YOU HAVE to admire MINI. They don’t always get it right first time, but they persevere.
Take the Clubman. I was never a fan of the original new-era version but the new one is a cracker of a car, succeeding where the previous model failed. It is big, spacious and versatile - everything the old model wasn’t.
So, what exactly is Clubman? Officially, it’s an estate with some of the qualities of a coupe and mini-SUV (sports utility vehicle).
It has dashingly good performance (142mph and 0-60mph in seven seconds) and space (360 litres in the boot rising to 1,250 litres), plus enviable style and fantastic hi-tech equipment including an information-entertainment system which puts rivals in the shade.
MINI - as opposed to the original Mini - was launched in 2001 by BMW and immediately set a trend for premium small cars which Audi, Vauxhall and others have struggled to catch up with.
To cash in on the success of the brand, BMW has launched a flurry of spin-off models including convertibles, SUVs, two-seater coupes and vans with mixed success.
The original Clubman estate was let down by the fact that the boot was barely any bigger than the three-door model’s, but the newest version is altogether better.
It retains much of what made MINI hatch successful, such as go-kart handling, cute looks and retro-look dashboard but made it a much more spacious vehicle. It has plenty of space for five people and the boot is good, but it retains the cheekiness of the hatch.
It is a techie’s delight. It has a fabulous entertainment system with superb stereo and intuitive settings for everything from ride and handling to performance. You can set it red for sporty or green economy and, unlike in many rivals, you can actually feel the difference. The sporty setting is much louder, firmer and harsher than the green setting.
The car’s signature feature - the split rear doors - are retained. But this is more than a simple styling touch because it actually makes sense. If you need to get into the boot in a car park, for example, it is easier to open half the tailgate than all of it.
The car is said, by MINI, to be a more grown-up car. It is 270mm longer and 73mm wider than the MINI 5-door Hatch, with a wheelbase which is 100mm larger.
New to the MINI brand is an eight-speed Steptronic transmission, available as an option on the MINI Cooper S Clubman, the MINI Cooper D Clubman and the MINI Cooper SD Clubman. It’s good but I prefer the manual gearbox tested here.
It features a number of debut features including an electric parking brake and electronic seat adjustment. I’d prefer a handbrake but as electronic ones go, this is a very good system.
Standard kit includes cruise control, electric windows, air conditioning, stability control and a great satellite navigation system.
I like the ‘MINI Yours’ interior styles with backlit door trim which gives the car a very upmarket feel.
The test model came with the MINI Excitement package as standard which features a projection of the MINI logo on to the ground beneath the driver’s side door mirror when the car is opened and closed, plus interior lighting.
I know. It’s a gimmick but a rather impressive one which will interest MINI-fans.
Clubman costs from just under £20,000 and the test version is nearer £25,000. Not cheap for a compact estate but it is a very laudable car.
MINI Clubman Cooper S All4 Manual
THE CAR FACTS
Price: £24,410 on the road.
Engine: 1,998cc four-cylinder unleaded
Transmission: Automatic front wheel drive
Top speed: 142mph
0-62mph: 7.0 seconds
Economy: 40.9mpg combined
CO2 emissions: 159g/km
Warranty: Three years’ unlimited mileage
Summary: A spirited, sporty estate which is versatile, reasonably spacious, fun and sporty.
Honda Civic Tourer: Bigger than Clubman but with similar sporting credentials and lots of passenger and luggage space. Civic also comes with Honda’s ‘Magic Seat’ that allows you to maximise boot space.
SEAT Ibiza ST: The Sport Tourer is a match for Clubman in performance stakes and it’s a very good-value offering. Style-wise, Clubman is the winner.
Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer: Costs more than Clubman and is a much bigger load-carrier. Cute for a Vauxhall but I’d take the Clubman.