A maxi among MINIs: The 2016 Cooper S Clubman

Eggplant. That was the first word out of the mouth of the owner of the 401 Diner, where the guys meet for breakfast after hockey Wednesday and Friday mornings. It’s one of the more unusual words used to describe a car. It might have something to do with the Pure Burgundy Metallic paint job. There’s also an organic element to all the smooth curves that make up the body of the 2016 Mini Cooper S Clubman,

2016_Mini_Cooper_S_Clubman

First impressions

Eggplant wasn’t my first thought when I picked up the Clubman.

This is the maxi in the Mini lineup, what Mini calls its take on the British concept of “estate cars.” Call it a Mini all you want, but when you view it next to ordinary cars, calling it a Mini seems a stretch.

image courtesy MINI Canada

image courtesy MINI Canada

Regardless of the size, designers kept the distinct looks throughout, from the two “googly” headlights set in a rounded hood to the gumdrop side mirrors to the flat, different-coloured roof to the barn doors (what MINI calls “Split Doors”) at the rear, each with their own small windshield wiper, to the lack of a sharp crease anywhere on its body.

image courtesy MINI Canada

image courtesy MINI Canada

The wheels-at-the-corners stance keeps it go-kart-like in appearance, despite its length.

The sum of this car’s looks makes it, in the words of the aforementioned diner’s owner, a “cute car” and I can’t object to that. She rated it a 99.6% from the outside.

Interior

Once she sat inside, she rated the interior 100%. The Mini’s interior is an accumulation of many small, tasteful design touches.

You clue in before you even open a door. Unlock the car from a distance and an illuminated “Mini” logo appears on the ground outside the driver’s door to welcome you. I first found the Mini by pressing the lift gate button on the key fob. Even from a distance, I could spot the right “liftgate” door swing open. Another fob press and the left door swings open too.

In a car full of lovely little design details, the in-car luggage compartment release button is an incongruity. You need to reach under the wheel, close to where automakers normally put the hood release latch, to press this button. It isn’t overly inconvenient, but it doesn’t mesh with the thoughtful design apparent throughout the rest of the cabin.

Electric heated seats feature driver memory and extendable thigh supports, two of several welcome touches given to the Mini by parent company BMW. The seats don’t feature enough room for me to sit straight and not brush my hair on the ceiling. There’s a side sun visor that, when flipped to vertical, gives me just enough room to feel comfortable.

Electric seats are new to the Clubman, along with features like the electric parking brake and MINI Yours Interior Styles. Carbon Black Leatherette covers much of the spacious interior, with some chrome and piano black touches mixed in.

I could ramble on for a while about those design touches. Among my favourites:

  • a little Union Jack design sits on the steering wheel
  • the knob on the shifter for the 6-speed manual transmission is nearly the size of a tennis ball
  • reminiscent of aircraft cockpit design, fixed metal loops separate switches on the centre stack and the switches above the windshield that control interior lights and the panorama sunroof
  • the Start/Stop Engine switch is one of those centre stack switches
image courtesy MINI Canada

image courtesy MINI Canada

A heads-up display projection lens rolls up from the dash in front of the driver when the Mini powers on.
The space from which it emerges also contains the projector that flashes info on the lens, reflected in turn at the driver. I didn’t use it for much, since the info I needed was available on the tiny screen in the speedometer, so I used one of the centre stack switches to stow it away as I drove.

image courtesy MINI Canada

image courtesy MINI Canada

Hockey bag test

I managed to botch each shot I took of the luggage area. Suffice it to say the hockey bag fits in the back through the barn doors, leaving a few inches of room between it and the barn doors with the rear seats left up.

In-car technology

An 8.8” screen resides in a large circle at the top of the centre stack where fans of traditional Minis might expect an oversized speedometer. Aside from the hazard light switch at the top of this circle, everything else in it pertains to the infotainment system.

