Saturday 24 February 2018

Latest MINI joins the ‘big car’ Club

The new MINI.
The new MINI.
The new MINI.

Eddie Cunningham reports from Stockholm

A NEW MINI has joined the ‘big car’ club.

The iconic marque’s new Clubman estate is much bigger than before and has, happily, got four proper doors.

It used to have a weird rear-hinged single door at the back. That was okay for left-hand drive cars where it opened onto kerbside. But in right-hand drive it opened onto the road. Not clever. Gone but not forgotten. Much easier to get into the back now. And once there I found there was plenty of room.

It goes on sale this month with a starting price of €29,560 on-the-road (OTR) for the Cooper model, €32,570 for the Cooper D and €35,760 for the Cooper S version.

To give you an idea of its size, it is now bigger than the current Countryman. At 4,253mm its length is increased by 293mm. And while they were at it they made it wider (115mm) and a little taller (16mm).

That makes it 270 mm longer and 73 mm wider than the 5dr while the wheelbase is up 100mm. MINI are calling it a five-seater – the rear will take three ‘younger’ passengers and two of my size, I reckon.

There are 360 litres of boot space though you can expand that to 1,250 litres if you fold the rear seats flat.

Speaking of doors there are, in reality, six of them because the tailgate splits into two as well.

All those increased dimensions haven’t helped on the weighing scales. It has put on an extra 155kg – that’s two good sized adults. But it is a much bigger frame and can carry it – this is after all based on the same front-wheel-drive platform as the BMW 2-series Active Tourer.

The Cooper version comes in at 1,300kg, not far, by my reckoning from Audi’s new A4. We are talking grown-up MINI here, for sure.

The cabin has the new MINI look and there is, for the first time, an electric handbrake. BMW’s rotary controller slots in between the front seats.

With MINIs, regardless of name or size, you have to get the combination of zest and fun that marked out the name in the first place.

So engine lineups are always important. This has three from the off with three more to come. The Cooper D Clubman gets a 4cyl diesel that develops 150bhp (68.9mpg,109g/km, €190 road tax).

The Cooper version has a 3cyl petrol (136bhp 55.4 mpg, 118g/km, €200 road tax). I think it latter will be of more interest as small petrols are making a comeback and diesels are, well, under a it of a cloud at the moment.

And the top-of-range Cooper S has a 2-litre 4cyl petrol with turbocharging and direct injection (192bhp, 45.6 mpg, 144g/km, €390 road tax). This is the one I’ve just been driving. Lots of power and pep and the chassis to go with it though Stockholm traffic didn’t exactly let it show its wares fully. 

There are 6spd manual (on my test car) and auto transmissions and a new-to-MINI 8spd Steptronic.

There is no doubt the Clubman is different but it is about as big as a MINI can or should get, I think. I also believe MINI executives share that view. I mean how much bigger can you get and still call it a small car? Now it will be competing with the likes of the Mercedes GLA and A3 and VW Golf – the alternatives are endless - for the first time. But it is the shortest in its segment. There are tough rivals and people will need to get their head around the idea that a MINI can compete with them on inner space especially – and on price.

Inside, the Big Ben central instrument layout dominates the dash – I’m still not a fan - with a 6.5ins or 8.8ins screen displaying for infotainment, phone or sat nav (now standard).

And like the 3dr and 5dr the speedo and rev counter are in the instrument cluster which you can see easily through the steering wheel.

But there are far too many toggle switches. MINI say they are ‘much loved’. I don’t agree. Clutter is still a problem.

For the first time, however, you can adjust the front seats electronically.

With families in mind, it’s no surprise that the glove box and door compartments can hold one-litre drink bottles.

And they expect a lot of them to opt for what they call the Chili pack. It includes cloth/leather upholstery with heated sports seats, park distance control, automatic air con, LED headlights/foglights etc.

This is quite a step up for MINI. It takes a little getting use to but all the old driving ingredients are there, no doubt. The question now is will people opt for an estate that happens to be a MINI or a MINI that happens to be an estate.

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