"The quirkiest MINI on sale, but the Clubman offers useful extra space compared to the smaller MINI hatchback."
The MINI Clubman, aka the ‘MINI estate’, is designed to combine all the quirky styling, classy image and ‘go-kart’ driving experience of the MINI hatchback with greater practicality, more space in the back and a bigger boot (accessed via two barn-door style, side-hinged double doors). But MINI doesn’t like to do things like anybody else, so you get into the back through a rear-hinged ‘ClubDoor’ on one side of the Clubman only. True to its remit, two adults can sit comfortably in the back – which they couldn’t in the more compact hatchback – but the boot is still much smaller than other, more conventional family hatchbacks, like the Volkswagen Golf. It's ‘practical MINI’ title has been somewhat stolen recently by the bigger MINI Countryman, so the unique-looking Clubman is best suited to buyer's looking for something that little bit different. And it's most definitely not a van.
The bigger dimensions do make the Clubman more comfortable than the smaller MINI hatchback. The size makes it feel less like a go-kart, but it does cope better with bumps and potholes. You still sit low in the car, but lots of adjustment in the wheel and driver's seat mean it's easy to find an excellent driving position. While the steering is less accurate than the hatchback, only the 98bhp 1.6-litre One model lacks power – forcing you to change down the gears when the car is loaded for proper acceleration – but the Cooper D is much better and faster, and the performance-focused 208bhp John Cooper Works model is the weirdest racing car in the world, but is loud and very fast. Best performance per pound of your money has to be the One D, which has CO2 emissions of only 103g/km and decent fuel economy.
The distinctive design of the Clubman does create extra space but also reduces comfort. There may be more legroom than in the MINI hatchback, but the only door to the back is on the driver's side, which means it opens out on to the road instead of the kerb – not the most child-friendly set up ever engineered. MINI's excuse that it was too costly to swap sides for right-hand-drive cars hardly helps, either. That said, it is rear-hinged so getting to the back seats is very easy. Once you’re in the back, it really doesn’t feel as roomy as a VW Golf or equivalent. Door safety aside, there is just enough space to fit two child seats in the back for family buyers, and most adults will be able to squeeze in comfortably for short trips. The ride is still a bit firm, but is more comfortable than either the hatchback or the convertible.
Since its triumphant BMW rebirth in 2001, every model of the MINI range has established a strong, well-deserved reputation for reliability and trouble-free ownership. Superior engineering and top-quality production from parent company BMW is evident in all aspects of the car. Likewise, the Clubman also has excellent safety credentials that should appeal to family buyers – electronic stability control, ISOFIX child seat anchor points and six airbags are fitted as standard. Its sister cars in the MINI range have secured five stars in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, so expect the same for the Clubman – the hatchback model on which its based is a very safe place to be, scoring top marks for adult protection. The side airbags have also been extended all the way down the car to cover its increased length.
Most family hatchbacks offer around 350 litres of storage space when the back seats are in place, but the Clubman only offers 260 litres. That may be 100 litres more the MINI hatchback but it's hardly spacious by class standards. If you put a child's pushchair in the back, there won’t be much room for anything else in the boot, but fold the seats down and you get 930 litres – about the same as a Citroen DS3. The barn-door style rear doors make loading easy, but they also make it hard to see out the back when driving. Even though its biggest improvement over the three-door hatchback model is that adults can actually sit in the back, thanks to the extra legroom provided by the extra 80mm of length, the Clubman is not the most practical car available for the price.
Value for money
You’ll pay roughly £1,000 more for the Clubman than the standard MINI hatchback, but that's justified by the extra space you get for your money. Plus, the Clubman is likely to have strong resale value – the equivalent of a sports car - due to the popularity of the brand, as seen in the healthy performance of other MINIs in the used car market. That means any monthly lease rate will be low and that buyers can get a good price when they come to sell their car on after a few years.
Here's the good news – while the initial outlay to buy the Clubman may give you pause for thought, once you’ve got it on your driveway it's actually surprisingly cheap to run. All engines are pretty frugal, with the diesel Cooper D returning an excellent 68.9mpg and even the petrol Cooper managing to return a healthy 51.4mpg. Plus, MINI's good-value optional tlc packs gives five years of servicing for only £200, which handily bypasses any big repair bills at a later date. That all adds up to a premium car that costs very little to own. Obviously, the Cooper S and John Cooper Works models aren’t as cheap to run, but they’re certainly more fun.