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Click to view road test review picture galleryMINI goes max with
  its all-new Clubman
  models. Five doors
  instead of three mean
  better versatility and
  extra space for people
  or load carrying; the
  MINI badge means
  maximum residuals
  and driving pleasure.
  Another MINI winner?”

MARCUS SYRING, HEAD OF EXTERIOR AND INTERIOR MINI DESIGN, said at the UK media launch of the new Clubman range this week that some customers who had considered buying the British-built MINI Hatch wanted more rear leg-room, more boot space and a more masculine image than offered by the latest second-generation models introduced in November 2006.

The answer from MINI to these requests is the stretched MINI, the new Clubman, which goes on sale in the UK from 10 November. The Clubman will initially be offered with three engine options: Cooper, Cooper D (diesel) and Cooper S and prices are 14,235, 15,400 and 17,210 respectively. These are 1,200 more than the comparable MINI three-door Hatchback models. A MINI One version of the Clubman could be introduced next year but no final decision has been made.

A six-speed automatic transmission is available for all three models for an extra 1,060 and there is the usual wide selection of extra-cost options available including Pepper and Chili packs ranging in price from 1,110 to 2,135 depending on the model. MINI customers, on aver-age, add another 300 to the price of their car with dealer fitted extras. As with the MINI Hatch and Convertible models, the Clubman is available with the advantageous 150 tlc five-year/50,000-mile servicing package.

The new MINI Clubman takes its concept and some styling cues — including the twin side-hinged rear doors — from the Morris Mini Trav-eller, Austin Mini Countryman and the Mini Clubman Estate of the '60s. MINI said this week that their version of Clubman — with the retention of short body overhangs, a wheel positioned at each corner, a wide track, a long wheelbase and the high shoulder line rising to the rear — stays true to the MINI design. It also retains the kart-like handling, unique design and customer options which has made the MINI famous all over the world.

Over one million MINIs have so far been produced and sold, with 75 per cent of production being exported to more than 70 markets worldwide. Currently, the UK is the biggest market, closely followed by the USA, Germany, Italy and France.

Following a 100 million investment at Plant Oxford by BMW Group, production of all versions of the MINI will increase to 240,000 units in 2008 — the Clubman model will account for 25 per cent of total MINI production. Right-hand-drive models, mainly for the UK market, will account for 25 per cent of total Clubman production.

Trevor Smithers said: "In the UK, MINI sales should reach 47,000 to 48,000 this year and 50,000 next year as the Clubman model begins
to have an impact = which will offset the reduction in sales of Convertible models which will be on run-out prior to a new model appearing in 2009."

He added: "We have already received 4,000 enquiries from potential UK customers for the new MINI Clubman and 1,500 firm orders. Customers wanting a new Clubman and ordering it in November can expect to get their car early in 2008. The first orders are mostly from current MINI owners or ex-MINI owners.

"The most popular Clubman model will be the Cooper version, which is expected to take 57 per cent of sales, followed by the Cooper S with 31 per cent. The Cooper D will take 12 per cent of sales. However, if the proposed London Congestion Charge changes come into force next year — making vehicles with CO2 emission of 120g/km and lower exempt from it — then we expect the proportion of sales for all MINI diesel models to increase. At present, the London region has the lowest take-up in the UK of MINI diesels."

The new MINI Clubman is 24 centimetres longer than the Hatch. Inside, it offers eight centimetres more legroom for rear passengers and is the first new MINI to enter the market with five seats. Boot capacity has increased to 260 litres with the seats in place and up to 930 litres with the rear seats down. Access to this extra space has been made easier via the split rear doors and additional Clubdoor on the right-hand side.

However, having this passenger access to the rear seats via the Club-door on the right-hand side of the vehicle has become a significant issue for the UK's motoring media prior to the vehicle's public launch.

The question repeatedly being asked is: Why does the Clubman have its 'suicide' opening rear side door on the right-hand side of the vehicle — the wrong side for the UK market's right-hand drive models? Pas-sengers will be stepping out of the vehicle into the road instead of on-to the pavement. It also means the driver has to get out of the vehicle to let rear seat passenger out — or in.

Marcus Syring, Head of Design: "The decision was forced on the design team because of other engineering considerations. When we increased the overall length over the Hatch we realised we had room for an
extra small door. We wanted to put the door on the left but that's also where the fuel filler is.

"It is not possible to move the fuel filler behind the rear wheel to make room for the door because of rear collision legislation in the USA. We had to consider that left-hand drive vehicles account for around 75 per cent of production and for them having the Clubdoor on the right-hand side is no problem."

In defence of this design issue, Syring said that the small Clubdoor
isn't just for people to get in and out of the vehicle. "It's a more convenient way for the driver to put coats and bags in the back and reaction to the Clubdoor so far has been quite positive from cus-tomers."

Other highlights featured in the new Clubman range include modern high-performance engines designed specifically for the second gener-ation MINI along with further improvements to optimise fuel economy and emissions management. Auto Start-Stop, Brake Energy Regener-ation and a Gearshift Point Indicator are standard on all variants.
The greatest impact is seen on the MINI Cooper D Clubman, which achieves a hybrid-matching, low CO2 emissions figure of 109g/km.

