Sense & Sensibility: Driving the F54 Mini Cooper Clubman S

The ability to act with restraint, judgement and reasoning while giving way to feeling and emotion. An idea that revolves around the necessity of finding a workable middle ground between passion and reason. An idea that after driving the new Mini Cooper Clubman S around for a weekend, felt like it could have come straight out of the car’s initial design brief.

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First released in 2007, the 1st-generation of the new Clubman was a unique oddity, with a stretched body, quirky barn-doors for the rear and a suicide-door on the wrong side of the car (for those in RHD markets). The R55 generation of the Clubman was an eccentric addition to an already eclectic selection of hatchbacks, it even spawned a commercial cargo variant aptly dubbed, the Clubvan. Only 50 of those were sold due to a just as interestingly named penalty called, the chicken tax which made the cargo variant even more expensive than the passenger car it was based upon. Google it.

And while off-loading rear-seat passengers into traffic through an even smaller aperture (due to the steering wheel blocking the folding front seat) might not be the safest of decisions, this generation of the Clubman had a little something up its suicide-door sleeve with which to redeem itself. It was stylish, great to look at, and it was cool. Important characteristics any Mini should have to pull at the heart (and wallet) strings of prospective buyers. I loved it. (If anyone’s selling one, let me know, but I digress.)

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Fast forward 8 years ahead into 2017 saw the launch of the 2nd-generation of the Clubman, the F54 generation. Based on BMW’s front-wheel-drive UKL2 platform, the new Clubman has for all intents and purposes, clearly grown up. Gone are the quirky 3-door layout and inconveniences, and in their place, we have a much more practical and conventional 4-door arrangement built around a car that’s wider and longer than a regular Mini hatchback.

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Our car for this test is, of course, the latest iteration of the 2nd-generation Clubman S, with refreshed accentuations for the exterior and interior. Most notably the addition of the Union Jack tail-lamps and our car’s rather unique shade of Indian Summer Red (pink). The Clubman’s face also benefits from a newly designed grill sitting in between a pair of LED headlights that now come as standard equipment. Externally, new body colours also include Piano Black as an exterior package and a snazzy set of “MINI Yours” 18-inch wheels that take on the characteristic Union Jack motif as well. Singapore cars also come with the rather lovely “Mini Yours” interior trim package which is an optional extra elsewhere.

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So, more space, more comfort, better usability and thoroughly freshened up. Great news for us then. But have the practicalities of everyday usability hampered the Clubman’s emotional quotient? That’s what we’re hoping to find out.

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With aesthetics being a key player when it comes to triggering an emotional response, it is worth noting that even though it has lost its (some say fun) eccentric asymmetrical layout, the new Clubman has got all the right proportions for what many would consider, a not so mini, Mini.

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While the 1st-generation looked like a stretched version of the 2-door hatch, the latest Mini borrows the visuals from the already established 5-door variant of the iconic automobile and adds 360 litres (extendable to 1250 litres) of boot space out in the back. An interesting point to make because while the Clubman might have more than a resemblance to its 3 and 5-door siblings, they don’t have a single panel of bodywork in common. Not that most punters would care mind you, because even though it might share the same wheelbase and width as BMW’s 2-Series Active Tourer, it doesn’t look it at all. Unless you parked them up side-by-side. Another interesting fact is while the Mini Clubman employs an “estate” bodywork style, compared with the latest Golf hatchback, it is lower and just a tiny smidge longer than the VW.

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Like the Countryman we tested earlier, the designers at Mini have done a pretty good job packaging the entire car’s proportions, resulting in a rather tidy and handsome car to look at. I’ll take mine in British Racing Green, please.

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Inside, while the overall design of the dash might have a more mature layout, most of the switchgear will be familiar to fans of the marque, with a lovely set of toggle switches lining the centre console that houses Mini’s iconic giant round bezel showcasing a 6.5-inch central display for the car’s infotainment system and Mini Connected now comes standard. Still, no Android Auto although we hear it’s on the way.

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Local buyers of the Clubman S will be treated to Nappa leather all around the seats and on the steering wheel. Mini calls it WalkNappa, we call it, Mmmmmmm……… lovely. As with all cars from the BMW group, the materials used feel solid to the touch and have been put together really well.

With the additional 2 “normal” doors for the rear, those headed for the back seats will no longer have to contort their bodies just to get in. Space in the rear will also provide pretty good comfort for 2 adults with 3 being a tad snug though not uncomfortably so. This is rather important as it does mean that for the first time, the Mini Cooper is now a car that an entire family can comfortably fit in with space in the back for their dog(s).

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Under the clamshell bonnet of our Clubman S lies a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that generates 192 horses horsepower and 280Nm of torques. Mated to a new 7-speed transmission, the all-important century sprint comes up in a relatively brisk 7.2 seconds. But of course, straight-line sprints are never the party-piece of any Mini. No, to fully enjoy a Mini, one must be prepared to hunt for corners and bends. When you do come across such roads, the immediate feeling is that the Clubman is a larger car than its hatchback siblings.

While the wider and longer track delivers a much better ride overall, it loses some of the fizz that the smaller cars can deliver in the corners. No doubt, the Clubman S is still willing to play and take on most windy roads with ease, the manner in which it does so is how shall I say it, more mature. Whereas the smaller cars bounce, pop and scrabble for grip towards their limits, the Clubman S feels planted and solid, with a smooth delivery of power pulling you out of each corner. So, same same, but different. Imagine a young soccer player who has finally grown up but is still able to play ball with the young’uns when called upon. So, even though some of the Mini-ness has been smoothened out, the Clubman S remains a rather fun car to drive. Probably the most fun one can have with an estate in this segment.

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Off the boil, the Clubman S can deliver a remarkable quality of ride we’ve yet to experience in a modern Mini. With its longer wheelbase, road imperfections are smoothened out much better resulting in much better ride comfort.

We once took a more performance-oriented John Cooper Works Clubman on a road trip from Germany to England through the Netherlands and it was a sublime performer all the way, from storming the de-restricted Autobahns to navigating the narrow pot-hole filled roads of the British Countryside. I’m pretty sure that with our Clubman S’ damper settings angled more towards everyday drivability, the car’s ability to comfortably ferry people around (rather briskly) is further improved upon.

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At a current list price of around S$154,888. This Clubman S in my opinion represents pretty good value for this premium segment and undercuts most of what I would consider its rivals. The Mercedes-Benz CLA/GLAs, the BMW X1/X2s and at a stretch (but not impossibly so) the C-Class and 3-Series sedans. It might not have as many high-tech toys as its rivals from Stuttgart and Munich, but as far as smiles per miles go, it’s pretty hard to beat a Mini, especially in “S” spec. There is, of course, the Volkswagen Golf Variant, which is cheaper, but honestly, which would you rather look at every day?

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So now, we have to come around to see if our initial hypothetical statement of “Sense & Sensibility” being the underlying development theme behind this new Clubman S holds any water. While classic literature can often illustrate how it takes time and experience before both heart and mind can co-exist in one body, I feel the same can be said about the evolution of automobiles. Where once we had to compromise beauty for practicality and sportiness for comfort, there are cars that now, allow us to enjoy a harmonic blend of each aspect’s unique touch. One of those cars is this Clubman S. A car that’s able to showcase restraint, judgement and reasoning while giving way to feeling and emotion. Like I said, British Racing Green, please.

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