Sunday 22 April 2018

No more small talk as MINI hits the big time

Size and price of new Clubman grow, too, writes our Motoring Editor

A touch of the old magic: Mini Clubman
A touch of the old magic: Mini Clubman
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I know what a minibreak is; I know what a miniskirt is. But I don't know what a mini car is any more. And I can thank (or blame?) the new MINI Clubman estate for that.

Merciful hour, but it's big. Like a growth-spurt teenager, it's gone from moderate adolescent to adult in no time.

Not many cars grow nearly 12ins on their predecessor (at 4,253mm, it is up 293mm; also 115mm wider and 16mm taller), or pile on an extra 155kg.

To put this Clubman in some sort of context, it might be helpful to know it is 270mm longer and 73mm wider than the 5dr hatch.

It's the first MINI I've driven where there was moderately decent rear-seat room for a couple of adult passengers. Admittedly, they were of relatively moderate physique but it went to show, as if proof were needed, how well MINI has managed to exploit the additional inches and translate them into proper space.

There are things I loved about big MINI and there were things I didn't.

I adored the two little split-tailgate doors at the back. Cute. And practical; opening one was sufficient for me to get reasonable amount of shopping, gym-kit bag and laptop bag into the well-covered boot. The two windows on the doors have a little wiper each. Cute. There was also a decent-sized boot (360 litres). Drop the rear seats and you've got loads of room (1,250 litres).

The new-look cabin held few surprises really, except I'm not a fan of the electric handbrake.

I also still don't like the look of the Big Ben central screen but it was an excellent interface for infotainment, phone or satnav (now standard). And the rotary controller for it fell to hand easily between the front seats.

It's a typically modern MINI really, with plenty of creature comforts. I liked it. I felt at home, though they still have too many buttons all over the place - right up to the ceiling.

And I found the adjustment levers on my seat to be fiddly, hard to find and awkward to access and use. But the seats themselves were excellent; solid, firm and big enough for this old frame.

With three of us on board, it was a cosy little place on some cold days; they have lots of little - and large - storage slots (door compartments can hold one-litre drink bottles).

As it stood that bit taller, I had a great driving position. I have to say the 2-litre diesel was a bit of joy to drive around town and out the high road.

It was critical that I did get the sort of sporty, sharp drive essential for this car to be called a MINI. If it didn't have that busy/energetic, close-to-the-tarmac feel, then why buy it? There are plenty of other estates. I'm glad to say it did in abundance, though coming immediately after a week in the extravagantly comfortable BMW 7-series, it took me a couple of days to acclimatise to its more sporty way of travel. However, I was disappointed with the quality of the gear change but I'm prepared to put it down to the car being so new. Getting reverse was a little bit of bother, too. Shouldn't be, you know.

One thing they are not reversing is price. In line with the larger car, cost has gone up. Only to be expected, I suppose. MINI have emphasised that when you take everything into account - not just the larger car but the technology and standard equipment - the price for a small premium estate isn't extravagant by any means. I take their word for it, but by golly the starting price doesn't half grow up when you add on a few extras.

Forty thousand for a MINI estate - albeit a well-dressed and equipped version - is a lot of money. Just goes to show you this MINI has grown up in more than physical size.

Which begs the question: if they keep making MINIs bigger and bigger, where and when will the name not mean smart and small any more?

Now that's a really big question. Meantime, I think you'd enjoy this. It's practical but still has a touch of the old MINI magic.

Facts & figures

MINI Clubman Cooper D (4cyl, 1,995cc diesel, 150bhp, 109g/km-115g/km, €190/€200 road tax, from 4.1l/100km, 68.9mpg).

Prices from €29,560 (on-the-road) for Cooper petrol. Cooper diesel tested €32,501; plus options €40,387.

Along with standard active and safety elements, options on test car included: CHILI Pack (cloth/leather upholstery, heated sports seats, park distance control, automatic air con, LED headlights/foglights etc), run-flat tyres, Anthracite roof lining, rain sensor, cruise control, satnav.

My side of the road

I've never seen so many people out running. Great for them; danger for all. Especially on narrower country roads where the options for runners and drivers to create a bit more space are so limited. I had a couple of scary moments up the Wicklow mountains where I had no choice but to stop completely. Others, drivers and runners, should realise they may have to do the same.

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