- What's Best: Still a blast to drive after all these years.
- What’s Worst: Centre post on the rear French doors hinders vision.
- What’s Interesting: How MINI designers and engineers keep coming up with new twists on an icon.
Look at a MINI today and you see a sophisticated, luxury package with great dollops of style and panache.
But it wasn’t always called a MINI and it was anything but lavish.
It was born out of necessity in post-war England when things like butter and bacon were luxury items, not to mention gasoline.
British carmaker, Morris, was looking for something smaller and easier on gas than its only good seller, the Minor, a small sedan with pontoon fenders, which were all the rage before fins came in.
Enter engineer Alex Issigonis, who created the Mini (upper and lower case as it was originally called) and came up with an icon — and was later knighted for it.
Mini wasn’t the first to adopt the two-box format (one box for engine/drivetrain, second box for people/luggage), but it sure made the most of it.
As is the case today, the original Mini was offered in a variety of versions. In fact, it was first marketed as the Morris 850, Morris Mini Minor and the Austin Seven before they combined to form BMC (British Motor Corporation) and the Mini name came to the fore.
And just to prove badge engineering is nothing new or unique to North America, it was also sold as the Wolseley Hornet and the Riley Elf. There was even an enlarged spinoff with a 1.8-litre MGB engine called the Maxi.
BMC evolved into British Leyland and then Rover, which soldered on into the 1990s, when it was bought in 1994 by BMW and Mini came with it.
It was not a match made in heaven (or Munich or Coventry for that matter) and BMW closed Rover down in 2000, but retained MINI (now all upper case), bringing out the first new model in 2001.
Keeping the MINI contemporary has been a challenge since Day One, with numerous spinoffs and five current core models: MINI 3 Door, MINI 5 Door, MINI Clubman, MINI Convertible and MINI Countryman. And to add to that are usually three trim levels for each model – Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works, and doesn’t begin to take in special edition models.
Tested here is the Cooper S Clubman ALL4 a compact wagon with six doors. That’s right, six, as there is a set of French doors at the rear.
Power is BMW’s ubiquitous 2.0-litre turbo inline four-cylinder, putting out 189 hp and 207 lb/ft foot of torque driving four wheels through a standard six-speed manual or an optional ($1,500) eight-speed automatic as tested here.
The drive system consists of a power takeoff bevel gear on the front axle differential, a dual-section propeller shaft and a rear axle differential with an electro-hydraulically controlled hang-on clutch.
It is interconnected with Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and routes torque between the front and rear wheels to adapt instantly, depending on road conditions.
All MINIs are festooned with heritage design cues, with the instrument panel being a prime example, featuring a round dinner platter plate-sized centre display and a smaller round one for prime gauges, whereas the first Mini had just the one in the centre of the dash.
Toggle switches seem to sprout out of everywhere on the centre stack and overhead. That’s because the first Minis had war surplus ones as used in military aircraft that the government was anxious to get rid of for a song.
What a difference the 2018 Clubman makes.
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This is a true luxury car with optional ($250) MINI Yours Burgundy illuminated trim, offset by the pleated leather Chester Indigo Blue seats ($2,250) and panoramic sunroof, part of the $1,300 Essentials Package.
Just as with its enduring pugnacious exterior looks, the interior is just a fun place to be with lots of things to play with, such as the start/stop ignition switch that is – you guessed it – a toggle not a button.
This is the same engine/drivetrain found in the BMW X1 and X2 reviewed on these pages, and like them, it snuffles into life when it’s cold and feels a bit sluggish until it comes up to operating temperatures.
MINI likes to say it possesses go-kart like handling and that’s true of the 3 Door and 5 Door John Cooper Works models, but the Clubman, being a compact, has a longer wheelbase and a bit more weight.
It’s still quick and the steering response and feedback through the wheel is positive and you can put the shifter into manual mode if you’re feeling sporty.
The Clubman will do 0-100 km/h in 6.9 seconds, with a top speed of 225 km/h (140 mph).
Because the wheels are literally pushed out to the far corners, the Clubman sits “four square” and that means the nexus of the driven wheels crosses at the centre of the car, leading to optimal stability.
But what I liked most was about the Clubman was the feeling, like all MINIs I’ve driven, it seemed ready to let you have fun whether you’re going across town or across the country.
It’s proof that good things do come in small packages.
2018 MINI Cooper S Clubman ALL4
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive
ENGINE: 2.0-litre DOHC turbo inline four-cylinder (189 hp, 207 lb/ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium) six-speed manual 11.4/7.8/9.7L/100 km city/highway/combined; eight-speed automatic 10.2/7.4/9.0L/100km.
CARGO VOLUME: 360 litres behind rear seats, 1,250 litres folded
TOW RATING: Not recommended
PRICE: Base, $30,790; as tested $45,280 not including $2,245 destination fee
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