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2016 Mini Cooper Clubman: First Drive Review

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author photo by Mark Elias December 2015

The 2016 Mini Clubman returns, this time as the flagship of the brand. Casually referred to as "the gentleman" by company insiders, it is slightly bigger than the model it replaces. Larger and more refined, it now joins the ranks of the premium compact segment.

But it wasn't always this way. Historically, the 2016 Mini Cooper Clubman has its roots in British Leyland's comparatively tiny original Mini Cooper Clubman, which launched in 1969 and continued until 1980. After BL's name change to Rover Group, the entire company was bought by BMW in 1994. BMW introduced the contemporary line of Mini vehicles in 2001, with the Mini Cooper Clubman returning to the lineup in 2007. It is still built in its ancestral home plant of Cowley, Oxford, in the U.K.

Bigger Is Better

Through the years, the Mini Cooper Clubman has grown up and out. It now goes from the subcompact car segment to compact. In fact, it is the biggest car Mini has ever produced. Still, it retains its transverse-mounted, front-wheel-drive layout that made the Mini a favorite in the first place.

While the Clubman will be available in other markets with diesel power, U.S. buyers will have just two choices of motivation. According to Mini Vice President of the Americas David Duncan, "The fuel efficiencies we get from the petrol engines diminish the need for alternative-style engines here in the States."

First up is the Mini Cooper Clubman with its inline 1.5-liter 3-cylinder turbocharged engine the Clubman shares with its cousin, the BMW 218i and the electrically assisted i8. This 3-pot gem of an engine produces 134 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque with a 0-to-60 miles per hour time of 8.9 seconds and a top speed of 127 mph. It is mated to the buyer's choice of a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ratings of 25 miles per gallon in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined.

Next is the Mini Cooper Clubman S version, with the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine producing 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. Found throughout the rest of the lineup of its BMW overlords, it is matched to a buyer's choice of a 6-speed manual or, for the first time in a Mini, an 8-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shift levers) jointly developed by BMW and Aisin. The automatic has been bolstered and beefed up and is now equipped with launch control for rapid starts. Mini says it's capable of 0-to-60 mph in 6.9 seconds, topping out at 142 mph. From a mileage standpoint, the EPA says to expect 22 mpg city/32 mpg hwy and 27 mpg combined with the manual, while automatic owners might see 24 mpg city/34 mpg hwy and 27 mpg combined. Company officials are quick to point out that Mini is the only brand in America to offer manuals or automatics throughout its entire lineup.

The Clubman's longer wheelbase includes new suspension geometry with electric power-assisted steering for improved high- and low-speed feel. Standard dampers can be replaced by the available dynamic damper control system, which can switch on the fly between comfort and sport settings for sophisticated, enthusiast-style handling.

From an assist standpoint, the 2016 Mini Cooper Clubman is a veritable alphabet soup of letters, ranging from the anti-lock braking system (ABS) to electronic brake force distribution (EBD), cornering brake control (CBC), dynamic stability control (DSC) and dynamic traction control (DTC).

According to company officials, with the brand's well-known personalization schemes there are over 10 million ways to order a Mini. Pricing starts at $24,100 for the Cooper model and $27,650 for the Cooper S version. Both prices exclude a destination and handling fee of $850. Its most direct competition would come from FIAT's 500L and the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen.

Growth Spurt

The new Mini Clubman shares its BMW UKL modular platform with the BMW X1 and doubtless other vehicles to come. Quite a bit longer (10.62 inches) than the MINI 5-door hatchback and more than a foot longer than the Mini Coupe, it has grown by nearly 4 inches over its previous version. The net result is improved ride quality over a variety of road conditions, not to mention more legroom in the rear seat.

The Clubman's interior features design cues that made the Mini famous, including the huge surround for the 8.8-inch display screen that controls navigation, audio, telephonic and other functions. Only this time, it features interactive LEDs. For instance, the LED ring lights blue when a phone call is incoming, pulses red when collision avoidance is occurring and shines green when driving in ECO mode.

Wrap-around bucket seats coddle front passengers in either fabric or optional leather. Driver-assistance systems can also be ordered to include park-distance control and parking assistance to help with parallel-parking situations. Also on tap is an available adaptive cruise control option that maintains a set distance from the cars in front of you, which also has the ability to brake the Clubman.

The concept of the connected car has wound its way from the home office in Oxford. Mini Connected is a premium add-on that includes smartphone integration, allowing the use of Internet-based services for social media and infotainment functions. Available in forms for both Apple- and Android-based mobile phones, it can be enhanced through the optional Wired package, which includes an iDrive-style controller for inputs.

Cargo capacity takes no back seat in this Mini, with a 60/40-folding rear seat that offers 17.5 cu ft. of cargo-carrying capacity with the seats in their standard setting. This figure grows to 47.9 cu ft. with rear seats folded forward for the washing-machine test, where drivers can fit a compact washing machine into the rear cargo area for the ride home from a Home Depot store -- we'll just have to take the Mini company official's word for this.

Driving Feel in the Clubman

The Mini Clubman 1.5-liter TwinPower turbo 3-cylinder engine with the automatic transmission surprised us with as much power as we have seen from previous-generation 4-cylinder engines. The 6-speed automatic transmission was a smooth operator, with surefooted gearing through the range.

Switching to the 2-liter Clubman S found an engine that goes to 11. This little 4-banger displayed prodigious pulling power in all gears of the 6-speed manual transmission. Both cars displayed Mini's trademark go-kart style that encouraged and rewarded enthusiasm behind the wheel. Thanks to enhanced sound dampening, we found the Clubman extremely quiet on the best roads, while coarser surfaces tended to transmit the tires' displeasure with the streets at hand.

The Comfort/Sport/ECO mode selector allowed us to behave (or misbehave) as much as we wanted through a dial that instantly boosted the throttle and flashed the message "Let's Motor Hard" while depicting the image of a go-kart. Conversely, if you switch to ECO mode and exceed what it thinks is a speed that is not so ECOnomical, it will alert the driver to slow down.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Mini Cooper Clubman: First Drive Review - Autotrader