MINI Cooper D Clubman

Hot Cooper D version of estate is fun and full of character

The MINI Clubman is as quirky as the Audi A1 is conventional. The boxy profile, twin rear doors and asymmetrical body are heavily inspired by Minis of old, and make the car a unique proposition – but still with plenty of retro charm.

More importantly, the wheelbase is 80mm longer than a MINI hatchback’s, so you get marginally more rear legroom than in the Audi and noticeably better headroom.

There is, of course, a catch. Lined up against its five-door rivals in this test, the Clubman’s unusual layout doesn’t offer the same ease of access. The single rear-hinged back door is on the driver’s side and can only be used once the front door has been opened. So the driver has to get out (into the middle of the road when parking in town) to let people in or out of the back. It’s hardly ideal.

This won’t be a deal breaker for everyone, but rules out the Clubman for many buyers. The vertically split rear doors also swing out a long way as you open them, which is a pain in tight parking spaces. On the plus side, they give excellent access to the boot. It can hold 260 litres of luggage and the rear seats fold flat with ease, so there’s decent practicality.

Up front, the MINI’s unique character really shines through. The row of retro toggle switches, oversized central speedo and the rev counter pod have all become hallmarks of the marque. These details are neatly executed, and the rest of the Clubman’s cabin is solidly put together. The dash is also logically laid out, and the driving position is superb.

If we’re being ultra-critical, some of the plastics aren’t quite as upmarket as those in the Audi. But the MINI still feels like a premium product, and is light years ahead of the Chrysler in terms of fit and finish.

Better still, as we’ve come to expect from MINI, the driving experience is second to none, due to the well engineered mechanicals and communicative controls. The steering has a wonderfully natural and weighty feel, while tight body control and very positive responses make the car hugely enjoyable to drive. The ride is firm, but it’s more comfortable than the Audi, and the six-speed gearbox has a snappy shift action.

The BMW-sourced 1.6-litre engine is brilliant, too. Hushed when starting up and punchy thereafter, it’s more refined and responsive than either of its rivals, and helped the MINI top all our performance tests. But there’s a downside to the engine: it’s the only one to emit more than 100g/km. The car puts out 103g/km, so road tax is £20 a year.

Fixed-price tlc service deals and solid resale values go some way to balancing out the high list prices and stingy standard kit tally. Yet the arrival of the more conventional A1 Sportback means the Clubman no longer has everything its own way in this class.

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: Quirky design and unique door layout set the Clubman apart. Wheelbase is longer than a regular MINI’s, so it’s surprisingly spacious.

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