- Go-kart handling is preserved
- Clubman S' turbo power
- Good ride quality for its size
- Added cargo space
- Electric power steering feels electric
- Easy to pump up the price tag
- Access to backseats still tricky
A big-bodied extrovert, the 2010 MINI Cooper Clubman's the most desirable MINI for anyone beyond their single stage of life.
The 2010 MINI Cooper Clubman is pulled from the same taffy as the MINI Cooper hatchback and convertible, but it's stretched out and adds doors in an attempt to make the endearing MINI Cooper a little more practical. With a base price of $19,105 for the Clubman and $22,545 for the Clubman S, the prime competition for the MINI wagon includes the likes of the 2010 Volkswagen GTI, the 2010 Audi A3, and the 2010 Mazda3 and Mazdaspeed3.
All the styling hallmarks of the Cooper hatchback carry over on the 2010 MINI Cooper Clubman, with a few more cutlines and a more vertical rear end. The classic pop-eyed headlamps, the chromed grille's "smile," the vertical windshield, and low, flat roof of the vintage Mini Coopers are here. The Clubman's elongated body stays true to form even in back, where the doors and tail are modeled after 1960s wagons like the Mini Countryman and Traveller. A few cues separate the base Clubman from the S, most visibly the subtly domed hood over the S' turbocharger. The homage to the MINI's past is less accurate inside the Clubman, where a duplicate of the current Cooper's dash hangs. In some ways, it's just plain wacky. The big, optimistic 160-mph speedometer in the middle of the dash is lifted from old Minis, but it's just plain distracting there, with a sharp glare and lots of embedded displays out of the driver's sight lines. The dash also has lots of small toggle switches, buttons, and levers rendered in chrome, as well as some plasticky, flimsy-feeling switchgear. It's chaotic-but it's somehow unified around a circles-and-wings theme that charms away its major ergonomic and quality shortcomings.
Sprightly performance carries over nearly intact from the Cooper hatchback to the MINI Clubman wagon. The engines and gearboxes, along with nearly all of the mechanicals, are duplicated here. Base Clubman wagons use a 118-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder, paired either to a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox. TheCarConnection.com strongly recommends the manual to wring out every ounce of driving fun, as this MINI takes 8.9 seconds to hit 60 mph and tops out at 125 mph. With the Clubman S, there's a turbocharged version of the same engine, with 172 hp, a 0-60 mph time of about 7 seconds, and a top speed of 139 mph. This cut-and thrust powerplant is also best savored with the manual; it's a perfect slice-and-dice duo for city streets, though the automatic Clubman S with a sport package gets paddle controls for shifting. Clubman fuel economy checks in at 28/36 mpg; the Clubman S registers 26/34 mpg. Ride and handling are top-notch on middling to smooth roads; there the MINI has controlled motions and is stiff but resilient enough, with very little of the road noise that's expected from smaller cars. However, potholes can feel and sound like mortar fire; it's still a small car with low-profile tires. The Clubman's electric power steering works well enough, but has an artificial feel that's contrary to everything else about the MINI. A sport function speeds up its response a little too much.
In the tradition of the Mini Countryman and Traveller, the 2010 MINI Cooper Clubman adds some much-needed rear-seat legroom and back-end cargo space, as well as easier access to the backseats. The body is 9.4 inches longer than a Cooper hatchback, and the wheelbase gets 3.2 inches out of that addition, which helps the ride quality and doesn't disturb the adequate space set aside from front passengers in their nicely pocketed bucket seats. In the Clubman transition, MINI also cuts a small, right-side, rear-hinged Clubdoor to aid access to the backseats; those seats offer more legroom, for sure, and adults will ride there willingly, but access still is difficult despite four times more entry space, as claimed by MINI. The Clubman also sports more cargo space, with 32.6 cubic feet of room in back with the rear seats folded down, and 9.1 with them still up. The Clubman's tail gets barn-style doors and a flat load floor that can be fitted with a hard cover for security. It's truly more useful, even if you must open the right door before the left. While the MINI's road noise is fairly subdued, all MINIs tested by TheCarConnection.com have had creaky bodies with squeaks and rattles coming from various plastic trim pieces; the MINI's cabin oozes with design flair, but material and build quality just don't measure up to its price tag.
Safety gear is up to par. The 2010 Clubman gets six airbags as standard equipment, as well as anti-lock brakes and stability control, and a hill-start feature that holds the vehicle in place when starting uphill. Traction control is an option. The MINI Cooper Clubman hasn't been crash-tested, but the similar MINI Cooper gets mostly four-star ratings from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) rates the similar MINI Cooper hatchback as "good" for front impacts and "acceptable" for side impacts.
The MINI brand is built around customization, so while the 2010 Cooper Clubman's list of standard features isn't comprehensive, there's an entire world of accessories, paint and trim options, and other add-ons available to MINI owners. All Clubmans come with vinyl upholstery, air conditioning, a trip computer, ambient lighting, and an AM/FM/CD stereo with an auxiliary jack. The Clubman's power locks are built into a round starter that takes the place of a metal key. From there, the Clubman's a palette for the owner's tastes; checked cloth or pinstripe or leather upholstery can be ordered, along with painted wheels, roof decals of the U.S. or British flags, white-capped mirrors, chrome trim galore, and color panels for the dash and door panels are just the beginning. Performance add-ons include 16-, 17-, and 18-inch wheels, as well as the range of John Cooper Works underhood tweaks. A sunroof, roof racks, a rear roof spoiler, Bluetooth, a USB/iPod adapter, and a navigation system with real-time traffic and LCD readouts displayed in the speedometer are the major options. The MINI's chaotic set of controls really can lose an unfamiliar driver when the navigation system needs a new address; its joystick control isn't all that intuitive, and the readout's not as large or comprehensive as that on better systems. Ordering just a few of these options can send the price tag into maxi territory.