These days, not many car companies can convincingly use the expression “the bigger, the better.” However, while practically every manufacturer has been busy downsizing its products to better cope with rising gas prices, the folks over at Mini have managed to stretch their fuel efficient Mini Cooper into a station wagon. No, the engineers have not gone mad. In fact, with the 2008 Mini Cooper Clubman, Mini’s design team means to show the world that you can build a practical cargo hauler without making sacrifices in fuel economy.
While the Clubman is approximately 10 ½ inches longer and 180 lbs. heavier than a Mini Cooper, both vehicles achieve the same mpg ratings for both city and highway driving conditions. Most importantly, the added length and boxier roofline of the Clubman provides an increase in cargo capacity, of almost nine cubic feet. Aside from extra groceries, the additional room can be used to hold the available Cool Bag, which, when plugged into the Clubman’s standard 12-volt outlet, can keep beverages cold for long road trips.
To access this newfound cargo space, Mini engineers did away with the traditional hatch and replaced it with what the Mini marketing department calls Split Rear Barn Doors. A pair of hydraulic struts keeps these doors from flapping closed on you when you are loading your Clubman while it is parked on a decline. The cargo floor is completely flat when the rear seats are folded forward, unlike the floor of a Mini Cooper. There is also a secret compartment below the Clubman’s cargo stage in case you decide to pull an Italian Job and need to stash the loot in a place where the cops won’t find it.
Thanks to a wheel base extension of about 3 ½ inches over a Mini Cooper, rear passengers also have a bit more room in which to stretch their legs in the Clubman. Of course, accessing the rear seat is always a chore with a two door vehicle. Behold the Club Door. A single suicide style door just behind the passenger side door opens to reveal a relatively unobstructed path to the rear passenger quarters.
So, has the Clubman’s added size taken away from the traditional Mini fun factor? Not really. The go-kart handling and driving position remain. The sporty exhaust note is there too. The only negligible difference between the Clubman and the smaller Cooper is the image in the rear view mirror. The BMW-sourced mirror itself is already oddly small and oval shaped. To add to the blind spot created from this dental instrument, is the pillar dividing the Clubman’s rear barn doors.
The Mini Cooper Clubman costs $1,900 dollars more than a similarly equipped Mini Cooper. Judging by the Clubman’s back-order status, however, two grand is a small price to pay for a truly practical package that retains the sporty characteristics of a Mini. There are alternatives out there. A Toyota Prius or Chevy Aveo 5 will give you similar fuel economy. Neither will make you feel like you are behind the wheel of a car made with performance in mind, however.
This year, all Minis come standard with a sport button that, when pressed, tightens up the steering and sharpens throttle response. Rest assured the Mini Cooper Clubman will deliver in the fuel economy department, but when you become bored of the tedious and slow game of “let’s see how far we can go on one drop of fuel,” Sport mode is there to take you on a smile-inducing roller coaster ride. Furthermore, with a seemingly unlimited amount of customization options, including a ridiculous amount of interior and exterior color combinations, you can put your very own identity into a Mini Cooper Clubman and not just feel like you are another unfortunate victim of the current gas crisis.
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