Take a look at your average car ads. What do they mean? Smug-looking male models race along impossibly empty roads; happy celebrities leap in the air… Car companies don’t want you to buy a car, they want you to embrace a lifestyle.
But of all the auto companies who want to amp up your life, Mini is the one that really seems to mean it. Buy a Mini and you really do want to be a bit different. Buy a Mini and the road might even feel that little bit more open.
When Mini was English, your car was small and a bit fun, but also kind of crappy; now it’s owned by BMW, and boy are those Germans serious about fun. They’ve even sent me a sticker that says, “Do not stare at my boot,” and if that doesn’t prove it, what does>
With the Mini Cooper, the company told you to get your girl and your weekend bag and take off on a whizzy, slot-car adventure. With the Clubman, it wants you to have your cake and eat it. Yes, you can have your jollies, but now you can take a friend, his dog Ripper, and all your golf clubs.
The Clubman is that oddity: the long Mini. From the front through to the first third, it’s a normal Mini – after that, it’s a wagon with an extra door.
This door is the real double-take feature: it’s what, back in the day, they call a “suicide” door, because of its rear-hinge. Although Mini would prefer you call it a “Clubdoor” now, not least because these days you can’t just open the thing and tumble under a semi.
Situated behind the driver’s door, which you have to open first, the Clubdoor is the first sign that something’s up. Once it’s open, you can actually get in the back, where you can breathe and move about. The Clubman is under 4m, but due to a longer wheelbase there’s an extra 8cm available over the hatchback. You won’t get three Sydney Kings centres in there, but my 1.83m frame manages it no problem.
Being a “wagon” means twin rear doors, which give you a bit more space to load your stuff into a boot that looks darn close to roomy. The downside is that the view through the back isn’t very good.
Those extra litres inside add about 100kg extra weight, but doesn’t seem to make much difference to the performance. In the turbocharged S version, acceleration from 0-100km/h is half a second slower that the equivalent hatchback’s 7,1secs. You can pull the trigger on your slot-car gun and the Clubman still goes.
The modern Mini is a wonderfully sticky car, and the Clubman is no different – you can abuse it on tight corners, and it’ll come out the other side looking great. The acceleration is still a thrill, too: this car is a pocket rocket. It’s usually the big, quiet cars where you have to keep a close eye on the speedo, but lose concentration here, and you’ll pick up a ticket.
It’s like driving a go-kart – a go-kart with luggage space and happy passengers, not to mention a whole bunch of funky features, such as stability control; a remarkable package. I want to buy into this lifestyle and I don’t mind the feeling. I still won’t leap in the air, though.
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