2011 MINI Cooper Clubman Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Nelson Ireson Nelson Ireson Senior Editor
January 27, 2011

A big-bodied extrovert, the 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman's the most desirable MINI for anyone beyond their single stage of life.

The 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman is built on the same core tenets of sporty design as the MINI Cooper hatchback and convertible, but with the added utility of a longer wheelbase, more doors, and extra cargo space. Starting from a base price of $21,800 for the Clubman and $25,500 for the Clubman S, it's priced to compete with the 2011 Volkswagen GTI, 2011 Audi A3, and 2011 Mazda3 and Mazdaspeed3.

At first glance there's not much to separate the Clubman from the Cooper hatchback aside from the added size, but closer inspection reveals a slightly different front end, side details, and a more vertical rear. New design elements for 2011 include redesigned tail lights an a new rear bumper, plus a revised interior that takes away some of the chrome in favor of more matte black.

Performance has never been a problem for the Cooper range, and the larger Clubman is no exception. For 2011, the Clubman shares in the engine updates, with the base Clubman getting an additional three horsepower for 121 hp total, while the turbocharged Clubman S gains nine horsepower, climbing to 181 hp through enhanced an Valvetronic system. Fuel economy is good for all models, with the standard Clubman registering 27/36 mpg with the automatic and 27/35 mpg with the manual. The sportier Clubman S hits an identical 27/36 mpg with the auto and 26/34 mpg with the manual. Ride and handling are excellent on smooth roads, with less noise in the cabin from both wind and road than you'll find in many small cars. Bumps, potholes, and broken pavement can reverse the equation, however, thanks to the sporty suspension and low-profile tires.

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Like the original Mini Countryman and Traveller, the 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman adds essential rear-seat room and cargo space to the Cooper hatch's platform, making it easier to access and use. The passenger-side rear-hinged door on Clubman models improves backseat access, but doesn't quite elevate it to what most people would call easy. Despite the minimal road noise, all the MINIs we've tested have had their share of creaks, squeaks, and rattles from the interior plastic trim pieces--an indication that the style and panache of the interior's design comes at the cost of material and build quality, and something you don't expect given the MINI's steep price tag.

Safety equipment abounds in the 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman, with new features for 2011 including anti-torque steer programming, adaptive headlights on Xenon-equipped models, plus standard equipment including six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, and hill-start assistance. Though the 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman hasn't yet been rated under the NHTSA's (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) new testing regime, or by the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), 2010 NHTSA safety ratings score the similar Cooper hatch at mostly four-star results, and the IIHS rates the 2011 Cooper hatch as "good" for front offset impacts and "acceptable" in side impacts.

Building a MINI Clubman to suit your personal taste is easy, as the brand has made customization one of its strong suits. There are so many paint, accessory, trim, and vinyl decal options available MINI touts over 10 million possible combinations. Standard equipment on all Clubmans includes vinyl upholstery, air conditioning, a trip computer, ambient lighting, and an AM/FM/CD stereo with an auxiliary jack. Stack on the options and the invoice can quickly rise from MINI to maxi.

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2011 MINI Cooper Clubman

Styling

The 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman has the right heritage and styling cues, but its crazy-quilt controls and cockpit styling look better than they act.

At first glance there's not much to separate the Clubman from the Cooper hatchback aside from the added size, but closer inspection reveals a slightly different front end, side details, and a more vertical rear.

New design elements for 2011 include redesigned tail lights an a new rear bumper, plus a revised interior that takes away some of the chrome in favor of more matte black. Despite the updates, proportions and overall profile remain true to the original Mini wagon variants including the Countryman and Traveller. The Clubman S adds several sportier cues to the exterior, including new brake ducts up front and different wheels.

Inside the Clubman, the homage to the original MINI is less evident. A wacky, large, and optimistic 160-mph speedometer is mounted in the center of the dash and does share a link to the past, but it's as much a distraction as an instrument, the large plastic lens casting glare. A multitude of switches, toggles and buttons mire the dash in complexity, while somehow managing a coherent theme that's easy to appreciate, if not love.

New tweaks for 2011, which include a new audio control layout, should help fix some of the issues, slightly improving ergonomics for that system, at least.

Review continues below
9

2011 MINI Cooper Clubman

Performance

The 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman's stretch job slows it down a notch, but smoothes out the ride and sacrifices none of that elusive go-kart feel.

Performance has never been a problem for the Cooper range, and the larger Clubman is no exception. On the other hand automatic's paddle shifters serve adequately for spirited driving, while taking away the hassle of shifting on the morning commute.

For 2011, the Clubman shares in the engine updates, with the base Clubman getting an additional three horsepower for 121 hp total, while the turbocharged Clubman S gains nine horsepower, climbing to 181 hp through enhanced an Valvetronic system.

Base Clubman wagons use a 121-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder, paired either to a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox. The Clubman S engine upgrades for 2011 yield a 0.2-second improvement to 0-60 mph times over the 2010 model, now down to 6.8 seconds, and just 0.2 seconds slower than the standard Cooper S hatch. Our editors strongly prefers the manual transmission to the automatic, the better to wring out every last ounce of performance from the punchy but small engines. The John Cooper Works Clubman has the same turbo engine with different computer controls that give a bit more power.

Complaints of significant torque steer in the Clubman S from the 2010 model should be alleviated somewhat, as a new software system minimizes the issue. We like the steering feel, though it's a tad artificial due to the electric power assist, an issue worsened by the Sport mode, which speeds up the ratio.

Fuel economy is good for all models, with the standard Clubman registering 27/36 mpg with the automatic and 27/35 mpg with the manual. The sportier Clubman S hits an identical 27/36 mpg with the auto and 26/34 mpg with the manual.

Ride and handling are excellent on smooth roads, with less noise in the cabin from both wind and road than you'll find in many small cars.  Bumps, potholes, and broken pavement can reverse the equation, however, for the Sport package cars.

Regardless, the MINI's brakes are strong, and it's an eminently tossable car in the tradition of the brand, both old and new.

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2011 MINI Cooper Clubman

Comfort & Quality

A few inches of wheelbase gives the 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman a far more practical rear seat and cargo area; quality's still an issue.

Like the original Mini Countryman and Traveller, the 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman adds essential rear-seat room and cargo space to the Cooper hatch's platform, making it easier to access and use.

Despite the minimal road noise, every MINI we've tested have had their share of creaks, squeaks, and rattles from the interior plastic trim pieces--an indication that the style and panache of the interior's design comes at the cost of material and build quality, and something you don't expect given the MINI's steep price tag.

At 9.4 inches longer overall and 3.2 inches longer in wheelbase than the Cooper hatchback, it's still compact enough to be small, while improving comfort throughout the cabin.

Access to the 32.6 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded or 9.1 cubic feet with the seats up is provided by the rear split-opening door, and made truly useful with a flat load floor.

Review continues below
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2011 MINI Cooper Clubman

Safety

No official crash-test scores are in, but the 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman appears to be a safe small-car choice.

Safety equipment abounds in the 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman, with new features for 2011 including anti-torque steer programming, adaptive headlights on Xenon-equipped models, plus standard equipment including six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, and hill-start assistance.

Though the 20 11 MINI Cooper Clubman hasn't yet been rated under the NHTSA's (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) new testing regime, or by the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), 2010 NHTSA safety ratings score the similar Cooper hatch at mostly four-star results, and the IIHS rates the 2011 Cooper hatch as "good" for front offset impacts and "acceptable" in side impacts.

The 2010 MINI Cooper Clubman has some issues with its design and the effect of outward visibility, particularly with the split rear doors, which join right in the middle of the rearward view from the driver's seat, making it tough to back up or see what's behind.

Review continues below
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2011 MINI Cooper Clubman

Features

You can tailor a 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman to suit your own taste, but keep a calculator and a tight rein in hand.

Building a MINI Clubman to suit your personal taste is easy, as the brand has made customization one of its strong suits. There are so many paint, accessory, trim, and vinyl decal options available MINI touts over 10 million possible combinations.

Standard equipment on all Clubmans includes vinyl upholstery, air conditioning, a trip computer, ambient lighting, and an AM/FM/CD stereo with an auxiliary jack. A round key fob replaces a standard key and doubles as the remote power door lock control. The three trims of the MINI Cooper Clubman feature similar base amenities.

Upgrades to the base kit are endless: checked cloth or pinstripe leather upholstery; American or British flag roof decals; painted wheels; white-capped mirrors; chrome and color choices for interior panels; and a wide range of sizes and styles of alloy wheels. Performance add-ons include 16-, 17-, and 18-inch wheels, as well as the range of John Cooper Works underhood tweaks.

A sunroof, roof rack, and rear roof spoiler are also available, as are Bluetooth, iPod/USB connectivity, and navigation with real-time traffic among others. The Bluetooth option includes a USB port for hooking up with mobile devices like the iPhone or other cell phones and media players, making the 2010 MINI Cooper Clubman one of the more technologically advanced compact cars available. 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.

As is the case with the Cooper, be well advised when laying out your Clubman's features. MINI encourages customers to make the Clubman their own, and many buyers take the advice. With all this equipment in a relatively small frame, controls are busy and often less than intuitive, while displays are not as large or easy-to-read as we would like. Stack on the options and the invoice can quickly rise from MINI to maxi--MINI customers have become notorious for turning sub-$20,000 hatchbacks and wagons into highly individualized statements with sticker prices nearing $40,000.

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2011 MINI Cooper Clubman

Fuel Economy

The 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman comes up with a winning combination of utility, sport, and efficiency.

The 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman scores an EPA-rated 28 mpg city and 35 mpg highway in base trim according to the EPA with the standard naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. That's not all that impressive for a small car these days, with many hitting the magic 40-mpg mark, but it's still on the greener end of the non-hybrid spectrum, and particularly so for the sporty, fun-to-drive segment.

The Clubman S, which gets 181 horsepower from its turbocharged 1.6-liter engine, manages nearly the same figures despite 50 percent more horsepower, scoring 27 mpg city and 35 mpg highway per the EPA. Considering the fun you can have behind the wheel of the Clubman S, it's perhaps the most smiles per gallon available.

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Styling 9
Performance 9
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