The Mini Cooper goes maxi with the new Clubman model

The new Clubman is a spacious Mini that is also fun to drive.
The new Clubman is a spacious Mini that is also fun to drive. ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG
The new Clubman is a spacious Mini that is also fun to drive.
The new Clubman is a spacious Mini that is also fun to drive. ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG
The new Clubman is a spacious Mini that is also fun to drive.
The new Clubman is a spacious Mini that is also fun to drive. ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG

Mini's new Clubman takes off to new heights in quality, comfort and practicality

The Mini is no longer mini. It is a rather sizeable car - measuring, in the case of the latest Clubman model, 4,253mm by 1,800mm.

That makes it longer and wider than the Suzuki Vitara. That also makes it markedly larger all round than its predecessor. With a slightly higher ceiling and a wheelbase extended by 123mm to 2,670mm, there is plenty of room inside.

Whether you are behind the wheel or in the second row, you get a feeling of spaciousness that no other Mini can match.

Even its boot area is sizeable. Twin side-hinged doors make accessing the stowage easier than in cars with regular flip-up tailgates. The doors also come with auto-opening function.

The only thing here that is a slight inconvenience is the high sill and deep cargo floor, which makes loading and unloading heavier items a challenge for those with bad backs.

It is just as well that this Mini, like all modern Minis, is favoured by the young and hip. The silver-haired generation who grew up with the original Mini would no doubt be aghast at the sheer size of the new car, as well as its rather challenging boot access.

  • SPECS/MINI COOPER S CLUBMAN

    Price: $166,300 with COE

    Engine: 1,998cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged

    Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual select

    Power: 192bhp at 5,000rpm

    Torque: 280Nm at 1,250rpm

    0-100kmh: 7.1 seconds

    Top speed: 228kmh

    Fuel consumption: 5.9 litres/ 100km

    Agent: Eurokars Habitat

Which is a pity because once they get behind the wheel, the car would transport them back to the time when they were full of vigour.

Despite its un-Mini dimensions, the Clubman moves with the agility and precision of a Lotus Elise - and without any of its twitchiness and coarseness. It steers flawlessly and has more than enough power on tap to get out of tight situations without any sweat.

The Cooper S version is a barrel of fun, with plenty of grunt, fine balance and natural panache. Its familiar turbocharged 2-litre power plant, now paired with an eight- speed autobox, gets the biggish Clubman moving briskly, if not blisteringly.

As always, driving a Mini is not merely about speed. It is also about the experience of sublime roadholding afforded by a car with wide tracks and a low centre of gravity.

One look at the car from either the front or back and you know it will handle well. And you are not disappointed once you get cracking. Throw it around a corner fast and the car maintains an even keel. It will take a lot of momentum to unsettle this go-kart dressed as a compact wagon.

The other thing that stands out is build quality. The Clubman has the best fit and finish of any Mini. There is no hint of cabin rattle, no plasticky bits falling off and no crusty switches.

This bodes well for the mechanical well-being of the car. Because if you cannot get superficial and cosmetic parts right, you are unlikely to get complex systems such as the drivetrain right either.

Overall, the new Clubman offers high driveability with a measure of practicality and comfort.

One wonders how much bigger it can get before it loses the one thing that has defined the brand all these years - fun.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'Not so mini'. Print Edition | Subscribe