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Review: 2008 Mini Clubman Chilli

October 13th, 2008
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Welcome to our first ‘sales dealer test drive review’ where we go mystery shopping for a specific make and model.

We phoned a Melbourne MINI dealership the previous day to organise an appointment to test drive the Clubman, MINI’s ‘larger’ new model which had its Australian launch back in March this year (2008).

Upon arriving at the dealership I was met at the door with a big smile by the salesperson that I had an appointment with.  The MINI dealership was on the same site as a BMW dealership; however it was a stand-alone building with a very cool black coloured interior with splashes of funky primary colours on the walls.

The salesperson walked me towards the sole Clubman on the showroom floor, and started by asking me what it was about this model that brought me into the dealership today and whether I had researched the car online.  Safety was the first area that was brought up by the MINI salesperson with all MINI’s coming standard with an Anti-lock braking system and Dynamic Stability Control.  I was always asked if I understood the meaning of terminology used by the salesperson and was given an easy to understand answer whenever I said no.

Mini Clubman

When I said that my budget was approximately $45,000 and I was after a manual, I was told about the Clubman which has a 1.6L 4 cylinder engine producing 88kW that costs from AUD $34,400, and a turbo-charged version, the Clubman S, producing a significantly higher 128kW that costs from $43,200.  I suggested the ‘standard’ Clubman, (actually is there ever such thing as a standard MINI? Try spotting two of the same on the road) however noted that the standard 16” wheels are something that would be tempting to upgrade.  The salesperson told me about the very popular $3,800 Chilli pack, which was conveniently fitted to the Clubman in the showroom, and adds larger 17” rims with run-flat tyres and cloth leather seats amongst other things. 

Mini Clubman

I was then taken through the car, firstly from the drivers’ seat; where I was shown how to get myself comfortable and the car actually fitted me like a glove.  I was able to adjust the seat nice and low – lower than all its direct competitors and the tachometer was attached to the steering wheel so that when I adjusted it I could still view driver information.

Mini Clubman

I then jumped out from the drivers seat and was shown how the unusual rear door mechanism works.  The sole rear passenger door is on the right hand side and behaves like the Mazda RX-8 (the front door must be opened before the rear door latch can be opened).  The Clubman competes against conventional hatchbacks, so prospective buyers with a young family will have to think about how often they have kids in the back.  Actually, we doubt that most Clubman’s are used on the daily school run.

The Clubman features a longer wheelbase than the smaller Cooper 3 door model and 30cm of the space goes straight to the rear passengers’ legroom. As a result two adults can travel in the back of the car without their legs going numb. If you need to fit three in the back you have to pay extra for the middle seatbelt and headrest as the Clubman comes standard with 4 seats only.

Mini Clubman

From the rear seat the salesperson headed to the back of the car where I got to check out the unique rear with its twin opening barn doors.  Whilst they may not offer many functionality advantages over the single conventionally opening rear hatch door they certainly look different.  And surely when you buy a MINI you’re looking to buy something unique. However as with the single rear opening door, the rear right side hatch door must be opened before the rear left side hatch.

With the rear hatch doors opened, the salesperson demonstrated the flat folding rear seats that open up a considerable amount of room in the rear and the extra space provided under the floor as a result of MINI using run flat tyres.  It might even be possible to fit a full size bicycle behind the front seats with only the front wheel taken off.

Mini Clubman

It was now time for a test drive and as the dealership didn’t have any standard Clubman’s with the manual transmission as test drive vehicles it was kindly suggested by the salesperson that we drive an automatic Clubman and a manual 3 door Cooper hatch so that I could experience the 88kW engine with the manual transmission.

So that I could become acquainted with the car, the salesperson drove first, highlighting key features of the car to me in the passenger seat.  The ride from the passenger seat was good, MINI’s have a firm ride but the latest run flat’s on 17” rims at no time caused the ride to be uncomfortable. The view out the front is very good, the upright A-pillars on either side of the windscreen result in no dangerous blind spots.  Whilst the car is labeled MINI, you don’t have to look up at other cars in traffic with the MINI sitting as tall as many other cars on the road.

Mini Clubman

After five minutes riding as a passenger the salesperson handed over the keys, but before I drove off I was shown some more cool features.  The key is of a large circular shape, nothing like a traditional key.  The ‘key’ is slotted into a slot, than with one foot on the clutch if you’re in the manual, one press of the Start/stop button and the engine kicks into life.

Driving off, I was reminded of the quality feeling of the last MINI I had driven earlier this year.  The steering feel from a MINI is great, no lifeless feeling as in so many other light and small 21st century cars.  The automatic transmission in the test car can be left in full automatic or the driver can switch gears via the large paddle shifters on the steering wheel.  As of so much of the switch gear in a MINI, the paddles are uniquely shaped and can be used from the front or behind the wheel.

Whilst the speedometer is positioned in the centre of the dashboard and requires a head movement to the left to view, the tachometer behind the steering wheel thankfully houses a small digital speedometer which is easy to read.

Mini Clubman

The 88kW 1.6L engine is by no means fast, however if you’re after speed MINI not only offer the 128kW turbo-charged engine in the S, but also the John Cooper Works Clubman with the 1.6L engine further tuned to 155kW.

The salesperson quoted a combined fuel consumption rating of six liters for the Clubman and seven liters for the S Clubman, rounding down the official figures of 6.0L and 7.6L (both manual transmissions).  Servicing is only every 30,000kms which is more than many inner-city MINI’s would reach in two years!

Mini Clubman

The test car also had the twin sunroof, an option so popular that the dealer said they’d never seen a Clubman without one!  We mentioned earlier that the salesperson recommended the Chilli pack.  The pack costs $3,800 which is good value considering if a buyer brought each of the options separately it amounts to $6,020.  Options are very popular with MINI buyers, ticking every one adds over $26,000 to the $38,200 for the Clubman manual.

We ran out of time after test-driving the Clubman automatic so had to leave shortly after getting back to the dealership.  The sales experience was excellent, from this experience if you’re in the market for a premium small car, we strongly recommend you test drive a MINI.  The salesperson could not be faulted; she was friendly, polite, and never pushy.

Whether the Clubman is what you’re after depends on your unique needs, however we believe the Clubman is a useful addition to the Cooper range.

Sales experience rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Car rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Key competitors: Alfa Romeo 147, Audi A3, BMW 1-Series, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Volvo C30

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