Ask a MINI fan to describe the most un-MINI-like MINI they can imagine and it’s possible they’d describe be an all-wheel drive, automatic Clubman. The new, second-generation MINI Clubman is far larger than before, and actually quite big for a MINI, and has DNA rooted more in luxury and maturity, rather than the juvenile fun that MINIs are more known for. So we decided to give it a test and see what this new MINI Cooper S Clubman ALL4 is like and if it strays too far from the brand’s values.
Last year, one of the most fun cars I had the privilege of driving was the MINI John Cooper Works Hardtop. That little car was a flipping riot. It wasn’t the fastest hot hatch I’ve ever driven and it wasn’t the most impressive but it might have been the most fun. Everything about that car was made with a sense of humor and fun. Its nippy handling, sharp steering, stiff ride and hilarious poppy and burbly exhaust made it feel like a tiny rally car. I loved it and it was the last MINI I’d driven until recently. So when I got into the Clubman for the first time, I was almost a bit disappointed.
Start it up and the engine comes to life with almost a diesel-like thrum. It isn’t loud or manic like the JCW. There’s a cold, almost Germanic efficiency to the way this engine sounds (which makes sense, as it comes from BMW). The automatic gearbox doesn’t help the cause, either. While the eight-speed Aisin unit is a fine transmission, one that’s probably only second to the ZF-sourced unit in most BMW products, it just doesn’t feel right in a MINI. It shifts perfectly smoothly and fast enough but it lacks the sort of fun-factor we were hoping for. There’s something fundamentally wrong about a MINI with an automatic transmission, even if it’s a good one.
The engine itself, BMW’s 2.0 liter TwinPower B48 four-cylinder, is actually a good little motor. Making just 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, the MINI Cooper S Clubman isn’t fast. With the automatic transmission, 0-60 mph comes in a claimed 6.6 seconds (6.7 with a manual), which felt about right. While that’s not fast by today’s standards, it was enough to be fun and it made a decent enough noise at high rpm. But it ultimately lacks a bit of character until the revs climb quite close to redline. Despite its lack of performance compared to the 2.0 liter, I actually like the 1.5 liter three-cylinder engine in the base ‘Cooper’ model better. Neither car is fast so you might as well get the engine with the most MINI-like character and the little three-banger is it.
In terms of fuel economy, typically a MINI strong suit, the Cooper S Clubman wasn’t that impressive. My lead-foot typically gets in the high-twenties, in terms of mpg, with MINIs, thanks to their tiny engines. However, the extra heft of the Clubman and its all-wheel drive system meant that I only recorded 24 overall mpg and just barely. Plus, it has a relatively small fuel tank, so there was a lot more refueling than expected.
Though, the more I spent time with the little hatchback/wagon, the more I liked it. The steering is delightfully accurate, though a bit numb, and inputs are translated well to the road. The front end seems to have almost endless grip and the little Clubman refused to understeer until flat-out dangerous speed. A lot of that has to do with the ALL4 all-wheel drive system, which sends some power to the rear wheels to help the car rotate. It actually does work quite well and doesn’t ruin the experience of driving a MINI like I feared it would. It was a welcome surprise.
To test out the ALL4 system, we took the Clubman to some twisty roads up in the hills of Watchung, NJ. There was some snow on the ground and the roads were slippery and damp. Yet the MINI Clubman never lost its grip or composure. It always felt solid and stable, nipping through some tight turns at speed that genuinely impressed. On some runs up and down one of the best roads I’ve ever seen in NJ, I was able to completely outrun every car on the road with ease, despite the slippery conditions, and it never felt nervous and always inspired confidence.
Out on open road, the MINI Cooper S Clubman really does shine. It’s smooth, composed, relatively supple and rock-solid stable, even at high speed. Cars with short wheelbases aren’t typically great at high speed, with tendencies to jump around and feel twitchy. However, there were times I eclipsed speeds I’d rather not share without even noticing because the Clubman felt so stable. Our test car didn’t have the optional Dynamic Damper Control adaptive dampers (a $500 option and well worth it), so the ride was a bit firm but never felt out of sorts.
It’s also quite comfortable as well. While the ride on the firm side, with the standard dampers (something that’s quelled by DDC), the cabin is nice, with rich materials at almost every touch-point, and is actually quite luxurious. Our test car came fitted with the standard seats, which were actually too firm for long journeys. During short trips, they’re fine and they hold you in quite well during aggressive driving but can start to hurt after a couple of hours of driving. It’s definitely worth upgrading to better seats, specifically the Chesterfield Leather seat option, which I’ve personally used and are fantastic. But, overall, the MINI Cooper S Clubman is a very comfortable way to travel.
And that’s really the point of the Clubman, it’s the grown up MINI. It doesn’t have the hilarious character of a regular Cooper, especially a JCW, but it’s the car for MINI fans that need some more space, some more comfort and more practicality. Fans that have young families or a more active lifestyle that need the extra rear seat space and cargo room are exactly who the Clubman is targeting. Admittedly, the barn doors aren’t the most practical of rear door options, being that if a modestly-sized car parks behind it you won’t be able to open the doors, but they look damn cool, so there is still some MINI-DNA in it.
While the ALL4 all-wheel drive system might anger the MINI-faithful, it actually proved to be a welcome companion. It never felt wrong in the Clubman and actually allowed for more fun driving in slippery condition, while helping eliminate understeer quite a bit. Plus, it gives a bit of piece-of-mind to drivers with small children in the car in conditions that might make a two-wheel drive car nervous.
So that’s what the MINI Cooper S Clubman ALL4 is all about. No, it isn’t the most MINI-like car to ever come from Oxford. In fact, on paper at least, it’s downright blasphemous to brand-faithful types. However, as the “Practical MINI”, the Cooper S Clubman ALL4 is hard to fault. During the daily grind, it’s quiet, comfortable, luxurious, practical and safe, allowing a young parent to get their kids to school, pick them up, take them to soccer practice and handle the daily commute with ease. But, when they’re alone and the road opens up or gets twisty, it can easily provide the fun needed to unwind from a long day. It may not be the most pure MINI experience, but this is a new kind of MINI for a more open-minded fan.