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2016 Mini Clubman Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Mini Cooper Hardtop front quarter
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Introduction

Minis have been getting larger. A couple redesigns of the core model, the Hardtop, have added eight inches of length and 1.5 inches of girth, but luckily not much weight. For 2015 the Hardtop gained a four-door model, which is a half-foot longer than the two-door. While the four-door is more practical than the two-door, space remains tight for rear seat passengers and cargo. Enter the redesigned-for-2016 Clubman. With another eleven inches of length and three inches of width compared to the Hardtop four-door, and sharing a platform and wheelbase with the second-generation BMW X1, it's the largest Mini to date and close in size to a Volkswagen Golf (which has itself grown over the years). Tipping the scales at 3,105 pounds in the tested base trim, the new Clubman is also both considerably heavier than the 2,750-pound Hardtop four-door and about the same weight as the Golf.

So, is a Golf-sized Mini a contradiction in terms that defeats the whole point of a Mini, or the one you've been waiting for?

Since the Clubman has two laterally opening rear doors instead of a hatch, it's not really a hatchback. We classify it as a wagon. There aren't many compact wagons. In fact, in North America in this price range there's only one aside from the Clubman: the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen. How do the two compare?

Clubman Reviews: Mini Cooper Hardtop front quarter

A different Clubman I tested earlier, in a more attractive color. more Clubman photos

Clubman Reviews: Mini Cooper Clubman interior

Clubman interior with no options. Best materials and build quality yet in a Mini.

Tested: 2016 Mini Clubman

4dr Wagon turbocharged 134hp 1.5L I3 6-speed manual FWD

Compared: 2016 Volkswagen Golf / GTI

4dr Wagon turbocharged 170hp 1.8L I4 6-speed shiftable automatic FWD

Why the 2016 Mini Clubman?

  Compared to the Golf / GTI
Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Much better Better Worse

Mini's design language on a car with the size and proportions of the new Clubman doesn't quite work for me. The resulting body appears too long and wide for its height, especially with wheels smaller than the tested car's 17s. (You can judge whether it works for you.) But it's far more distinctive and visually interesting than the relatively generic exterior styling of the Golf SportWagen (GSW). Also, while you cannot get the Volkwagen wagon in anything resembling a sport trim--only the color and wheels vary across the range--the Clubman like all Minis is offered with such a broad range of exterior appearance options that a custom-ordered car can be like no other.


Interior styling
Interior styling: Much better Better Worse

The same can be said of the two cars' interiors. The Volkswagen Golf SportWagen's interior has better materials than the average compact car, and seems solidly constructed and cleanly styled, but possesses little in the way of character. You have pretty much two interior trim choices: cloth or vinyl, black or beige.

In sharp contrast, the Mini Clubman interior overflows with character, though not so much that ergonomics are impaired (an issue with past Minis). Also, like the exterior, the Mini's interior can be optioned in a vast number of ways. Interior materials and build quality are easily the best yet in a Mini.


Clubman Reviews: Mini Cooper Clubman rear quarter

Probably the Clubman's most handsome angle. Notice cut lines for side-opening clamshell doors.

Clubman Reviews: Mini Cooper Clubman instrument panel

Ergonomics much improved over earlier Minis. The silly huge central speedo is no more.

Handling
Handling: Better Better Worse

The Volkswagen Golf SportsWagen handles with excellent precision and poise, but it isn't especially fun to drive. In comparison, the Mini Clubman leans less in hard turns and feels more playful. Its steering responds so quickly that it initially felt darty to me. Sport mode firms up the steering, but this makes the car feel less agile such that I usually preferred the default weighting. Only the four-cylinder Clubmans have torque vectoring, but the chassis of the tested three-cylinder Cooper (no S) Clubman felt so agile that this feature (which brakes one wheel to help the car rotate) was not missed. The lighter weight of the smaller engine likely helps, as I don't recall a Cooper S Clubman I test drove previously feeling so lively. Overall, I enjoyed driving the Cooper Clubman not only more than the Golf SportWagen, but also more than the Cooper Hardtop four-door. Owing to smaller windows, heavier steering, suspension tuning, or some other factor the smaller, lighter Mini felt less agile to me. Conclusion: despite its Golf-like size and weight, the new Clubman still handles like a Mini.


Fuel economy
Fuel economy: About the same Better Worse

EPA ratings for the two cars are nearly identical. When fitted with manual transmissions, the Mini is rated 25/34, the Volkswagen 25/35. With automatics, each does the same in the city and one mpg lower on the highway.

I tended to see slightly higher trip computer averages in the Mini, but I never observed the 40 I managed on one suburban trip in the tested VW (which had an automatic transmission). Still, the Clubman (which had a manual transmission) did achieve 38 mpg on both a suburban drive to and from the library and on a highway run from the airport.

Even when I drove the Clubman in a spirited fashion the trip computer average remained above 30, while the Golf SportWagen's average tended to dip below that mark when pressed. The lesser payoff from revving the Mini's engine (more about this later) could have played a role.


