- Excellent handling despite slightly larger size
- John Cooper Works power
- Comfortable ride for a small car
- Lack of precision in electric power steering feel
- Backseat access tough despite door
- Prices climb quickly with added equipment
More capacity, more practicality, and just as much sport and style, the 2012 MINI Cooper Clubman strikes a balance between family and fun.
Using the same sporty, smartly-styled basis as the MINI Cooper hatchback, the 2012 MINI Cooper Clubman adds functionality with an extended wheelbase and roomier cargo area. It's priced just above the hatch, and competitively against other larger hatches like the Audi A3, Mazda3/Mazdaspeed3, and Volkswagen GTI.
Small design cues, in addition to the longer body, differentiate the Clubman from the standard Cooper: slight differences at the front end, unique side details, and a more vertical rear overhang. Updates from last year's mild redesign carry forward for 2012, including new lights and rear bumper and a revised interior which favors matte black over some of the previous chrome.
You might think the extra size of the Clubman would compromise its sportiness, but you'd be wrong. Driven back-to-back, there's a slight difference, but despite the extra wheelbase and weight, the Clubman is nimble, quick, and light on its wheels. Like the standard Cooper, the Clubman offers both naturally-aspirated and turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinders, in base, Clubman S and John Cooper Works trims. Base models rate 121 horsepower, while Clubman S models score 181 horsepower and the John Cooper Works rates 208 hp.
All are good with gas mileage, scoring up to 27/36 mpg in both base and Clubman S guises and 25/33 mpg for the JCW. Opting for the six-speed manual transmission over the six-speed automatic in base and S models can net a 1-mpg improvement in both city and highway driving. Ride and comfort are also good in the Clubman, the extra size improving stability and smoothness slightly over the standard Cooper. Rough roads or unusual surfaces can contribute to jostle and cabin noise, however, and wind noise is noticeable, but good for a small car.
Drivers that need to actually use the rear seats will find the 2012 Clubman a significant upgrade over the hatchback, with the extra wheelbase offering much-needed legroom, and the rear-hinged door on the passenger side making access easier. Materials and build quality are generally good, though a prevalence of hard, cheap plastics and squeaks and rattles from the interior speak of cost-cutting. Given the MINI Clubman's steep price tag in upper-tier models (or any model with substantial added equipment) that's a bit disappointing.
Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS have scored the 2012 MINI Clubman in crash tests or rollover ratings yet, but a host of standard equipment means drivers can feel safe despite the Clubman's still-small size. The very similar 2012 MINI Cooper hatchback scores a top rating of "good" according to the IIHS, however, which should largely indicate the overall crash worthiness of the Clubman as well. Standard anti-lock brakes, six airbags, stability control, and hill-start assist all contribute to a strong base, while upgrade options like Xenon adaptive headlights and parking sensors can help even more.
As will all other MINIs, the Clubman buying experience is all about customization: unique vinyl decals, a myriad of paint configurations, lots of technology upgrades like MINI Connected and navigation, and a wide range of performance accessories add up to more than 10 million possible combinations. Standard equipment levels are generally good, though perhaps not as thorough as you might expect given the MINI's high price for its class.