMW developed has a lot of potential for its front-wheel drive vehicles. The Clubman has a wider track compared to the rest of the cars available in the line-up today and that allows it to do things it shouldn’t be capable of.

There is some body roll but for a car of this size and weight, the adaptive dampers do a darn good job at keeping it in check. Furthermore, the steering is providing a natural feeling even though it is electric. Turn-in is sharp and extremely quick just as we have been getting used on MINI models. Feedback is on the low side, but that won’t be a huge issue, I can assure you.

Our diesel engine didn’t provide too many thrills, but the Cooper S or the upcoming JCW model could be a different story altogether. Overall, we couldn’t help but the get the feeling that there’s a lot of potential here and with the right fine-tuning done to the chassis and suspension, the Clubman could have the edge over all of its competitors regarding driving engagement.

Promising news for the John Cooper Works model, then.

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However, we have a feeling that most customers won’t go for the hardcore offerings at the top of the trophic chain. Most of them will be looking at models such as the one we tested, especially in Europe as the US market will most likely not see any diesel engines included in the range.

Over on the Old Continent, compression-ignition power plants are still the best sellers in their respective realms and the Cooper D will most likely claim most of the sales. Even though at times, at higher speeds on the highway (over 62 mph) it did feel a bit underpowered, most buyers will find it sufficient for their daily needs.

The Cooper SD is a more tantalizing proposition, being equipped with the most powerful diesel engine the MINI brand has ever had on sale. Having 190 HP to rely on, it can also be equipped with an 8-speed automatic gearbox and it will be faster than it needs to, reaching 100 km/h (62 mph) in 7.4 seconds. However, it will cost a pretty penny extra and most customers won’t see the need for additional spending.

And why should you spend more on the engine when you can invest in optional features that will truly make your experience with the car more enjoyable? The Navigation system is a must if you ask us, as is the Harman Kardon sound system that delivers a clear, crisp sound which is most impressive. As a matter of fact, we’d go as far as claiming that MINI’s implementation of this sound system is better than the one offered by BMW on a range of models.

You might also want to get the optional Sport seats you see in the photos below as they are truly relaxing and offer plenty of bolstering for any given situation.

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So what’s the catch? Well, there’s really no catch implied when discussing the Clubman. The biggest car the MINI brand has ever made came out with a bold attitude and a design that sets it apart and makes it a part of the MINI range at the same time. Quite the paradox, right?

Its biggest advantage is the interior that is truly something to behold, feeling fresh and bringing a new interpretation to what we’ve been getting used to on hardtops in the last two years. Factor in the added space and the possibility of traveling in comfort with three adults (who can be tall, by the way) alongside you and this is a tantalizing proposition if you’re in love with MINI’s design and appeal.

Old-school fans of the brand will see it as the Antichrist, deeming the Clubman the worst thing ever to happen to the auto industry since its birth. But those with a more open mind will understand that just because a brand’s name is “MINI” it doesn’t automatically imply that all of its cars should be petite in size.

Leaving preconceptions behind was never an easy thing to do but it is hard to fault the Clubman for things it’s not necessarily guilty of.

Leaving behind the general idea that a car wearing the MINI badge also has to be minuscule in size, the Clubman was introduced by the British brand as a bold step in an entirely different direction. Presented as the company’s first ever ‘premium compact model’, a lot of eyebrows were…

2016 MINI Clubman

Exterior Appeal - 8
Interior Quality - 8
Steering Feedback - 8.5
Performance - 8.5
Handling - 8.5
Price Point - 8

8.3

The biggest car the MINI brand has ever made came out with a bold attitude and a design that sets it apart and makes it a part of the MINI range at the same time.

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