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First drive: Mini Clubman

2007-09-19 07:14

Steve Dlamini-Kabini

Mini's sexiest and most gorgeous model yet is incidentally the biggest one. The Clubman was unveiled last week at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and a select few journalists had the chance to drive it shortly thereafter in Madrid, Spain.

The Clubman will become the third Mini model to hit South Africa, joining its current Cooper and Cabriolet siblings.

It has a longer wheelbase and increased interior space without compromising what the Mini brand stands for - that Go-Kart feeling - despite it having the longest roof in the entire BMW Group.

Cool and funky, the Clubman has a way of attracting attention from anyone. Whether you're young or old, it makes no difference in the new Clubman since it is a vehicle that appeals to anyone who looks at it.

Two engines

New Clubman will be available in two engines - the naturally-aspirated 1.6 and a turbocharged 1.6 found in the Cooper and Cooper S respectively - although we only had the opportunity to cruise around in the turbocharged Cooper S Clubman.

I am not necessarily a front-wheel-drive car fan, but with the Clubman - that is also likely to be available with a 1.6-litre common-rail turbodiesel engine locally - I found the wagon quite a pleasant vehicle to drive.

Its interior has been completely redesigned with several new features seen for the first time in a Mini such as a whole new dashboard with a large odometer mounted in the centre.

Cramped interior a thing of the past

This clever design is thanks to the designer of the Rolls-Royce interior who was given the opportunity to apply his wisdom to the Clubman's spacious interior (in Mini terms). Legroom and luggage space problems are a thing of the past in the sleek extended Mini. Fitted with an additional passenger door, this opens against the direction of travel to ease access for its rear passengers. Unlike in its compact siblings that have up- and downward opening tailgates, the Clubman has been fitted with two doors at the rear opening sideways.

The Clubman takes me down memory lane, reminding me of the Austin Mini Countryman, the Morris Mini Traveller and the Mini Clubman Estate, models sold worldwide between 1960 and 1982.

Some of these models are still being driven on our roads and their owners probably have no idea that they're pottering about in collectors' items. The new Clubman is basically a rose among thorns and is likely to become Mini's most popular model when it is launched in the local market next year.

From the front it looks pretty similar to its other siblings. But its extra door on the side, the tailgate that opens sideways and the twin exhaust pipes clearly separate the Clubman from any other Mini seen before.

The drive

Now let me talk about the drive. On arrival to Madrid, several Minis were parked at the airport's Terminal 4 section, and we were embarked on a long drive covering a distance of 300 km before stopping for an overnight stop.

On the second day, our route took us on a drive through little towns and villages including El Vellon, Torrelaguna, El Berreco, Buitrago Del Lozoya and Miraflores De La Sierra where the Clubman was put through to a thorough road test.

Not much has changed in terms of the Mini?s ride despite Clubman being a slightly bigger vehicle. The typical Mini Go-Kart experience has been retained making the Clubman feel even more fun to drive.

During my drive, it discovered that the Clubman has direct steering with the vehicle obeying the driver's slightest move on the steering wheel. I also figured out that the suspension of the Clubman is a bit soft, giving it a comfortable ride compared with its other siblings.

I noticed too that, unlike the Mini's previous supercharged engine, the turbo motor suffered from mild turbo-lag as we explored beautiful countryside twisty roads winding up to approximately 1 600 m above the sea level - a typical Gauteng altitude.

However, the lag isn't that severe and after all, who cares - it's a Clubman.

Its extended body has also added more weight to the drop-dead gorgeous Mini model, but in terms of overall performance, the Clubman is pretty impressive.


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