The naming conventions used for modern-day passenger cars are now more convoluted and perplexing than the binomial nomenclature system for living beings. While Mini is among the few brands that have stayed away from complex alphanumeric names for its models, even it managed to bungle its otherwise straightforward naming convention for its larger cars.
But that’s only if you’re aware of the marque’s historic model designations. The Clubman name traces its roots back to the Seventies, when it was used for the original Mini’s first facelift, sporting edgier styling. But obviously that car was a hatchback, and the estate versions of the classic Mini came to be known by the Countryman or Traveller monikers.
That was all simple and forthright, and it made perfect sense that BMW called the estate version of the new Mini the Countryman when it was shown as a concept in 2006 at the Frankfurt motor show. But things got complicated when the production car launched two years later was called the Clubman. It was said that this was done because BMW didn’t have the rights to the Countryman name, which was later used to designate Mini’s crossover utility vehicle.
But it was not just the name that was debatable about the first-gen Clubman. The Club Door, the minuscule rear-hinged apology for a door at the back, proved controversial, as it was mounted on the right side irrespective of the market, which meant in right-hand drive markets, rear passengers had no choice but to exit on to the road instead of the kerb.
For the second generation, the Club Door is gone, and replaced by proper rear portals on either side. This makes the Clubman a six-door Mini, as the dual ‘barn door’ opening to the boot has been retained. It’s also grown considerably. In fact, at 4,253mm, it’s the longest car in Mini’s current line-up. Yes, even longer than the Countryman. It’s also grown in other dimensions, being 1,800mm wide, and boasting a wheelbase of 2,670mm, and front and rear track widths of 1,564mm and 1,565mm, respectively. This increase in size is also due to the fact that the new Cooper hatch is already nearly as big as the first-generation Clubman. So the estate had to be even larger and roomier to justify its existence.
As for looks, Mini says it’s a contemporary interpretation of the shooting brake concept, although in reality it doesn’t look much different from the previous model, but for the traditional rear doors.
However, what’s changed significantly is the cabin room, which benefits from the increased dimensions. The result is more head- and shoulder-room for front and rear passengers, and considerably more legroom in the second row. However, the thick central pillar formed in the middle by the ‘barn doors’ hamper rear view significantly.
But these doors make loading the cargo bay easy as they open wide either remotely with the press of a button on the key fob, or by kicking under the rear bumper with the key in your pocket. Cargo capacity has also been upgraded, with 360 litres available with seats up and 1,250 litres with the 40:20:40 split second-row seats folded down.
The cabin’s styling retains classic Mini elements, but is more grown-up and less quirky in overall character. The large white centrally placed speedometer is gone and has been moved to the instrument binnacle behind the steering wheel. And in its place, the centre console is taken up by an LED light ring that does multiple jobs, acting as a tachometer as well as a pre-collision alert warning, changing colours from green to orange to red.
However, toggle switches on the dashboard help retain the characteristic Mini quirkiness. My test car also has the optional accent lighting around the cabin, which are essentially backlit decorative strips on the door cards, as well as puddle lights that project the Mini logo on the ground as you approach the car.
In the engine bay of the Clubman Cooper S is a BMW-sourced 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that’s good for 189bhp and 280Nm of torque. It comes mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission with steering-mounted paddle shifters. The auto ’box is particularly impressive, even when not controlled with the paddles, effecting swift, crisp shifts when driven enthusiastically, and changing cogs smoothly when pottering around.
Apart from the default normal mode, the Clubman Cooper S offers two choices; the frugal Green and the spirited Sport, which alter throttle mapping, suspension and steering settings to suit your driving style. I left it in Sport most of the time, and found the ride quality to be as refined and smooth as it was in other modes.
However, don’t expect the same go-kart-like grip as the hatch – the Clubman, despite its decent driving dynamics, is essentially a family car. Yet, for a car that’s longer and heavier than the three- and five-door Minis, it is still a car that’s great fun to drive, especially with the well-weighted steering and the sharp throttle response you get in Sport mode.
If you’re a hard-core Mini fan, but want flexibility for a growing family, yet still desire the core character of the brand, then the Clubman is for you. It’s more versatile than the hatch, but more hunkered down and fun to drive than the Countryman. A great choice for those in the market for a premium, spacious small car.