New MINI Clubman Cooper 2019 review
The MINI Clubman has been refreshed with subtle exterior tweaks and a revised engine line-up, but it remains an oddball choice
The second-generation version of the Clubman is now four years old so it’s time for a refresh. On the outside the changes are pretty subtle with the biggest difference being a pair of patriotic rear lights. MINI has slimmed down the engine choices too, but the Cooper remains the pick of the range. While the refresh has smartened things up, the Clubman is still an oddball choice compared to other more conventional premium hatchbacks and it won’t appeal to everyone.
The MINI Clubman has always suffered from an identity crisis. The original, with its single rear door that opened on the driver’s side, was quaint but odd. This second-generation car is part hatch, part estate and four years on from launch, it’s had a refresh.
This is it and on the surface at least, not much has changed. MINI has chosen to lightly freshen up the looks so the Clubman’s slightly confused personality remains. New lights and a larger grille brighten up the front and there are new, squarer door mirrors, but it’s at the rear where you’ll spot a facelifted Clubman from the old one.
The rear lights are now full-LEDs and adopt the Union Jack design, first seen on the MINI three- and five-door. With their wider and slimmer shape they are arguably less contrived than the Hatch’s design, but they remain a divisive feature. They’re also a feature you’re stuck with, as MINI isn’t offering a more generic halogen offering for people who don’t want to fly the flag. That wouldn’t be premium enough, says MINI.
Elsewhere it’s your typical mid-life refresh, so there are three new colours – including this Indian Summer Red metallic – new wheel designs and, as this is a MINI, there are now more ways to personalise it. So there are more contrasting roof colours and you can order Union Jack-style wheels and headrests, if you wish. More optional extras, including various technology packs and Matrix LED headlamps, are added to the list as well. But, unsurprisingly, they all come at a hefty price.
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The changes are equally minor on the inside. There are seven new leather upholsteries in various colours, which will grab your eye, but that’s pretty much it. The standard of fit and finish remains extremely high, but the Clubman is still outclassed by the now really rather old Audi A3. The design, however, has a bigger wow factor than the Mercedes A-Class, despite the MINI having been around for longer. There are still loads of cubbies to store things, room in the back is fine for two adults, but not three, and the boot remains large for a hatch but small for an estate car.
As standard the entry-level Clubman Classic still get a 6-5-inch infotainment screen with sat-nav, Apple CarPlay, real time traffic updates, online search and connected services, automatic lights and wipers, LED mood lighting and MINI logo puddle lamps, but is now £700 dearer than before. Meanwhile, Sport carries with it a John Cooper Works bodykit, larger alloys and bucket seats and Exclusive tops the range once again with its leather and chrome features.
Despite all the tweaks to the way the Clubman looks, under the bonnet MINI has slimmed things down. There’s now only one diesel – the 148bhp 2.0-litre Cooper D – and three petrols: a 189bhp 2.0-litre for the Cooper S, a 302bhp 2.0-litre John Cooper Works (70bhp more than the old JCW) and a 134bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder for the Cooper. The One and One D have gone as has the Cooper S All4, with four-wheel drive reserved solely for the JCW.
The Cooper has long been our pick and the bestseller of the range, due to its appealing blend of performance and finesse. It’s also the model that does the best job of differentiating itself from the MINI five-door Hatch, so it’s the engine we’re focusing on here. The mid-life refresh has left the Clubman’s oily bits untouched so it goes, stops and rides like before.
The 1.5-litre three-cylinder is a little gem; it’s punchy across the entire rev range, and yet has similar refinement to that of the 2.0-litre in the Cooper S – it’s never thrashy or boomy, even when you extend it towards the red line. Our car was matched up to a seven-speed double-clutch Steptronic gearbox (a six-speed manual is standard and £1,600 cheaper), which is smooth but never really gives a sporty feel when changing ratios and is more set up for relaxed driving. The same goes for the ride – the Cooper has a pleasing suppleness around town, which happily doesn’t translate to wallowy body control on a country road.
While the Clubman has always tried to be slightly more comfortable than the Hatch, it still has a chassis that’s typically MINI. For a posh hatchback-cum-estate car, it’s surprisingly responsive and feels more agile than an A-Class or even a BMW 1 Series. It’s just a shame then that the steering, while direct, never weights up like it does in other MINI models and feels just a bit too light.