What a difference a day makes. That’s the hook from Aretha Franklin’s famous song, and it could not have been more relevant for when I picked up this little gem of a car. Fresh out of the Mercedes CLA, which you may have seen last month did not impress me that much, the Mini made me smile every time I got in it. Every time.
My dad was visiting, calling in a promise of a match at Kingsholm, and he had an original Clubman back in the 80s – in fact he said our family went on holiday in it and it was impressive and practical whilst retaining the fun of the Mini ethos. My dad is quite often adamant that things were better in ‘the old days’ (you know the type…) and he didn’t really expect this derivation of the Clubman to live up to his memory.
But he was mistaken!
He was instantly won over by the styling, the little touches, the undeniable feel of being in a Mini (even though it is technically a BMW) but still, the British feel is there. The rugby was disappointing – Gloucester being decisively beaten by the Barbarians, but still, the car did the trick.
To drive this car is to love it – the devil, as they say, is in the detail, and Mini has not cut corners. In fairness, the model I drove had a good few extras on it which took the price to almost £29,500… for a Mini… but if I had £30k in my pocket and had the CLA and the Clubman in front of me (almost the same price), I wouldn’t hesitate – the pure joy of the Mini was such that I found myself finding excuses to drive it when I really didn’t need to. Especially at night, when the optional interior lighting pack came into its own. The sat nav / driving control circle in the centre of the car is surrounded by an LED light, with matching lights embedded behind the door panels, and at night they cycle through about 8 or 9 different colours, subtly altering the ambience of the interior. In reality, there was no practical benefit to this doubtless costly extra, but at the same time, it contributed to my continued smile.
Not that the lights were distracting, and the car was easy to drive – comfortable, nippy and confident in corners – as you’d expect from Mini’s pedigree. The switch gear was great – the flight-deck-style toggle switches looked and felt fantastic, and the gearbox was a delight. I spent most of my time with it in manual-sport, because that felt right for something with the Cooper badge on the back. Another nice touch was the selector below the gear stick that altered the driving mode – eco, normal or (where sport would usually be found) maximum go-cart. With the wheels right in the corners of the cars, the light weight and great little engine and gearbox working together, it really did feel like you were taken back to being a kid, controlling a little go cart that you simply point at a corner and it does what you want.
On a practical level, this car works too. I’ve occasionally considered a Mini, but the standard model is just too small for family life, but the Clubman’s boot was spacious, and the rear barn doors were great for access. Even the entry-level model has a great gadget in the shape of a sensor under the rear bumper – as long as the key is in your pocket, swipe your foot under the bumper and one of the doors opens. Swipe again and the other follows suit. If you’re coming back from the shops with bags and kids and can’t let any of them go, this is actually a gadget that makes a lot of practical sense and safety.
So the Mini Clubman is a winner – it’s bigger than it looks, drives fantastically and is very practical in many ways, with toys to entertain the driver who never grew up. The catch? The cost – but I repeat, I genuinely believe it’s worth the cost and if I was in the market for a car of this size, then the Clubman would be on my list… a very short list.