The wheelbase was lengthened 3.1 inches, while the rear cargo area was stretched 6.3 inches. At a glance, it may not appear to be radically different from its Coupe siblings, but there's a mini-suicide door on the right side, just aft of the passenger door, and at the rear are two additional framed doors that open outwardly to their respective sides from the center, equipped with gas-assisted struts. Initially, there appears to be but one handle, while it's actually two separate handles designed to look as one.
The engine sits sideways up front beneath the bonnet. They are the same 1.6-liter inline, 16-valve four cylinder units for both the Cooper and Cooper S, but with a distinct difference. The Cooper or base engine is naturally aspirated producing 118 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque, with a single right side exhaust pipe, while the Cooper S four-banger employs a twin-scroll turbocharger for induction purposes, and delivers 172 horses and 177 pound-feet of torque, with split dual exhaust tips.
All MINIs are front-wheel drive with either a six-speed manual gearbox with a sport mode, or an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters as well as a sport mode. The basic suspension componentry consists of independent MacPherson spring struts up front, and an independent multi-link setup in the rear with an anti-roll bar. There are obvious and notable differences in the suspension tuning between the Cooper and Cooper S models, along with varying wheel and tire sizes.
The Clubman features power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes (vented up front) with ABS, EBD, CBC and ASC. The Clubman weighs from 112 to 116 pounds more than other MINIs, depending upon the model.
Despite the fact that the Clubman is larger and comes with some new technologies, it continues to provide the same driving fun. The MINI "youification" ideology continues, supported by the ability to individualize one's MINI with - the manufacturer claims - more than 150 trillion possible feature and equipment combinations with 80 stand-alone features and packages.
The base price for the Cooper Clubman is $20,600, while the Cooper S starts out at $24,100; both prices include the $650 destination charge. I was afforded the opportunity to drive both models under various conditions, including twisting back roads and freeways and even a gymkhana course, in a comparison between the current MINI Coupe and the new Clubman, which demonstrated no compromises in performance or handling. In fact, I felt that the Clubman was smoother through the course due to its longer wheelbase, but perhaps not quite as quick around really tight turns for the same reason.
My first longer-term test MINI Clubman was in Cooper trim, finished outside in a Nightfire Red metallic and Silver metallic two-tone theme. The base sticker was set at $19,950, while the final tally came to $22,960 after adding the destination charge and optional automatic transmission, dual sun roof and chrome mirror caps. I later was afforded the opportunity to experience more seat time in a Cooper S version finished outside in Lightning Blue metallic and silver with rallye stripes and Union Jack mirror caps and quarter badges. Included in the inventory were a blue leather and Carbon Black cloth seating feature, and Clubman Launch Package, the Premium Package, Sport Package, Limited Slip differential, Chrome Line interior appointments and exterior enhancements and white turn-signal lights, which contributed to a final price of $29,700.
Piloting the MINI Cooper Clubman is every bit as fun as the Coupe. The Cooper version Clubman is quick enough in its own right, but the Cooper S model is capable of trimming roughly three seconds off the base car's 0 to 60 mph time. The handling characteristics are indicative of a sports car, and the ride quality benefits from the extended wheelbase. The electro-hydraulic and power-assisted steering (operated by a separate motor and not the engine) feels a little numb at first but ultimately delivers a tight, rapid response and accurate, on-center feel with only two-and-a-half turns lock-to-lock. Equal length drive shafts significantly reduce torque steer.
The new MINI Clubman still manages to offer a form that's reminiscent of the original, with short, almost nonexistent overhangs and a boxlike greenhouse with a roof that seems to float without support above the glass enclosure with blacked-out pillars. The bonnet features cutouts for the headlamps, which appear as holes when opened, with the rear doors each having a cutout for the taillamps.
The MINI Clubman is just as capable of scooting around an autocross course in go-kart-like fashion as is the rest of the MINI stable. So regardless of your model choice, MINI delivers fun, economy and fun.
2008 MINI Cooper Clubman
Base price: $19,950
Price as tested: $22,960
Engine/transmission: 1.6 liter, 118 horsepower I-4; six-speed automatic with manual shift capability
Wheelbase: 100.3 inches
Width: 66.3 inches
Height: 56.1 inches
Curb weight: 2,800 pounds
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons
Fuel consumption: 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway