2012 MINI Cooper Clubman Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Nelson Ireson Nelson Ireson Senior Editor
February 16, 2012

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.

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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.

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2012 MINI Cooper Clubman

Styling

Uniquely MINI in its exterior and interior design, the 2012 Clubman is an improvement over past models, but still gives up some ease of use for a quirky look.

Though it doesn't see many visual updates for 2012, the MINI Clubman is as fresh as ever. A new MINI Yours range of premium individualization options offers even more ways to make a Clubman yours, while a new set of exterior colors and wheels differentiate it from past models.

The updated look debuted in 2011 carries forward with a sleeker rear end and reduced chrome trim inside. The proportions of the Clubman remain the same, and iconically MINI, despite the extra length compared to the Cooper hatchback.

Clubman S models get a few sportier cues, including brake ducts in the front air dam and unique wheels. Clubman John Cooper Works models get the JCW Aero Kit standard for 2012, which brings a much more aggressive look, with a low lip spoiler, rear roof spoiler, and side sills.

Inside, all of the Clubmans are decked out with the somewhat wacky, oversized 160-mph speedometer in the center of the dash. While it's kitschy and cool--to some eyes--it can also be a distraction, the large plastic lens casting glare. The center stack is lined with a multitude of switches, toggles, and buttons, which can bog down a new owner in their complexity. Nevertheless, the look is coherent and uniquely MINI.

A slightly tweaked audio control layout arrived in 2011 and helps to reduce the awkwardness of controlling the Clubman's features, though ergonomics elements, such as the seat sliders, are still somewhat backward.

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2012 MINI Cooper Clubman

Performance

Still sporty despite its extra size in comparison to the Cooper hatchback, the 2012 Clubman gives up little for a lot of extra utility.

While performance hasn't been a problem for the Cooper range, the larger Clubman may surprise some. Despite its greater length and larger interior, the wagon delivers the goods when it comes to nimble MINI handling.

In fact, unless you drove the Clubman back-to-back with the hatchback, you might not notice the difference. That's due, in part, to the massive similarities between the two.

The Clubman shares the same engines as the hatchback, with the base model using a 121-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder, the Cooper S Clubman getting a turbocharged version of the engine rated at 181 horsepower, and the John Cooper Works model tuned a bit hotter at 208 horsepower.

Both the base and Cooper S models are available with either six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmissions. TheĀ  John Cooper Works model is only available with a manual gearbox.

The Clubman is light despite its size, and that translates into nimble handling. A well-tuned suspension aids the capability of the chassis, riding smoothly on good roads, but showing its performance edge on rougher surfaces.

Whichever model of Clubman you choose, however, you'll find the steering, handling, and performance lively--and all the more so as you move up the range.

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2012 MINI Cooper Clubman

Comfort & Quality

Practicality is greatly enhanced with the 2012 Clubman's extra wheelbase and cargo area, but issues with interior build quality remain.

With its extra rear-seat space and cargo area, the Clubman is one of the most practical and useful of MINIs, outpaced only by the Countryman--and even then, only in certain areas.

The Clubman's cabin lets in minimal road or wind noise, a sign of good design and engineering. The interior build lets it down somewhat, however, with creaks, squeaks, and rattles from plastic trim pieces growing evident as time wears on the car. Perhaps its the price the MINI pays for style and performance--but it's not what you'd expect given the MINI's relatively high price tag.

At 9.4 inches longer overall than the Cooper hatch and 3.2 inches longer wheelbase, the Clubman is still a small car. The extra space will be welcomed by rear-seat passengers, however. Front seat space is excellent, as it is with all MINIs.

Behind the rear seats, a 9.1 cubic foot cargo area offers a fair amount of storage, but fold the rear seats down and that grows to an impressive 32.6 cubic feet. The split-opening rear door and flat load floor help make the most of the space, but the joint of the rear door causes visibility issues that may bother some.


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2012 MINI Cooper Clubman

Safety

Despite the lack of official crash-test scores, the 2012 MINI Clubman shares its basic structure with the well-regarded Cooper hatchback, and offers a strong set of standard safety features.

The 2012 MINI Cooper Clubman hasn't been crash tested by either the IIHS (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety) nor the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), but it does offer most of the modern safety equipment you'd expect.

Standard safety gear on the Clubman includes: anti-torque steer programming, anti-lock brakes, stability control, hill-start assistance, run-flat tires (Cooper S and JCW models), tire-pressure monitoring, electronic brake distribution, a full set of airbags, and more.

Optional safety upgrades include adaptive headlights on Xenon-equipped models, automatic wipers, parking sensors, and, on John Cooper Works models, dynamic stability control.

The very similar MINI Cooper hatchback scores well in crash testing, earning top marks of "good" from the IIHS and five-star rollover ratings from the NHTSA.


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2012 MINI Cooper Clubman

Features

The 2012 MINI Clubman is almost infinitely configurable, and offers a wide array of the latest modern conveniences, but beware the bottom line when ticking options boxes.

A huge array of options, upgrades, and individualization are available for the 2012 MINI Cooper Clubman, which means you can make your Clubman truly yours. The MINI Yours options new for 2012 enhance this customizability. But at the same time, the price can quickly inflate when ticking off options and adding premium upholstery, infotainment, and other technology and appearance features.

Standard equipment on all Clubmans includes vinyl upholstery; a trip computer; ambient lighting; and an AM/FM CD audio system with auxiliary input. A round key fob takes the place of the standard key and doubles as the keyless entry system.

If you're looking to upgrade your Clubman, the options are nearly endless: American or British flag emblems for the roof complement plain white or other custom colors; painted wheels are available; as are white-capped mirrors, chrome and color choices for interior trim and panels, and a wide range of sizes and styles of alloy wheels.

A roof rack, sunroof, and rear roof spoiler further accent the top of the car. Inside, Bluetooth, iPod/USB connections, navigation with real-time traffic, and much more can be had. MINI Connected offers apps compatibility and deeper smartphone integration.

With all of these features and extras available, it's easy to see how the price of a new Clubman, outfitted to top spec, can easily exceed the $40,000 mark.


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2012 MINI Cooper Clubman

Fuel Economy

The 2012 MINI Cooper Clubman combines sport, style, and efficiency in a winning package.

While they aren't quite as impressive as the modern breed of hybrids, plug-ins, and range-extended electric vehicles, the MINI Clubman range does get remarkably good gas mileage for a conventional car.

The base model Clubman scores 27/35 mpg in both automatic and manual guises. The Cooper S model rates the same 27/35 mpg in manual trim--despite a 60-horsepower gain--while the automatic takes a slight hit at 26/34 mpg.

The John Cooper Works model is the most powerful version, and it's accordingly the least efficient, but still scores a respectable 25/33 mpg.


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Styling 9
Performance 9
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