Feature availability
Feature availability: Better Better Worse

Volkswagen offers the Golf SportWagen in only three trim levels with few options and limits interior color choices to black and beige. Only one engine is offered, and unless you get the base car the only transmission choice is an automatic. In sharp contrast, Mini offers the Clubman (like its other models) with dozens of largely a la carte options, some of which (such as leather upholstery, sport front bucket seats, a power passenger seat, and adaptive dampers) aren't even available on the VW. The Clubman's exterior and interior are both highly customizable. (Not that the nearly optionless $26,500 tested car, unusual for a Mini in the press fleet, demonstrated any of this.) Plus you can choose among three engines, and can have a manual transmission in conjunction with any of these, even on a fully loaded car.

Some features are offered on the VW but not the Mini. The most notable of these are support for both Apple Carplay and Android Auto and a full array of safety tech (including a blind spot warning system and lane departure prevention).


Why Not the 2016 Mini Clubman?

  Compared to the Golf / GTI
Price or payments
Price or payments: Worse Better Worse

Though a smaller, less powerful car, the Mini Cooper Clubman's $24,950 base price tops the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen S's by $2,550. Add automatic transmissions (standard on the GSW above the S) and similarly load both cars up and the Clubman lists for $4,415 more, $37,200 vs. $32,785. Keep in mind, though, that the Clubman can be equipped with features that aren't available on the GSW. Add these, and the price of the Mini can approach $40,000.

Want all-wheel-drive or the Cooper S Clubman with its more powerful engine? The former will set you back another $1,800, the latter another $2,500. Add both and the price can reach the mid-40s. Or spring for the new 228-horsepower JCW Clubman, which with standard all-wheel-drive starts at $35,950 and lists for $50,000 when fully optioned.

But Mini's have never been the best value. You pay for their distinctive styling and customizability.

Want some good pricing news? Compared to the Mini Hardtop 4-door the Clubman with its additional interior space and fancy rear doors only lists for $1,650 more, and about $500 of this can be attributed to additional content.


Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: Much worse Better Worse

While we've categorized the Mini Clubman as a wagon, its cargo capacity is essentially that of a compact hatchback: considerably more than the Mini Hardtop, but less than a real wagon. This should come as no surprise, since the new Clubman's exterior dimensions are similar to those of the Golf hatchback. The Golf SportWagen is a foot longer and has at least a foot of additional space behind the rear seat.

Different manufacturers measure cargo volume in different ways, so comparisons based on official cargo volume specs should never be relied upon. That said, according to these specs the GSW has nearly twice as many cubic feet of cargo volume behind its rear seat, 30.4 vs. 17.5. Fold the seats, and the Volkswagen extends its lead: 66.5 vs. 47.9 cubic feet. Even the Golf hatchback has about a five-cube advantage over the Clubman.

I don't know whether the Mini's cargo volume specs include a large storage compartment beneath its removable cargo floor.

Of course, the Clubman might meet all of your cargo carrying needs, in which case the Volkswagen's extra space doesn't matter.


Clubman Reviews: Mini Cooper Clubman front

Same distended nose with laid back headlamps as other current generation Minis. Low photo angle.

Clubman Reviews: Mini Cooper Clubman rear seat

Adults will fit without squeezing.

Reliability & durability  

The second-generation Mini Clubman only reached dealers late in the 2016 model year, so we don't yet have any reliability data on it. The 2014-2015 Hardtop, which uses the same engines and transmissions and many of the same components, has been considerably worse than average in our reliability survey. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf with the 1.8T engine was worse than the Mini earlier, but has improved. The 2016 is still worse than the Mini. Either is much more of a reliability gamble than a Honda or Toyota. Many owners will have few or even no problems. But, if earlier Mini generations are any indication, some owners will experience horror stories.


Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Much worse Better Worse

I found it easier to see out of the Mini Clubman than the Mini Hardtop. But I still couldn't see traffic lights without leaning forward if I forgot to stop well short of the thick white line. Also, the Mini's mirrors are small. Outward visibility is okay overall in the Clubman, but excellent in the Volkswagen.


Front seat support & comfort
Front seat support & comfort: Much worse Better Worse

The Mini Clubman's standard seats have a non-adjustable lumbar area that bulges far too much for my back. Your back and impression of the seats could differ. Or get any level of the leather upholstery (starting at $750 for partial leather, plus $300 for the required sport buckets that are standard on the S) and the lumbar support becomes adjustable.


Other features of the 2016 Mini Clubman

  Compared to the Golf / GTI
Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Worse Better Worse

With only 134 peak horsepower on tap, the Mini Clubman can't acclerate as quickly as the 170-horsepower Volkwagen Golf SportWagen when both accelerators are matted. Figure about nine seconds to get to 60 mph vs. eight.

