Some things resurrect quite well; others not so much. Mini and Fiat have been doing quite well in the small car arena, with the 500 and the Cooper Hardtop being the most popular sellers. But some people need a bit more from their small car, say, weirdness. And a bit more space.
But mainly weirdness.
Sure you could buy a Hyundai Veloster. You could even get it with a 1.6L Turbo 4, like the Clubman. It even comes with three passenger doors, like the Clubman, and Hyundai has a lot more of a value proposition than the Mini.
So clearly you would have to be an idiot to buy the Mini. Allow me to explain.
First off, the third door. It's a suicide door, exactly like same style as the Mazda RX-8, meaning you have to open the front door first, and reach in to work the handle to release the rear door. It's proved itself very useful, since I tend to stash my briefcase behind the front passenger seat.
The other distinguishing feature is the barn doors at the back. Haven't these all but disappeared from cars, due to the central pillar created? Yes, yes they have.
I'd be lying if I didn't say that it is annoying. You do get used to it, but it isn't something that I expect. However, not having to pull a hatch down over the force of the lift shocks does have distinct advantages.
Now, on to the good stuff.
The engine is a 1.6L Prince I4. Slightly turbocharged, as it were. It's a bit of a change from the original Cooper S supercharged 4 from Brazil, as this is from Peugeot, with a BMW Valvetronic head. Good for 181bhp and 177 torques, it's flexible for use either in town at lower rev ranges, or on the expressway. 80MPH turns over 3000RPM in 6th gear however.
This engine may have less power than the Veloster's 1.6, but the Clubman is quicker...slightly.
Let's get the big one out of the way first. It is front wheel drive. There are some people, generally on the internet, who consider any front driver to be infinitely worse than a rear drive car, and will actively pooh-pooh all FWD cars as Camcorssats.
There are great FWD cars, and awful RWD cars. Get over it. This is one, and the Focus ST and VW GTI are two others.
But this one is let down. Not by the stiff body, or the steering (EPAS), but by the suspension and the tires. Mainly the tires. BMW is well-known for having a run-flat fetish, and only base Minis come with standard tires and a donut. The ones you would be interested in (read: turbocharged models)? Runflat only!
This makes the wheel and tire combination heavier than it should be. Which means the suspension has to do a lot more to absorb impacts. And it does a decent job: the ride isn't buttery smooth, but it is good for a small car. Not as good as a Focus ST, though.
I've clearly jumped off the deep end. Standard fit equipment on the S includes sport seats, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, Bluetooth, a 6 speaker stereo system, HD Radio, fog lamps, push-button start, tilt-telescope steering wheel, lots of cargo room, and even an air-conditioned glove box.
So why the average score? Because this is the type of equipment you expect to be on a car these days. You expect Bluetooth, you expect power windows and locks, and you expect a decent stereo. You even expect ergonomics!
Yeah, you don't get that as standard fit. Ergonomics are sacrificed in the name of style. This isn't a deal killer, but it means you should have good selection of reasonably priced options.
Did I just use the phrase "Reasonably Priced Options" in referring to a BMW product? My apologies, it was an inadvertent error.
The option packs and standalone options are just crazy. Add them all to your build, and you can ultimately end up spending twice as much money as the base price ($25,100 for a Clubman S). You could even buy a car for the money BMW lets you spend on options!
This car only has the "Sport Pack". Which doesn't actually involve sport or sportiness at all. Package contents are as follows:
- Xenon Headlights ($500 option)
- 17 inch wheels ($750 option)
- Front turn signal lenses clear ($100 option)
- Dynamic Traction Control ($250 option. AKA disable the yaw sensor on DSC)
- Black or white stripes on the bonnet ($100! option)
All this for $1250! And it doesn't even have the sport suspension bits (and by "bits" they mean stiffer anti-roll bars and no other changes. $500 for anti-roll bars...)
And the car reminds you of what you could have bought off the options list. For example: On the steering wheel, there is a voice activation button. The older Minis used to be able to do voice activation for phone calls with just the Bluetooth option.
BMW removed the voice activation, but not the button. The only way to get voice activation is to get the Mini Connected package (Navigation radio with navigation turned off), or the satnav. Which is another $1500 to $2300 in options (depending on if you get navigation). $1500 to enable a button. Granted they throw in a year of Sirius Satellite Radio and the Harman Kardon stereo, but that's hardly enough of a consolation prize.
Bitching about BMW nickel and diming on options over.
The seats fold down, there's a flat load floor, and there's even space under the flat load floor for more stuff. However, it doesn't have the space of, say, a Honda Fit, due to the low roofline (there's that style thing again).
The squared off back end means that you get a modest 9.2 cubic feet with the seats up, and 32.8 cubic feet of space with them down. Again, not as much as you get in, say, a Focus ST, but it's usable.
If you think of the Clubman as having more space than the Mini Hardtop as opposed to having less space than a more traditional hatchback, it does make a slight bit of sense... If you have large stuff to carry, there's always renting a pickup (or knowing that one friend who has an F-150).
I'll be frank, the Focus ST is a better car (minus the fact that I find the Recaro seats uncomfortable to the point of unbearable for my daily driver), with a much more playful drivetrain than the bog standard one you get from Ford. The Hyundai Veloster is a much better value for money, and is a bit more practical.
So why the Mini? It's outgunned in just about every measure, and this isn't a JCW (which would only further serve to obliterate the value proposition).
I drove a Focus ST, and a VW GTI (I don't like the Veloster's looks, so it was a three way race). The Focus ST drives quite well, but I could never get comfortable in it. It also never quite had the idea of settling down and being a bit more sedate, if you keep it out of the boost. It always reminds you that it wants to play: tight shifter, slightly higher effort clutch, etc.
The VW is grown up. That's not inherently bad, but it strikes me as something I'll be ready for in about 4 years, when I turn 30.
I liked driving both the Focus ST and the GTI. They are both good cars.
But I love the Mini. It's the blend of playfulness, power, practicality, and good companion which I find appealing. It's not for everyone, and even the marketing says it's quirky. I like it for its weirdness, and I like it as an actual car.
You might be forgiven if you considered it an actual BMW. Yes, BMW is going to bring FWD to the 1 series, but the Mini shows it's not the end of the world for a FWD BMW.
If you find appeal in weird, small, British, German, and fun things, give this one a go. Stay light on the options to get the best value for the money, although you'll need to convince yourself it's a tiny BMW rather than an expensive hatchback.
(note: not a sum of previous numbers)