MODERN-DAY Minis don't quite live up to their moniker.
Yes, they're still small. But not like the old days. And in the case of the Clubman, they're teetering on spacious.
This wagon derivative of the famed British brand (now owned by BMW) almost flies in the face of its heritage, but its groovy lines and amazing handling can't help but turn a frown upside down.
The Clubman remains the biggest in the family until the Countryman sports utility vehicle arrives this month. That release may well attract new buyers to the marque, a brand which previously had owned the premium compact segment.
Recently, there have been some heavy hitters enter the fray, but the Clubman remains a niche within the genre.
While the base model starts at $34,800 (most buyers usually at least shell out an extra few grand to get the souped-up Chili derivative), it's definitely worth spending the extra coin to step into the Cooper S.
Amped up with extra power, it adds some razzle dazzle to an awesome little package. You pay just under $44,000 for the privilege of more grunt and a host of extras, but you get a whole lot of bang for your buck.
This is where the Clubman trounces its smaller sibling. Rear seat space is limited in the Mini Cooper, but the Clubman grows in wheelbase by more than 200mm which provides additional room in the rear. Head, shoulder and elbow room improves.
Things are still tight in the back, especially if you have tall occupants in the front, yet it is still a sizeable improvement on the three-door Mini and it feels so much more spacious because of the vacant volume in the back.
Entry into the back seat is made easier via the small suicide door. It's on the driver's side, the wrong side for Australian traffic, although we never found it an issue during our week-long test.
Up front and it's fairly well ‘same old', even though the range was updated in September.
The large, centrally positioned speedo dominates the view, while all the key controls (even the electric windows) are operated via the centre console.
Unlike similarly designed offerings like the Honda Civic, the speedo is difficult to see and it's far easier to rely on the electronic read-out straight in front of the driver and sits inside the tacho.
Some of the dials and operations are initially difficult to navigate due to their size, although once you get your bearings it all becomes second nature.
The Cooper S seats are firm and hug you into place, which is handy for when you want to stretch the Clubman's legs in corners – and you will.
An array of colour combinations are available and the cabin remains a great retro environment which complements the individual exterior.
On the road
All of the latest Minis have a trademark feel. Brilliant feedback through the steering wheel makes it feel like the metal is an extension of your hips as you swing from side to side.
And despite being a longer wheelbase, the Clubman also lives up to the Mini hype. There is no questioning that the three-door Mini remains supreme when it comes to performance but you don't lose much when opting for the wagon.
The go-kart-like drive remains at the forefront as you can attack corners with complete confidence.
With a 0-100km/h time of just over seven seconds it's no slouch in a sprint, but to get the most of its performance you have to attack the curves. The turbocharged 1.6-litre engine comes from BMW and it feels meaty under your right foot.
When mated to the six-speed manual it enables you to get the most of its athletic attributes, and you get an awesome punch from the turbo as you swap cogs.
Torque steer is evident when you put the pedal to the metal so once you are prepared for that surge it's all smooth sailing.
One thing that isn't quite so silky is the ride. You feel the bumps and it's worthwhile keeping a keen eye on the bitumen.
There was a whole lot of interest from colleagues during our tenure in the Clubman. That's a key indicator of its head-turning attributes.
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