The Clubman is the first ever five-door MINI — although not a tradit-ional five-door hatchback as we recognise them today — and it is a further move away from the original Mini configuration.

The twin side-hinged rear doors do, however, hark back to the original Mini Traveller and Countryman. But now they have been very cleverly designed with cut-out sections that open around the rear light clusters — which are practical for safety at night and are unique. The twin
rear doors allow easy access to the larger boot, and owners will benefit from the increased luggage area and versatility of the folding rear seats and flat load floor.

While the Clubman has five doors, that doesn't automatically make it a full five-seater: the rear seat is only wide enough for two adults and, perhaps, three small children. But the increased rear legroom will be fully appreciated. It will not just be families who might adopt the new and larger Clubman; couples too will enjoy the classic MINI front-end styling, the new upright rear-end treatment and the added space.

Viewed from the side, the Clubman is not so elegant: for me, the more or less parallel waist and roof lines and extended wheelbase give it a 'van with windows' appearance. And while there is no doubt that the Clubdoor is a clever way of getting passengers in and out of the car, I'm not sure that people with young children will find it acceptable — in the UK — to be stepping into or out of the car from the road.

In the front of the Clubman everything is the same as the new second-generation MINI Hatchbacks, with the same distinctive treatment of dials and switches. Indeed, from the front seats nothing appears to have changed from the proven MINI Hatch apart from, compared to the three-door hatch, marginally less visibility through the twin rear door windows.

The three engine options all allow the Clubman to perform as well as the Hatch versions, despite the 90kg of additional weight. Fortunately, little of the MINI's agility appears to have been lost in spite of being slightly longer and heavier. It does not, perhaps, corner quite as shar-ply due to the longer wheelbase. But the difference is minimal; and the ride comfort and stability over uneven road surfaces appears improved.

The 1.6-litre Cooper Clubman, with the non-turbocharged 120bhp petrol engine and six-speed transmission, is pretty lively and responsive and will be fine for the vast majority of owners. Official fuel economy figures suggest an overall 51.4mpg but during the test drive this week, on some of Scotland's best traffic-free roads around Aberdeen, the test car actually returned 37.8mpg.

Priced at 14,235 this is a pretty good although that will not, of course, be the price owners will pay because virtually all MINI cus-tomers load their cars with options — my test car weighed in at a hefty 18,840. That said, thanks to the highest residual values in the industry — even better than Porsche — look on buying the MINI as
an investment.

The Cooper S's 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine is fantastic because of the torque it provides for a petrol engine. Power output is 175bhp but the 177lb ft of torque provided from 1,600 to 5,000rpm makes this car really responsive to drive. Yes, the top speed is 139mph, but it is the torque that makes the driving quality so good for our British roads. Put your foot down and the engine leaps into life for overtaking, yet it remains docile when required, operating quite happily in high gears even at low speeds around town.

Fuel consumption officially is 44.8mpg but on the test drive 27.4mpg was the figure achieved (MotorBar's road test 3-door Cooper S retur-ned 35.9mpg overall and we'll be interested in the Clubman version's mpg result when we run a full week-long road test — Ed). The price of the Clubman Cooper S is 17,210, but again options and extras boost that total and my test 'S' cost 23,925 on the road.

The minority-selling Clubman model, for now, will be the Cooper D with its PSA-sourced 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine. Power output is 110bhp but this unit also provides 177lb ft of torque so the driving quality is excellent. It is no slowcoach either, with a top speed of 120mph and 0-62mph is covered in 10.4 seconds — only marginally slower than the standard 1.6-litre petrol unit.

The big potential from this engine is fuel economy and low CO2 emissions. Officially this engine returns 68.9mpg overall — 50mpg on test this week (a similar figure to that achieved — 51.6mpg — in our recent road test of the 3-door Cooper D — Ed). With only 109g/km of CO2 being emitted, it falls into Vehicle Excise Duty of Band B — just 35 a year and potentially free of congestion charging in London next year.

At 15,400 the Cooper D might cost 1,165 more than the 1.6-litre non-turbocharged petrol engine model but it is 80 a year cheaper to tax and you will save on fuel as well. With its six-speed transmission, refined driving and being very quiet for a diesel, I reckon this is the star engine of the future for many higher-mileage MINI owners — Clubman or Hatch.

Like all new-generation MINIs, the Clubman is a high-quality, premium brand car that offers more versatility and space yet retains classic MINI driving involvement. I do have reservations regarding some of its styling and in particular the Clubdoor application with its roadside rear passenger access, but only time will tell whether the UK buying public take to it or not. I suspect, as with its second-generation three-door hatchback siblings, that the proven brand appeal, build quality, driving involvement and handling will see the Clubman succeed. As will the extra interior/load space and the fact that it's economical to run and offers the best residual values. — David Miles

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MINI Cooper Clubman | 14,235
Maximum speed: 125mph | 0-62mph: 9.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 37.8mpg | Power: 120bhp | Torque: 118lb ft
CO2 132g/km | VED Band C £115 | Insurance group 8

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