But these full-throttle figures don't communicate that the turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine feels plenty torquey in typical suburban driving, and makes pleasant gurgly noises in the process. (I prefer the sounds made by the Mini's triple to the higher pitched, less sophisticated noises made by the VW's four.) Only when you really put your foot down and rev the little engine do you discover that it doesn't have much more to offer at high rpm than you were already experiencing in relatively casual driving.

Especially for a three-cylinder, the Clubman's engine spins smoothly. If anything, it's too easy to cruise down the road with the engine at 6,000 rpm without realizing you should upshift, as it sounds and feels so little different there than at 3,000 rpm.

If you need more thrust, the 189-horsepower Cooper S Clubman can do the deed in about seven. An upcoming John Cooper Works variant with the BMW X1's 228-horsepower engine will be quicker still, but pricey.

In sport mode the engine revs automatically when you downshift. The shifter feels like it's pushing and pulling a cable, though not in an especially bad way. While some shifters snick more tightly, precisely, and satisfyingly from one gear to the next, this one will do. With the automatic the car would likely feel slower and would definitely be less engaging.


Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Worse Better Worse

In the Mini Hardtop four-door I can sit behind my 5-9 self, but with little room to spare. The Clubman's rear seat feels considerably roomier, if not quite as roomy as that in the Volkswagen. More than that of any other Mini to date, it's viable for adults. Rear seat passengers in either car will appreciate their rear air vents on hot days.


Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: About the same Better Worse

Benefitting from its longer wheelbase, the Clubman has the smoothest ride of any Mini to date. I even preferred its ride to that of the less tightly damped Golf SportWagen except on especially bumpy roads.

The Clubman can seem quiet, even on the highway. It often feels like it's going slower than it actually is. But on some surfaces a considerable amount of road noise intrudes.


Conclusion

The Volkswagen Golf SportWagen is an exceptionally well-rounded car. Based on purely objective metrics, it would easily win this comparison. But, especially compared to the new Mini Clubman, the Volkswagen wagon looks and feels boring. The Mini has much more interesting styling (especially with options), quicker steering, and more agile handling. While not as roomy as the GSW, the new Clubman can seat four adults comfortably and carry a fair amount of cargo. It's the most practical Mini to date, without sacrificing the styling and handling people buy Minis for. It's more expensive than the Volkswagen, but for people who value the new Clubman's strengths the higher price will be worth it--just be careful with the options.

Clubman Reviews: Mini Cooper Clubman engine uncovered

Three cylinders turbocharged to yield 134 horsepower. Torquey in typical driving, not much up top.

Clubman Reviews: Mini Cooper Clubman cargo area seats folded

With the seats folded, the Clubman can carry nearly as much cargo as a Golf hatchback.

See more 2016 Mini Clubman photos

Mini and Volkswagen each provided an insured car for a week with a tank of gas. A Cooper S Clubman was helpfully provided earlier by Matt Goebel at Motor City MINI. Matt can be reached at 248-204-4600.

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2016 Mini Clubman pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2016 Mini Clubman. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from Dnslater

8:34 am October 17, 2016

Great detailed review. I am getting ready to sell back my 2013 VW Sportwagen TDI to VW and have already replaced it with a 2015 GTI and considered the Mini Clubman. While the Clubman meets wagon criteria, not many will cross shop it with the significantly larger Golf Sportwagen - the Golf/GTI Hatchback is the much better comparison and even then the 4-door Golf has more cargo and back seat space than the Clubman. While cross shopping the GTI and Clubman John Cooper Works, I went with the GTI because of it's superior space and much lower base price. I also prefer the more sleeper styling of the VW.


It is fantastic that U.S. buyers now actually have some small car options that have bits of true luxury like the Cooper and the GTI and the Mini is a terrific option for someone who wants a nice small car with great personality.

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Response from mkaresh

10:14 am October 17, 2016

If you prefer the styling of the VW, it becomes very difficult to justify the higher price of the Mini.

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Response from Dnslater

3:05 pm October 17, 2016

Yes, the appearance of the Mini is likely one of the reasons many people go for it, and perhaps not a lot of Mini-buyers cross shop other hatchbacks. A study in extraverted versus intraverted styling for sure. The Mini probably also offers more luxury than many other compact hatches.

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Response from Impressed

12:31 pm October 31, 2016

I think Michael is spot on with his assessment of the Clubman. While I have neither driven nor ridden in the current model, I know from experience how fun the first Clubman models were to drive, and on long road trips they made very satisfying, fun vehicles that were also economical to fuel up. Their longer wheelbase made for better highway driving over those joints in the pavement. better than most small fun cars interms of noise levels, too.

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Response from Impressed

12:34 pm October 31, 2016

I think Michael is spot on with his assessment of the Clubman. While I have neither driven nor ridden in the current model, I know from experience how fun the first Clubman models were to drive. On long road trips they made very satisfying, fun vehicles that were also economical to fuel up. Their longer wheelbase made for better highway driving over those joints in the pavement. Better than most small fun cars in terms of noise levels, too.

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