As interns at Jalopnik, we've got a pretty sweet gig. Admittedly, there are occasionally humdrum duties such as cleaning the tire debris off of Challengers and Corvette ZR1s, but at the end of the day, the perks outweigh everything else. Heavily. When two of us were tossed the keys to a fully-fueled 2009 MINI Cooper Clubman S so fresh its interior plastics were still off-gassing, and the only spoken rule was that it had to be at the airport the next morning to meet the boss man with most of its important bits still attached, our minds ran wild. A full trunk of camera gear in tow, we did what anyone would when presented the keys to a MINI S. We went straight to Hell. Hell, Michigan is a microscopic town just 15 miles outside of Ann Arbor. It was founded in 1838 by George Reeves and back then, Hell was actually bigger than it is now: It had both a general store and a mill. Only the general store — selling mostly Hell-centric kitsch — and a small ice cream shop remain today. Since Reeves became infamous for putting excess grain from the mill through his private whiskey still then offering it up for profit, Hell quickly became a popular spot to procure some de-luxe 'shine back in the day. Legend has it that eventually horses began returning to neighboring towns without riders, leading their wives to question the whereabouts of their husbands...a typical response to which was, "He's gone to Hell!" When the State of Michigan eventually asked Reeves what the official name of his settlement was to be, he replied, "Call it Hell for all I care, everyone else does." Along with overwhelming amounts of kitsch, Hell is home to some of the best sweeping roads in Michigan's Lower Peninsula. Approaching from the south, the road narrows from a four-lane highway to a two-lane pathway. Carving, cambered curves appear out of nowhere and you are quickly drawn further and further into the scenic side of the mitten (for you non-Michiganders, hold up your hand in the shape of a mitten and then, after, noting "Hey look, it's shaped like Michigan!" you'll see where we're talking about). Just fifteen minutes prior, we were trapped in typical rush hour drudgery. Now, my allies and I were soaking in the earth-tone blur provided by the untouchable combination of stiff acceleration, a panoramic moon roof and a winding forest road. The strong hoonage quotient promised by the turbocharged 172 HP four-cylinder and a chassis overflowing with Bruce pushed us to nail the progress pedal to the floor despite ever-tightening road geometry. The MINI responded with its best Mr. Plow impersonation and we promptly ended up on the gravel shoulder. Something was amiss. The standard-issue MINI Cooper S would consume such a surface like a German inhales a liter of Hofbräu during Oktoberfest. It seems the missing passenger-side B-pillar caused this slower, chubbier and more flexible Cooper Clubman S to lose a bit of its composure at the limit. After some thorough, varied and objective flogging, we concluded that, as enthusiasts, the flawless structure present in the smaller, fitter Cooper S has seemingly been ruined by the addition of a paltry suicide door, a double rear door and 3.1 inches of wheelbase. Mildly disappointed with the lack of go-kart capability, we proceeded south on the cruising roads leading back to Ann Arbor. Not out of the woods yet, the MINI was wound out in sixth gear and the tub pointed out what proficiency it had to offer over the pint-sized Cooper S. The added wheelbase and extra heft provided a very smooth and controlled glide for such a tiny car over some of the rougher patches of Michigan asphalt. Perhaps the ride was too smooth, interfering with our sense of speed, because we proceeded, cruise-missile-like at a very undisclosable speed past a local lawman doing something untold in the dark outside of his idling cruiser. Witnessing our microshuttle shoot over the crest, our road-following HIDs illuminated the officer while he scurried sideways to assume the position and give chase. This was his one chance to bust one of those big-city yuppies and he wasn't letting a little thing like pulling up his pants get in the way. The officer channeled a bit of Tanner Foust as he slid the old Crown Victoria around in the dust and roared up to a spot about a foot off of our rear fascia while we proceeded at a brisk 35 MPH. Perhaps he was simply admiring the quirky rear barn doors, but after about three miles of trawling along, the officer decided it was quitting time and pulled away. Disaster averted. We rolled into downtown Ann Arbor with a now-dusty MINI and grabbed ourselves some super premium chow at Ashley's. Even with the added length, we found we could park the MINI just about anywhere in a town that is notorious for a total lack of parking. We decided it belonged best stuffed inside a pathway running through the center of the U of M campus. They didn't design those anti-car posts with this little guy in mind. The automatic door of the University's library's slid open as the MINI rolled past and we debated giving it a try. A steely gaze from the librarian inside smothered those plans and we decided the luck of our collective Irishness had been sufficiently pushed and it was time to hang it up for the night. Even though it is not quite as lithe as it's smaller brethren, the MINI Cooper Clubman S is suited for a different purpose. If a nimble mountain terror is your prescription, the added bulk might just be too much to bear. This chassis is much better equipped to handle long stretches of straight road at alarming speeds with your friends and gear in tow than testing G-meters on a track. As if acknowledging its mission in life, the car did finally make it out to the airport, on time, with all of its running gear intact, ready for a week of hauling team and gear — nary a track in sight. Frankly, for the first time ever, we're left wondering why this MINI even needs an "S." Photo Credit goes to Alex Conley.
Filed to: Mini Cooper Clubman S