In automotive design, there is a trend that if played out properly, will always create an industry hit. Using the power of nostalgia and sentiment, certain companies have the ability to make a modern iteration of a past icon, causing the public to flock due to emotion. For the most part, retro works but the trick to the concept is make a old-looking vehicle perform like a modern one. If this can be accomplished, a modern age icon is usually once again born and will undoubtedly been seen on the green grass of future Pebble Beach shows. In 2001, BMW did exactly that but with something entirely unexpected: the British institution known as the Mini. When the German powerhouse purchased the rights to the Mini namesake, they created a vehicle with retro styling coupled with a modern and reliable powertrain. But as things go, the company wasn’t pleased with just one version and thus in 2008, the stretched Clubman was born. Fast forward just a few years into the future, and the 2011 Cooper S Clubman still manages to be nostalgic. But the question becomes: are its dynamics up to par with the modern age?
Taking a cue from the orignal Clubman of the 1960s, Mini introduced the new version to meet the needs of a wider audience who assumingly saw the standard car as being too small. From the b-pillar forward, the Clubman is identical to the regualr Mini. It is the sheet metal before that is different as things have been extended by 9.4 inches. The wheelbase is 3.1 inches longer giving the Clubman a volume space of 32.6 cubic feet compared to 24 for the standard. Fortunately, with the increase in size only comes a slight increase in weight: 140 lbs total.
For our time spent with a Cooper Clubman, we did so in a 2011 S model. Standard features include 16 inch wheels, Corner Brake Control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, HD radio with Sirius satellite subscription, auxiliary inputs, keyless entry and six air bags. Base MSRP for the high-end S is $24,800. Fitted to our tester was the $1,250 sport package which replaces the 16 inch wheels for 17s and adds dynamic traction control and Xenon headlamps. The $1,750 navigation package, $250 Tattoo package, $500 Comfort keyless entry upgrade, $250 center armrest and $500 heated front seat options were also added. In the end and with destination charge, our tester carried a MSRP of $30,500. That price isn’t terribly high, but Mini would sell plenty more S Clubmans if a drop in pirce of a couple thousand dollars was seen.
Just like the second generation Cooper S it shares so much with, under the hood of the S Clubman is a BMW-built 1.6 liter DOHC turbocharged direct injected inline four cylinder. Named the Prince, this engine shares work in all Mini variants as well as a few Peugeots and Citroens but is, for all intents and purposes, a BMW mill. Replacing the first generation’s 163 horsepower 1.6 liter supercharged unit, the new turbo makes 181 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. Hooked up to the Prince is a Getrag-sourced six speed manual transmission that allows for quick shifts and offers plenty of power for the Clubman’s relatively light weight. The turbo is lag free and torque is abundant, never making driving a chore. In S trim, the Clubman will never get lost in traffic all while returning good fuel economy. The high-torque engine and do-it-yourself shifting allow for a EPA rated 27 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. The combination of Prince and Getrag is a fantastic mix and should be the easy choice for anyone in the market for a Clubman.
Wrapped in the utmost British Racing Green paint, our tester is quite the handsome car but would be more so if the extra cost Tattoo option was ditched. Neat in pictures, the lively Union Jacks scattered around the body would get slightly embarrassing over time. Unless this is truly your cup-0f-tea, save an extra $250 and opt out of graphics package. The longer body lends to the profile well as the Clubman manages to not look unnatural or pieced together. The sloping rear hatch of the standard is gone, replaced with a wagon-like rear end. Instead of a traditional hatch door that swings up, the Clubman’s cargo area is accessed via two swing-out doors. This makes for a surprisingly easy entry point for a car that is on paper, small. The ability to load cargo with ease is enough to justify the Clubman over the standard Mini as the slightest increase in size actually makes a noticeable difference. With the easy-but small side door, four adults can be fitted inside along with their gear for a blast up a mountain pass. It is a slight disappointment to feel some cheap interior bits such as the dash and center console plastics, but the inside aesthetics are still charming.
Highly unorthodox is the Clubman’s media center. Ease of use is the name of the game but its appearance and location is truly unique. Placed right in the middle of a massive center dial, the screen houses the HD radio, bluetooth pairing and navigation with real-time traffic. The entry cost for this option isn’t outrageous compared to other segment offerings making its intuitive nature worth the price. And though it may look cool, the center dial is, in a realist sort of way, a bit too big. It does however blend well with the rest of the interior and doesn’t look out-of-place. The front seats with heated control are comfortable all while being supportive for flat-out corner attacks, something all S Clubmans should experience. With a fully independent suspension using struts up front and a multi-link set up in the rear, the S offers fantastic rotation and quick steering inputs. For a front wheel drive car, understeer only really presents itself if pushed entirely too hard.
All-in-all, BMW and Mini did the right thing by creating the Clubman. It does things that the standard Mini simply can’t due to its size and expands the company’s market share to include families. Just the slightest stretch in length was all that was needed to make the car really useful and it manages to still hold strong to the philosophy that makes the smaller Mini so endearing. Never bland or boring, smiles can always be found behind the wheel of the Clubman, especially in S trim. The new turbocharged engine is a true delight and the Getrag six speed is precise, fun and bullet-proof. This powertrain is so good that one would expect a compromise of bad fuel economy, but that doesn’t exist. And like all Mini models, the S Clubman can be outfitted anyway a person desires. For 2011, families now have one more option for their fast-paced life: the Mini Cooper S Clubman.
Photos: © Copyright 2011 Ossamah Shabbir