The force is strong with this one . . .
IRECENTLY took a real trip down memory lane - far back in time to the launch of the very first Star Wars film in 1977.
Together with the same two pals I saw the original blockbuster movie with all those years ago, I travelled to a Galaxy not that far away (a much posher multiplex on the front at Thornton Cleveleys) to recreate the moment and see the very latest instalment of the hit film franchise.
And to make our sci-fi pilgrimage complete - as almost 40 years ago I was driving around in a lovely little red Mini 1000 - our transport was the very latest Mini, the Clubman Cooper Diesel.
Just like the latest Star Wars film the new Mini is (much) bigger and better and has been brought bang up to date with the very latest technology.
For this 2016 generation the Clubman (the largest Mini ever) keeps some nods to its heritage with those quirky double rear doors (now with dinky little wipers) and a big central dashboard binnacle… but unlike the original this no longer houses just the speedometer and temperature gauge, but does have a big infotainment screen for the DAB radio and sat nav plus vehicle monitoring systems (all things undreamt of in 1977).
Gone from the previous model is the equally quirky but impractical rear-hinged side door and all now come with basic sat-nav and keyless go. Our test car also had a movieinspired feature - puddle lamps below the door mirrors which project a winged Mini logo onto the pavement in a very ‘bat-signal’ way.
Mini expects this 2.0-litre Cooper diesel and the entry-level petrol to take the lion’s share of sales and it’s not hard to see why. Well fitted out and almost spacious (well it is still a Mini) the diesel engine pulls well and feels faster than the official 0-62 time of 8.6 seconds.
In addition Mini say the car will return around 68mpg, while lower CO2 emissions of 109g/km mean that this Clubman has competitive running costs for private and company car buyers.
The roads to Cleveleys were far from smooth but the ride was, despite the car still having a low stance and a sporty suspension set up. And the test model was fitted with 18in alloys and ultra low profile tyres (an extra £570) which would have made the ride harsher than the standard 16in versions.
Motorway cruising was no problem (especially with the standard-fit adaptive cruise control) and once we hit the (badly flooded) country lanes the typical Mini ‘chuckability’ was still evident.
The steering inspires confidence when pushing through the corners, while not proving too heavy around town, although the very upright steering wheel position takes a little getting used to for those who have not driven recent generation Minis before.
While the Clubman has grown considerably it still has that go-kart feel – although it’s not quite as much fun as the three and five-door models. Nevertheless, in sport mode, the engine is particularly brisk with sharpened throttle response helped by a very positive six-speed manual gearbox.
The 2016 Clubman Cooper D basic on the road price is £21,690, not bad for a car with bags of character that stands out on the road while still being a practical family runabout.
Our test version, however, had visited the extras department big time and boasted a long list of options which took that final price up to a shade over £30 grand.
Some were better value than others and included a lovely cross-stitched ‘Chester Indigo Blue’ leather interior (£815); Media Pack (£1,010) with enhanced sat-nav and Bluetooth connectivity and a CHILI Pack (£2,785) which had things like those larger 18” alloys, sports leather steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors, special interior lighting and park assist.
It was also in a very striking special order purply-brown colour with grey roof which added £515 and had a feature I have never seen in a car before - a flashing red light atop the roof aerial showing the alarm was armed and making the motor particularly easy to find on the shopping centre car park.
All-in-all I really liked the Clubman diesel for its handling, performance and slightly quirky looks. It’s a car you can use everyday which will stand out from the crowd… the force is still strong with this one.
More info at www.mini. co.uk.