More to Love
Steve Schaefer, Thu, 7 Aug 2008 08:00:00 PDT
Since 2002, the new MINI has given car buyers around the world something unique, a car that's cute but tough, small but powerful, sporty but also economical. Now, the new Clubman adds "roomy" to that description.. We all know why.
The original Mini, which debuted 50 years ago, was very tiny. Besides a two-door hatchback, it came in the extended Traveler and Countryman models in the 1960s and later, as the original Clubman. Like a station wagon, the Clubman extends the rear area for more space and practicality, and provides two rear doors that swing open to the sides, like those in a barn.
The new Clubman extends the regular MINI's modest wheelbase by 3.2 inches and overall length by 9.4 inches. That makes a significant difference. Add in a small rear-hinged "suicide" door on the right side, and it's now much easier for passengers to get into the back seat. Virtually all of that additional wheelbase went into rear legroom. Compared to the standard Cooper hatchback, cargo capacity behind the rear seat of the Clubman grows from 5.7 cubic feet to 9.18 cubic feet, and with the rear seat folded, from 24 to 32.8 cubic feet.
I tested my Lightning Blue Metallic test car by cramming all of my musical necessities into it, including a string bass, electric bass, two-piece 300-watt amplifier, music stands, bass stands, and the requisite 12-pack of beer. It all fit easily.ord vehicle.
MINIs are simply a blast to drive, so cute you want to hug them, and are stingy on gas and kind to the environment. My tester, an S model with 172 horsepower from its turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, flew from zero to 60 in seven seconds while getting an honest 29.1 miles per gallon. The EPA ratings are 26 City, 34 Highway. EPA Green Vehicle scores are 7 for Air Pollution and 8 for Greenhouse Gas, giving the car Smartway status.
If you don't mind getting to 60 mph in nine seconds instead, the naturally aspirated standard Clubman with 118 horsepower pushes those EPA ratings up to 28/37, and edges the Greenhouse Gas score up to a 9.site bed.
But the S is the way to go for maximum fun. My tester delivered the promised go-kart handling. The electric power-assisted steering helps a lot while parking but on the open road you're practically on your own. The optional sport suspension not only tightens up the handling but finesses the steering too. I applied it on a jaunt on curvy back roads and the little car tracked straight and true at speeds well above the posted limits (I'll keep the location and specific figures to myself).
From the front, the Clubman model looks the same as a hatchback, except that the edges of the roof are slightly raised. The rear part of the car is completely different, but still conveys the chunky, bulldog stance.MINIs are built in Oxford, UK, and use French engines and some German parts. The company is actually part of BMW, which is a very good thing, because that's where the joy of driving and upscale materials come from. I dubbed my Clubman the "BMW .5 Series."
Despite its size, the MINI has little in common with, say, a KIA Rio. MINI owners are not motivated by price, but they appreciate the economy of ownership. And the design, inside and out, is unique and even whimsical. Do you really need a centrally located 8-inch-diameter speedometer? The seatbelt reminder chime makes a boop boop boop sound that's worthy of Hello Kitty. My car even had Union Jacks on the mirrors!Clubmans cost more than standard Coopers. The base vehicle starts at $19,950, plus $650 destination charge. The S model, like my tester, starts at $23,450 (plus destination). The word "starts" is very relevant with MINIs, because there is a nearly unlimited ability to customize and personalize your car. That's why so many MINIs are ordered from the factory rather than being adopted directly from a dealership.
My tester, at $29,700, included $500 for the special metallic paint; $1,000 for handsome blue leather/black cloth seats; $1,500 for a premium package with giant sunroof, climate control, and upgraded audio system; $500 for a limited-slip differential; and $500 for the shiny chrome line interior and exterior. Add the John Cooper Works power package and you could be looking at nearly $40,000. The base Cooper hatchback starts at $18,000.
But what price is fair for a car you can love and feel good about driving? Other than hybrids, there's little that can touch it for economy and environmental sensitivity short of riding in a vanpool. It doesn't take up much parking space. It just takes up a lot of space in your heart.