Club rules

Hatch? Wagon? Ei­ther way, Mini’s Club­man is like a breath of fresh air

Herald Sun - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR richard.black­burn@news.com.au

SOME cars, at first glance, make no sense. The Mini Club­man is one of those cars. It’s es­sen­tially a slightly larger, slightly more prac­ti­cal version of the stan­dard Mini, with a couple of de­liv­ery van-style barn doors at the rear.

You could call it a mini wagon, or a six-door stretched hatch­back. No won­der the ad slo­gan says go with your gut — you’re un­likely to buy one for sen­si­ble rea­sons.

It’s ex­pen­sive, too. Un­like its hum­ble 1960s pre­de­ces­sor, which had a de­liv­ery van version, this Club­man is aimed at the well-heeled week­end war­rior. It’s got plenty of poke, han­dles like a go-kart and has a funky retro in­te­rior that’s more sports car than se­date hatch­back.

But at a time when we’re be­ing as­saulted by a wave of mini-SUVs that, de­spite out­ward ap­pear­ances are just as im­prac­ti­cal as the Club­man, the Mini be­gins to make some sense.

DE­SIGN

What­ever crit­i­cisms you might want to level at the mod­ern Mini, you can’t ac­cuse it of be­ing bland. Our test car oozed char­ac­ter from ev­ery panel, from the two-tone black and Bri­tish Rac­ing Green paint scheme to the black stripes and bon­net scoop.

The cabin is equally stylish and sporty. The leather sports seats have am­ple bol­ster­ing for those twisty back roads, while our op­tional sports steer­ing wheel had go-fast red stitch­ing. The new model isn’t as slav­ishly retro as the pre­vi­ous one and the cen­tre screen is hi-tech with leg­i­ble, mod­ern-look­ing graph­ics.

The mood light­ing, which il­lu­mi­nates the floor and the backs of the door han­dles, can change from blues and greens to reds and or­anges at the flick of a tog­gle switch. On the topic of tog­gle switches, they are every­where, even down to the ig­ni­tion switch that glows red when you turn the car on.

Un­for­tu­nately, a lot of our press car’s char­ac­ter came at a cost: the paint, the stripes, the wheels, the seats, the steer­ing wheel, roof lin­ing … the list goes on. Op­tions pushed the price of our Mini out to an eye-wa­ter­ing $52,850 plus on-roads.

The cabin is roomier and more prac­ti­cal than you’d ex­pect from a Mini. Rear legroom is ad­e­quate for the size of car and the load area is about the same as a Corolla or Mazda hatch, with a neat false floor for stor­ing valu­ables out of sight. Stor­age cubby holes are ad­e­quate if not overly gen­er­ous.

ABOUT TOWN

The good news about this Club­man is that it won’t rat­tle your fill­ings out over pock­marked city streets. The ride is firm with­out crash­ing too much over pot­holes. We drove it af­ter a BMW X1 and found it a com­fier setup.

The four-cylin­der turbo has plenty of pep for get­ting off the mark as well, with a nice note when you push on. Of­fi­cial consumption is 5.9L/100km and it’s rel­a­tively achiev­able if you go easy (the en­gine shuts down at the lights and there’s a “green” mode for fru­gal driv­ing). Drive it hard, though, and the Mini’s consumption quickly climbs into dou­ble fig­ures.

On the Cooper S, stan­dard techno trick­ery for ne­go­ti­at­ing the city in­cludes re­vers­ing cam­era, park­ing sen­sors and au­ton­o­mous brak­ing, which warns if you’re too close to the car in front and slams on the brakes at up to 60km/h.

For the com­mute, our test car had a $2700 mul­ti­me­dia op­tion with a larger cen­tre screen, head-up dis­play, bet­ter sat­nav, an ex­cel­lent 12-speaker Har­man Kar­don au­dio and dig­i­tal ra­dio tuner.

ON THE ROAD

The Mini is fun to drive around town but it’s in its el­e­ment on a wind­ing coun­try road. Flick the switch on the cen­tre con­sole to sport and the throt­tle re­sponse, steer­ing weight and gear shift points be­come more ag­gres­sive.

Choose the op­tional adap­tive dampers and the sus­pen­sion stiff­ens for bet­ter cor­ner­ing con­trol.

The steer­ing is pre­cise and the Club­man stays flat and com­posed, with only the hint of a tug at the steer­ing wheel when ac­cel­er­at­ing hard out of a cor­ner.

It’s an en­gag­ing driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, helped by a great sound­ing ex­haust that spits and snarls un­der brak­ing.

PER­FOR­MANCE

The 2.0-litre (141kW/280Nm) is a beauty, de­liv­er­ing peak torque from a low 1250rpm for great ini­tial pick-up. It re­mains strong through the rev range, too, spin­ning hap­pily to the red-line. The eight-speed auto helps per­for­mance as well, shift­ing rapidly and smoothly.

A lot of hot hatches now de­liver sig­nif­i­cantly more power than the Cooper S but you never feel short-changed by the urge at your dis­posal.

VER­DICT

In a sea of beige hatches and over­hyped mini-SUVs, the Club­man is a breath of fresh air.

The ex­tra space in­side and the more com­pli­ant sus­pen­sion make it eas­ier to live with around town with­out tak­ing too much edge off the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for en­thu­si­asts.

But the op­tions list is lengthy and the prices are steep, tak­ing the gloss off this fun lit­tle wagon-cum-hatch.

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