Anybody who knows the BMW system will at once be at home with this screen and its controls, even if it is more playfully presented. True to BMW form, this isn’t a touch screen. You control the system using the Mini Touch Controller, a disc-shaped device just ahead of the centre armrest. This controller serves as a dial, a button, a joystick and a spot to write letters with your finger. (I like using the latter feature when entering a destination in the navigation system.) Buttons ahead of and behind this controller lead to commonly used screens.

image courtesy MINI Canada

image courtesy MINI Canada

The ring around this circle flashes lights when you do certain things:

  • Turn up the volume and the lights in this ring illuminate in a clockwise direction.
  • Rev the engine and the ring’s lights show everybody else in the car your tach reading.
image courtesy MINI Canada

image courtesy MINI Canada

Rear park distance control proved quite conservative, droning insistently for me to stop when I had a few feet of clearance left. I guess that’s better than the alternative. Visibility out the rear and side of the Clubman was so good I didn’t often use the Mini’s parking aids to slide backwards into a parking spot.

Given this car’s attractiveness to tech-savvy younger buyers, I was surprised to see only one USB port built in. Promo photos show an insert for the “cigarette lighter” socket that turns it into two USB charging ports. Still…

Driving

A 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine puts out 189 horsepower and torque of 207 ft-lb ( 221 ft-lb with overboots). BMW claims the Clubman “sprints” from 0-100 km/h in 7.2 seconds (automatic: 7.1 seconds). The word “sprint” is a good one: this car is quick off the line.

The Mini Cooper Clubman (no “S”) ships with a 1.5- litre 3-cylinder engine, providing 134 horsepower and torque of 162 ft-lb (170 ft-lb with overboots).

For a stretch, I reviewed only manual-transmission vehicles, and the Mini’s gearbox compares favourably to the best of them. The six-speed shifter glided from gear to gear, landing in its gates with palpable, reassuring (if quiet) thunks. The only issue was reverse gear. It takes a little movement up and down and some force to get the shifter to slide into reverse. I guess that’s what the manual meant by moving the shifter “dynamically” to put the car in reverse.

The small screen in the speedometer tells you the gear you’re in and suggests upshifting when it thinks you should. The car doesn’t feel like it’s working all that hard, though, and if you shift by sound as I do, you might be surprised by displays like “4 – 6.” (Currently in 4, shift up to 6.)

MINI introduced an optional 8-speed Steptronic transmission and an 8-speed Steptronic sports transmission with steering wheel shift paddles. The 8-speed Steptronic sports transmission also features Launch Control.

Available driving aids include:

  • Park Assist (not on my tester) to help people parallel (street) park the Mini
  • Camera-based Cruise Control (again, not on my tester) to allow drivers to set minimum following distances when they use cruise on the highway

Fuel economy

The Mini isn’t a cheap date. It wants at least 89 fuel, though it prefers 91 in its 50-litre tank. During my time with the Clubman, I averaged about 8.5 litres per 100 km.

Both the Cooper Clubman and Cooper S Clubman models are classified as SULEV (super ultra-low emissions vehicles. That classification doesn’t seem to depend on the drive mode you choose.

The Mini offers three drive modes: Sport, Green and Mid (the default at startup). In another inventive design touch, the switch to choose drive modes is a ring around the base of the shifter. You can guess what Sport does, although the acceleration is already noticeable in Mid mode.

Shift to Green mode and the centre screen says “MINImalism.” That pun isn’t as good as saying the address of BMW/Mini Canada’s head office is on Ultimate Drive.

In Green mode, the car reins in the A/C, stops the engine when the car is stopped and takes other measures to help cut fuel consumption. The Start/Stop feature stops the engine when you take the shifter out of gear (the speedometer display shows the letter “N”) and you let go of the clutch, which is a little different than how it works in an automatic variant.

In cars fitted with Steptronic transmissions, drivers can “coast.” The drivetrain is decoupled at speeds above 30 mph as soon as the driver’s foot is removed from the accelerator pedal. The new MINI Clubman then rolls at idling engine speed, saving more fuel.

Other equipment, though, might tempt you to not drive this vehicle fuel-efficiently. For instance, there’s the Dynamic trio: Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Traction Control and Dynamic Damping Control You may find that the car sticks to the ground and the power you send to the wheels is not wasted. Yes, temptation abounds in this driver’s seat…

Pricing

The MINI Cooper S Clubman starts at $28,990 MSRP. My tester, as equipped with several packages, freight and PDI, sells for $38,420.

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