The MINI has a slot in my dream garage. There's only room for about five vehicles (how many cars and trucks do you need) and the MINI is one of them.
We fell in love with the car the first time we drove it which was several years ago in the dead of winter. To its credit, BMW, which owns the MINI brand, did not mess it up. It labels the British icon as the world's only "small premium car."
That may a bit much. But the MINI had panache, it had flair, it was quick, it handled really well, it was stylish, it was really fun to drive, it was economical and it was relatively cheap.
One reason you don't see that many MINIs is that BMW has resisted market forces, stuck to its North America allotment of about 35,000 sales a year and it has sold every MINI headed to these shores without incentives since 2002.
Anyway, I had one real problem with the original MINI and the MINI Clubman takes care of it nicely. In a word, we're talking space, or, the lack of it.
When I picked up the original car at the airport, I had a really oversized duffle bag. I had to lower the back of back seat to get the thing in the car and once in there wasn't much room for anything else.
The back seat of the MINI is laughable. Although it looks like it can hold four passengers, common sense and the laws of physics say you get two people in the car. Well, the MINI Clubman takes care of that short coming. It's bigger.
The Clubman's wheelbase has been increased a mere 8 centimetres or 0.31 inches more than the regular MINI. But the Clubman is 9.4 inches longer than the original car.
So its now sold as a five-seater with rear seat passengers having more than 3.15 inches more legroom that in the regular MINI. What's more, there is 9.1 cu ft of cargo space behind the rear seats.
An innovation is that the rear-seat backrest may be partially or fully tilted down. With the seat backs fully lowered the MINI Clubman's cargo space increases to 32.6 cu ft. Now that's some room.
But the real news is access. The MINI HATCH provides split rear door access to the cargo area. Access to the rear seats is facilitated by an additional door, called the Clubdoor; it's hinged at the back on the right-hand side of the car.
In other words, although it is a subcompact car, the MINI Clubman has five doors.
Like the MINI, there are two versions of the MINI Clubman. The MINI Cooper S Clubman is powered by a dual turbocharged 175 hp four cylinder engine that can scoot the car from a standstill to 62 mph in 7.6 seconds. Top speed is139 mph. What's more, the MINI Cooper S Clubman gets a miserly 29 miles per gallon.
The MINI Cooper Clubman gets an even more economical 37 miles per gallon. Its four cylinder engine, without turbochargers, makes 120 horsepower and from a standing start can move the car to 62 mph in 9.1 seconds. Top speed is 126 mph.
The power plants can be mated to either a six speed manual gearbox or a six speed automatic. In the case of the manual transmission, it has a gas saving auto stop function: the car shuts off when idle. The MINI Clubman also has a five star European crash rating.
We were particularly pleased with its USB interface. This connection charges the compatible Apple iPhone while driving and an Apple iPod. Other MP3 players can be fully integrated into the MINI's audio system via the USB audio interface.
Of course, the car has Bluetooth which turns any compatible cell phone into a hands free car phone. Prices start at $20,600 for the MINI Clubman and $24,100 for the MINI Cooper S Clubman.
I'm prejudiced but the MINI might be the best, fuel efficient, reasonably priced, and fun to drive every day driver on sale in the North American Market. If you don't believe me, go see for yourself.