The new Mini continues its automotive archeology by bringing back the Clubman version. The 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman shares the same powertrain and cabin gadget options with the Mini Cooper S, yet the Clubman gets a bit more cargo space and easier access to the back seats. With its extra length and weight, we expected it to lose that fun Mini driving character, but it maintains its sprightliness. Mini's BMW owners let it share excellent cabin technology, including navigation with live traffic and HD radio. But the only significant cabin tech option on our Clubman was Mini's premium sound system, which didn't impress us nearly as much as we thought it would.
Test the tech: Autocross
We had the opportunity to take this 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman on an autocross course, a short track defined by cones featuring many sharp turns and a slalom. The autocross course was the perfect opportunity to see if the extra weight and length of the Clubman would significantly hurt its maneuverability and acceleration. Other Minis competing on this course included a Mini Cooper and a Mini Cooper Clubman with an automatic transmission. Unfortunately, we didn't have a Mini Cooper S to compare, so our main point of comparison was whether the turbo on the Cooper S Clubman would make up for the 300 extra pounds it carried over the Mini Cooper. The wheelbase of the Mini Cooper is also 3 inches shorter than that of the Clubman.
For the first of our three timed runs, we dropped the Clubman's clutch at the starting line, producing a wheel-spinning start and a quick launch to the first 90 degree right turn. The Clubman flicked around the turn easily, and we shifted up to second, building up speed to enter the next turn. We cut this one too closely, taking out a cone on the inside. We next had to deal with two quick turns--left then right--both at 90 degrees. Coming through here, the back end of the Clubman caught a second cone, and we lost some speed coming into the slalom. The Clubman proved its mettle on the final two 90 degree turns, where we were able to make up some time as we flicked it around.
For our second trip around the course, we still took out a couple of cones, but familiarity with the turns improved our time. By the third attempt, we blasted off from the starting line, trying to keep wheel spin minimal, making the car bolt forward into the first turn. With better knowledge of the course, we upshifted to second and hit the throttle, building up speed to carry through the second turn. The Clubman handled it well, and we jammed the brakes before the next set of sharper turns. We threw the Clubman's wheel back and forth, coming out of the final turn into the slalom. The Clubman made it through the final set of turns without touching a cone, and gave us our best time.
By comparison, the nonturbocharged Mini Cooper's shorter length and lighter weight didn't provide enough gains in maneuverability and acceleration to outstrip the Clubman. Our own staff and other journalists testing out the cars on the autocross consistently found the Cooper S Clubman faster than the Cooper. The Mini Cooper Clubman with the automatic proved the worst of the bunch. Although 55 pounds lighter than the Cooper S Clubman, it handled poorly in the corners and could never duplicate the throttle response of the S version.
In the cabin
From the driver's seat, the only difference in the cabin of the 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman over the standard Cooper is the 9 extra inches of body length you've got behind you. The tachometer is still a pod mounted on the steering column, and the speedometer is still a giant gauge in the center of the dashboard. The sport seats offer the same recline, fore and aft, and height adjustment. However, access to the rear seats is enhanced by a small suicide door on the passenger side, which works exactly like the doors on the Honda Element. You have to open the front door before opening the rear door.
There are a lot of good tech options available that we didn't have in our test car. The navigation system, which uses the same traffic reporting system that BMW gets, mounts in that big circle where the speedometer lives. Bluetooth hands-free cell phone integration is also the same as in BMW models, with the capability to download your contact list into the car. A connector for iPods and USB drives is also part of the Bluetooth package. We've used these systems on other cars, most recently the BMW 135i, and have been very impressed.