Clubman provides MINIwith stylish practicality

MORE than just a longer MINI, the MINI Clubman delivers its extra practicality in style.

Wednesday, 6th April 2011, 9:54 am

The basics behind the success of the standard MINI are retained but the weird and wonderful access options, including a single suicide door on the right flank and double doors at the rear, mark this car out.

The MINI Clubman rides on MINI underpinnings so it’s safe to expect a driving experience in the same urgent and engaging ballpark.

Changes have, however, been made to the Clubman’s spring and damper rates as well as its suspension bushes to help cope with its additional bulk and slightly different remit.

The car uses the same range of 1.6-litre engines and model designations as the MINI, which means there’s a 98bhp unit in the One, a 1.6-litre 122bhp engine in the Cooper and a 184bhp 1.6-litre turbo unit in the Cooper S, which also features sporty suspension settings.

This engine develops 211bhp in the JCW flagship version. There’s now also a choice of two diesel units, a 90bhp version in the One and a 112bhp variant in the Cooper.

The Clubman is a five-door car but the doors aren’t exactly where you’d expect them to be. It’s business as usual at the front but access to the rear seating is through a single ‘suicide’ door on the right-hand side.

Hinged on its rearmost edge so that it opens in the opposite direction to the front doors, it’s positioned on the right-hand side of the Clubman and there’s no equivalent on the left. It means that rear seat passengers in right-hand drive markets like the UK are forced to exit into the road.

MINI recognises the problem but explains that shifting the rear door to the left would mean relocating the fuel filler cap, the costs of which would be “prohibitive”. At the back, there’s more access fun and games.

The Clubman employs a pair of side-hinged doors reminiscent of the old Mini Traveller.

These are a key design feature of the car and the one that does most to differentiate Clubman from MINI. They feature cut-outs for the rear light clusters that mirror those in the bonnet.

With a longer wheelbase and around 2cm of extra roof height plus identical components as far back as the B-pillars, there doesn’t seem to be much scope for the Clubman to dramatically exceed the interior space of the MINI. Crucially though, it’s 24cm longer overall thanks to the extended rear overhang and that has helped BMW squeeze in 8cm of extra rear legroom while upping the boot capacity from a paltry 160 litres to a respectable 260. The rear seats take the form of a three-seater bench in the standard car but the standard MINI’s two-person pods can be reinstated as a no cost option if you don’t need the middle berth.

The combination of unorthodox access points is certainly interesting but there is a question over whether they add anything in practicality over the conventional five-door hatchback layout favoured by all the MINI’s rivals.

The rear door can only be opened once the front door ahead of it is too and then passengers are forced to exit into the road which is less than ideal.

What isn’t in doubt is that it will be the Clubman’s individual design and polished engineering that will seduce buyers.

Those who want a super-practical MPV should buy one. Those who want a MINI that’s a little more family-friendly have just met their match.