Barn-door styling, in the best possible way
Skimming over the specifications, it'd be easy to judge the Clubman along the same lines as the Cooper hatchbacks
-- maybe a tick slower, a bit less ready to point and shoot. But in all fairness, our driving exposure to both the hatchback and the Clubman came with asterisks. The Cooper, we piloted at medium speeds around the hillier environs of San Juan, Puerto Rico, never hitting more than 60 mph.
Savannah's roads gave us the opposite--flat roads, few corners, a handful of right-hand turns among the low-country mosquito camps. So our impressions of the Clubman aren't so much colored by the drive as carried over. It doesn't feel much different than a stock Cooper in either form, just...pulled.
That brings us back full-circle to the original premise: if the Clubman handles and accelerates much like a MINI, one that already comes in four-door form, what's the point? It's entirely in the rear-seat and cargo space. This is the only MINI Cooper we'd use to transport adults in the back seat, the only Cooper we'd consider taking for a long trip with more than two passengers. The Countryman is still the only offering with all-wheel drive, and that's the dividing line between it and the Clubman--do you want a MINI, or do you want a crossover?
By the numbers, the Clubman is 168.3 inches--not even up to Escape/CR-V lengths, barely equal to a five-door Golf. Still, it's 10.9 inches longer, with 4.0 inches more wheelbase than the last Clubman. Equally important, it's 2.9 inches wider. There's just more spread-out space here, even in rear-seat headroom, to make a two-hour stint to the nearby beach a practical reality.
Loading the Clubman with stuff proves out its usefulness--there's about as much cargo space (17.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats, 47.9 behind the fronts) as in most small crossover SUVs. Instead of a top-hinged tailgate, there's a pair of smart barn doors, which spring open with available gesture control, handsfree. There's plenty of room for a dog crate and for child seats, though the cargo area looks shallow.
And that brings us to the point of a Clubman. You don't have to have a crossover to get their job done, don't have to settle for a dowdy hatchback shape when a cool long-body wagon will do. If you've ever lusted for an 1800ES or an M Coupe clown-shoe, look no further for a substitute.
Just take it easy on the order sheet. The Clubman comes moderately equipped--there's no standard rearview camera, but it does come with automatic climate control, Bluetooth, smartphone connectivity, split-folding rear seats, and power features. You'll pay for all the little things, by themselves or in bundled packages--and you'll want to add features like LED lighting, the gesture-controlled barn doors, and navigation.
The Clubman goes on sale in January. Pricing starts at $24,950 for the base Cooper, including an $850 destination charge, some $2,000 more than the previous edition. The Cooper S will set you back $28,500.