Exterior Design: **** The 2009 MINI Cooper Clubman S preserves much of the styling moxie possessed by the original while hiding much of the added heft. At a distance, it's nearly impossible to differentiate between the two variations, causing us to do more than one double-take. The only major giveaway is the 50/50 split rear barn doors with through-door tail lamps and the suicide door on the passenger side. But a front 3/4 view will make you swear you're looking at the original "S."
Interior Design: *** The interior of the Clubman is mostly identical to its smaller brother from the cockpit-view forward. Rail-protected flight switches control much of the electrics while a delightfully gaudy speedometer dominates the center console. Every compartment, toggle and switch functions with the usual high level of BMW confidence. But don't even get us started on the Toys R' Us-grade plastic. In this price range, a buyer deserves a little better. Also, the color-selectable mood lighting is a little too Focus-like for our liking.
Acceleration: ** The turbocharged Peugeot mill pulls the Clubman forward at a reasonable rate, but it's nothing remarkable. Pushing its power through narrow front tires usually results in tire spin through first gear, followed by an embarrassing lurch backwards as one of the many on-board nanny computers pulls the plug. We really miss the supercharged MINI engine of old. Braking: ***** A hallmark trait of the MINI brand is retro-thruster-like braking prowess in both models. At any speed and on any road surface condition, the combination of superior braking hardware, a stiff pedal and intelligent programming brings you to a halt pronto. Ride: ** Although the Clubman rides much more smoothly over rough surfaces than the standard model due to the longer wheelbase, it is still a tiny car which is easily upset by potholes and cracks. The stiffer springs and dampers offered by the S package degrade the ride further but the car remains livable for the daily drag. Handling: *** The Clubman fell far short of it's brethren when it came to sticking it around the curves. On sections of road where the smaller model would play along, the Clubman packed up its toys and went home. The clumsiness is due as much to increased weight and altered suspension geometry as to a significant change in the stability programming towards slower driving. Gearbox: **** An intelligent autobox is where the MINI Clubman really earned its stars. In standard mode, the Clubman offered quick and properly timed shifts while returning excellent fuel mileage. In sport mode, it downshifted at precisely the right moments to stay in the narrow meat of the power band. Audio: **** The audio system produced accurate, crisp sound through well-placed tweeters and midranges. The head unit proved easy to navigate using either the console or steering wheel controls. We're also immensely grateful that iDrive didn't make it to the MINI line up. Yet. Toys: *** The Clubman had a reasonable amount of gadgets, from the Bluetooth synchronization to the color-selectable interior mood lighting. Dual glove boxes and plenty of cup holders offered enough storage for anything you might need to carry. Value: ** At an as-tested MSRP of $32,350, the Mini Cooper Clubman S doesn't add up to a good buy. With a price nearly 50% higher than that of other cars competing in this category, you've really got to want the social cred provided by its one-of-a-kind styling and reputation. And the interior materials? Gag. If you're looking for power and handling in a similarly sized package at a bargain price, it'd be best to look elsewhere. Overall: *** The Mini Cooper Clubman S offers acceptable power and adept handling at a steep price. The added mass pushes the car into a larger class and significantly hindering the driving charm established by the Mini brand. The added rear legroom and cargo space may attract a different type of buyer to the fold, but it tosses aside the successful formula used in the smaller version. Frankly, if you're that "different type" of buyer, you'll probably be better off with the non-S version. On the other hand, if you're like us, you'll take the standard-issue Cooper S. Preferably anywhere you go. Also See: • Mini Cooper Clubman S, Part One Thanks to the folks at Motor City Mini!