Mini has gone back to the drawing board with the Clubman, finally shaking off the confusing single rear door that was on the wrong side for British roads. The new one is longer, wider and more practical, with a view to targeting the likes of the Audi A1.
Under the bonnet you'll find the latest turbocharged BMW Group engines, based on 500cc cylinders. You get 1.5-litre three-cylinder options and 2.0-litre four-pots in both petrol and diesel, and all are as effective as a spring-loaded boxing glove alarm clock on your pillow.
Looks and image
The front end is great; all curvaceous bonnet and cute round headlights. Move around to the sides and you'll find the two completely normal doors on each stretched-looking flank. The back desn't share the same triumph of simplicity. It's more of a mess, with light clusters and badging that just don't work aesthetically, at least to these eyes. Splitting the 'Clubman' lettering across the two doors leaves four letters on the left and three on the right. The OCD in me just isn't okay with that.
Space and practicality
Mini is quite proud of this car's 360-litre boot, and it's a fact that the Clubman makes the three-door Mini hatchback's boot seem like a small handbag. There's also a neat and little-known trick where the seats can be angled forwards, making them vertical, before re-securing them on brackets. That raises the potential to carry larger objects or increase that 360 litres to a level that at least equals the best in class. You can still use the Isofix child seat mounts when the rear seats are cantered forwards, too.
Elsewhere there's room for 1.5- and 1.0-litre bottles (at the same time) in the front door pockets. The glove box is larger than you'd expect, and there's an adjustable boot floor.
Behind the wheel
Typically, the Clubman needs a bit of money spending on options to make it feel special. Navigation is standard, though, and you get the very impressive screen and iDrive interface, too. But the stereo, upholstery and wheels all benefit from upgrades if you can afford it.
The steering is very quick, and seems to get faster after leaving the straight-ahead. It's easy to put too much lock on until you're used to it. This Cooper S model is plenty quick enough in a straight line thanks to its smooth and incredibly flexible 2.0-litre engine, but it could use a more exciting noise to keep it company.
Most body types will find the seats supportive and comfortable. That helps concentration, which is handy because outward visibility isn't the best, especially when the head-up display is active. Lots of headroom means you're better to raise that seat up for an improved view.
Value for money
At the basic on-the-road price the Cooper S is something of a bargain compared to, say, a Volkswagen Golf GTI, but add the options you really want (or need, for residual value's sake) and the playing field is quickly levelled.
Be careful with the throttle and you could see over 60mpg on a 50mph cruise. That plunges with the enthusiastic stomping the engine tempts out of your right foot, but the potential is there if you really want to save fuel.
Who would buy one?
Anyone looking at a well-specced Golf or A1 could benefit from a look at the Clubman. The twin boot doors have one or two advantages for practicality, and recesses in the front seat backs make sure there's enough room for four average-height adults without breaking a sweat. It could be a useful and stylish car for any two-child family.
This car summed up in a single word: Different
If this car was a : Weetabix it would be covered in jam. Perhaps it's not the most obvious choice, but once you try it...
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Mini Clubman, from £19,995
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol producing 189bhp and 221lb/ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 142mph, 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds
Economy: 45.6mpg combined