Pros: Excellent engines; good fuel economy; sharp handling; very versatile for its size
Cons: Somewhat awkward proportions; ergonomically challenging; stiff ride with sport package; base engine feels a bit taxed
What's New: Bluetooth now standard; Sirius optional; reshuffled option packages
The 2013 MINI Clubman, also called the Cooper Clubman, is basically a Cooper hardtop with an extra 3.2 inches of length between the front and rear wheels and another six inches behind the rear wheels. This gives the MINI adult-size legroom in the backseat and much more cargo space. It also employs a nifty rear-hinged third door on the passenger's side and barn-door-style cargo doors. In other words, the Clubman is a MINI Cooper for small families, not just single slingers.
The good news is that, aside from being a little heavier, the Clubman is every bit a MINI Cooper from behind the wheel, with the same energetic character and sports-car-like agility. On the other hand, the base engine that serves other MINIs is somewhat overwhelmed here. Also, the Clubman's looks aren't for everyone, and it tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it design proposition.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 MINI Clubman is offered in three trim levels: base, S and John Cooper Works. Standard features follow the same program as the regular Cooper lineup. The base Cooper Clubman ($20,400) includes 15-in alloy wheels, ambient interior lighting with variable color, height-adjustable front seats, leatherette upholstery, power accessories, a leather-wrapped tilting and telescoping multifunction steering wheel, keyless push-button ignition, a sport button that enhances steering and throttle response, a trip computer and a 6-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input and HD radio.
The Cooper S Clubman ($25,100) has 16-in alloy wheels and adds a turbocharged engine, a hood scoop, a black mesh grille, fog lamps, a rear spoiler, dual exhaust pipes that are split to the sides rather than center-mounted, sport front seats and alloy pedals.
The John Cooper Works Clubman ($32,300) features numerous performance-oriented upgrades, including a more powerful turbocharged engine, 17-in alloy wheels, Brembo brakes, a special sport-tuned suspension and various exterior and interior styling flourishes. Its standard electronic limited-slip program, called Electronic Differential Lock Control, is an option on lesser Clubman models.
MINI allows you to personalize your Clubman to your heart's content. Some highlights from the dizzying options list are 17-in alloys, a sport package with a stiffer suspension, xenon headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, a navigation system with a 6.5-in display, leather upholstery, Recaro sport seats and a premium Harman Kardon audio system. There also seem to be endless combinations of colors, special trim items and wheel designs.
The base Clubman's standard front seats are rather flat. (We recommend going for the optional contoured sport seats, which are standard on the Cooper S Clubman.) The chair-like driving position, however, gives the driver a remarkably grand view of the surroundings. As in the regular Cooper, the pedals are perfectly placed, and the tilting and telescoping steering wheel falls right to hand.
Alas, the audio and climate controls are not arranged as ideally, and certain controls employ stylish yet frustrating toggle switches rather than proper knobs or buttons. Material quality is also spotty. We enjoy the enormous center-mounted speedometer.
Compared with the regular Cooper's backseat, the Clubman's is limousine-like. The backseat still only seats two, but those passengers can be a pair of 6-footers, no sweat. The front passengers probably won't even have to slide their seats forward to free up more legroom. The bottom cushions are low, so those 6-footers may find their knees pointing skyward, but at least they'll fit. They should be comfortable for more than just a few miles too. Access through the reverse-opening club door isn't as simple as a regular door, but reasonably limber passengers shouldn't have a problem.
Open up those delivery-van-like doors in the back and you'll find 9.2 cu ft of cargo space, which still isn't huge, though it's a 50 percent improvement over the regular Cooper. Fold the rear seats down to access 32.8 cu ft -- significantly more than the regular Cooper's 24.
For 2013, MINI finally made Bluetooth connectivity standard across its lineup. We'd like MINI to work on its stereo selections, however, as even the upgraded Harman Kardon stereo leaves us unimpressed. We do approve of a nifty option called MINI Connected, which adds an attractive information and entertainment display inside that massive speedometer and gives iPhone users access to an app that can integrate Facebook, Twitter, Internet radio and a variety of other services. Navigation can be added to MINI Connected as well.
Performance & Fuel Economy
All MINI Coopers have front-wheel drive and come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission. A 6-speed automatic is optional on all Coopers for 2013, including, for the first time, the John Cooper Works models. Cooper S and John Cooper Works models include paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
The base Cooper Clubman is powered by a 1.6-liter inline-4 rated at 121 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque. This is a surprisingly entertaining engine in the regular Cooper, but the Clubman weighs 150 to 200 pounds more. You can tell the weight is putting extra strain on those 121 horses, especially with the power-sapping automatic transmission.
Given the extra weight, we think the Cooper S Clubman's turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-4 makes more sense. With output ratings of 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque -- 192 for short bursts in overboost mode -- the turbo motor makes sure you always have torque on demand and makes the extra weight feel less apparent.
The John Cooper Works gets an upgraded version of the 1.6-liter turbo with 208 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque (207 hp during overboost mode). You can definitely feel the power upgrade in JCW models. Even so, we doubt this is the best way to spend an extra $7,200.
Fuel economy is 27 mpg city/35 mpg highway for all Clubman models except the automatic Cooper S, which gets 26/34 mpg, and the John Cooper Works, which is rated at 25/33 mpg. Yes, that means the manual Cooper S Clubman gets the exact same fuel economy as the non-turbo models. That's all the more reason to upgrade, if possible.
The 2013 MINI Cooper Clubman comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front side, full length, side curtain).
The Clubman had not yet been crash tested stateside as of this writing.
The MINI Cooper Clubman is certainly bigger than the regular MINI. But make no mistake, it's not that much longer. Thus, other than being a little slower off the line than comparable MINI Cooper hardtop models, the Clubman behaves almost identically to its smaller siblings. In other words, it is all sorts of fun, and delivers the same quick steering and throttle responses when you hit the Sport button, which we recommend doing every time you start the car. For better or worse, it also features the same firm, noisy ride. If you specify the even stiffer sport suspension and/or the 17-in wheels, don't say we didn't warn you.
Other Cars to Consider
Audi A3 - If your Clubman's projected price is creeping into the high $20,000s or above, consider the base Audi A3 ($27,270), which provides satisfying turbo power in a premium but more traditional package.
Volkswagen GTI - Featuring basically the same engine as the A3, the GTI ($23,995) is another enticing option among premium hatchbacks. It has less adrenaline in its veins than the Clubman, but the overall driving experience is more refined.
Kia Sportage - Technically a compact crossover SUV, the Sportage ($19,000) has crisp styling along with an available 260-hp turbocharged inline-4 that'll knock the Clubman's socks off.
As with the regular model, our choice would be the Cooper S Clubman with the standard suspension, 16-in wheels and manual transmission. That turbocharged engine really puts the Clubman in its element, but we could do without most of the optional goodies.