Test Drive: 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman car test drives mini
2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman. Click image to enlarge
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2008 Mini Cooper Clubman

Ottawa, Ontario – Earlier this summer, I took my five-year-old nephew go-karting. It was a lot of fun, because, really: who doesn’t like tearing around a miniature race track with a kid yelling at you to, as he so eloquently put it, “GOOOO FAAASTER!!!!”

A few weeks later, when Mini flipped me the keys to this Cooper S Clubman, I was reminded of that day, for a couple of reasons. First, it occurred to me how long it’d been since I’d last driven a first-gen Cooper, and second, this car’s kart-like handling would have evinced a similar reaction from my little nephew.

Test Drive: 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman car test drives mini
Test Drive: 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman car test drives mini
Test Drive: 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman car test drives mini
2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman. Click image to enlarge

The Clubman, as our more car-obsessed readers will know, is Mini’s new-for-2008 addition to the Cooper lineup. With a longer wheelbase (100.2 inches/2,547 mm versus the regular Cooper’s 97.1 inches/2,467mm) and significantly more cargo space – the Clubman offers 260 litres with the rear seats up, and 930 with them folded, compared to 160 litres/680 litres (seats up/down) – the Clubman redesign turns the Mini Cooper into a much more practical car.

That said, the Clubman is still far from large: A week’s worth of groceries fit, but barely, behind the upright rear seats. And while my wife and I and our weekend houseguests could have done a Montreal day trip in the Mini, we erred on the side of comfort and took something a little larger. The rear seat isn’t so small that it’s not usable for cross-town jaunts, though. There’s reasonable leg- and headroom, and the seats themselves (there are only two seatbelts back there) are quite comfortable. (Very) small families will appreciate the easily accessible lower LATCH tethers in the rear seats.

Comfy, too, are the front seats. Pronounced, but not intrusive, side bolstering holds you and your passenger in place while you take corners a little quicker than it seems you should be able to. My tester’s large sunroof (which comes bundled with heated front seats in the $1,500 Comfort Package) didn’t intrude too badly into the available headroom, but you might want to avoid this choice if you plan to take your Mini to the track or an autocross event: there might not be enough headroom for a helmet.

Again, this is still a little car, and there are people who won’t be able to get comfortable behind the wheel. My brother-in-law is one of them: He’s six-foot-five, and even with the driver’s seat shoved way back, he said there’s no way he’d be able to drive the car comfortably, as he had to sit with his knees splayed around the steering wheel.

The Clubman, in base form and powered by the non-turbo engine, starts at $26,400, while the S comes in at $31,500. To that, my tester added the aforementioned Comfort Package, $650 Convenience Package (auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain sensor and automatic headlights, automatic climate control), a $1,200 Sport Package (sport suspension, anthracite headliner, 17-inch, five-spoke wheels) and $490 for Bluetooth wireless and USB audio integration. Altogether, my tester’s MSRP was $36,560 plus freight, A/C tax and taxes.

Test Drive: 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman car test drives mini
Test Drive: 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman car test drives mini
2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman. Click image to enlarge

Mini’s interior design concept is very cool, but it comes with its quirks. Many of the toggle switches (and there are many of them) do whatever task they’re assigned when flipped in either direction, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The climate controls, however, are a finicky piece of work, particularly the fan speed and temperature knobs. And why do German automakers seem to have such an opposition to a simple “off” button for the climate control system? Here, as with other Germans I’ve sampled lately, you have to toggle the fan speed control down to zero to turn the system off, which is more complicated than necessary.

My other ergonomic nitpick is the location of the stereo’s volume knob, which is located closer to the heater switches, and nowhere near the rest of the stereo controls. Granted, the steering wheel-mounted stereo controls are a convenient work-around.

Placing the tachometer directly in front of the driver is great for keeping an eye on what the engine’s up to. While the massive centre-mounted speedo is great in terms of design, it does as good a job of telling drivers three cars back how fast you’re going as it does for the person in the driver’s seat.

All the same, the driver’s seat is where you want to be in this car. Handling and turn-in are so wonderful and immediate that you’re willing to forgive the quick steering’s darty tendencies. You might also turn a blind eye to the fact that the car can be a handful on imperfect roads, where tar strips and other irregularities will tug at the front wheels, especially during acceleration.

Test Drive: 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman car test drives mini
2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman. Click image to enlarge

The steering always seems perfectly weighted, though, whether you’re looking for a parking spot at the mall or seeking a slot to merge into on the freeway.

The manual shifter moves with a light, satisfying action, and is paired with a clutch that’s light, yet easy to modulate. The brakes, not so much: they’re strong, and confidently haul the Clubman down to a stop, but they’re touchy and grabby.

Throttle response is very good too; there’s a hint of turbo lag from the S’ boosted motor, but once the turbo spools, the motor produces lots of useful torque, just as its 177 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm torque rating indicates.

A “Sport” button just in front of the shifter ups the throttle’s sensitivity and tightens up the steering, but I was quite content to leave this off most of the time.

For all of the motor’s strength – Mini claims a zero-to-100 km/h sprint time of 7.4 seconds – it returns very respectable fuel economy. According to Transport Canada, the Cooper S Clubman earns a combined fuel consumption rating of 6.8 L/100 km (or 7.7/5.7 city/highway); in spirited city driving, I managed an average of 8.8 L/100 km, but colleague James Bergeron averaged 6.4 on a 600 km highway road trip.

Test Drive: 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman car test drives mini
Test Drive: 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman car test drives mini
2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman. Click image to enlarge

As you’d expect from Mini, the ride is firm, but is only harsh over very bad road surfaces. Still, some drivers who like this car mainly for its looks might wish for a little less starch in the suspenders. Opting out of the Sport Package, and its sport suspension setup, might be a good idea if you’re in that group.

Those “looks first” buyers might also be turned off by the Clubman’s slightly awkward-looking exterior; the extra length throws the proportions off compared to the unbearably-cute regular-length Cooper. I wonder, too, if the barn-door style rear doors actually offer any benefit, cargo-wise, compared to the Cooper’s hatch. It’s a neat homage to the Morris Mini Traveller model the Clubman’s design is based on, but having to open two doors instead of one to access the cargo hold is only slightly less annoying than the way the split backlight bisects the driver’s view rearward.

As Assistant Editor Jil McIntosh wrote in her comparison of the Cooper and Cooper S earlier this year, the modern Mini is the car you’ll buy even though it’s more expensive and less spacious than many other subcompacts. While the Clubman doesn’t fix all of the Cooper’s interior packaging issues – and even comes with a few unique ones of its own – this car’s extra space, coupled with performance virtually identical to that of its smaller cousin, make it even harder to resist. My nephew’s more than 10 years from his driver’s license, but I can already hear him giggling with glee as he throws one of these fun little cars into a turn.

Pricing: 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman

Base price: $31,500 (Cooper Clubman MSRP: $26,400)
Options: $ 3,840 (Comfort Package of sunroof and heated front seats, $1,500; Convenience Package of auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain sensor and automatic headlights, automatic climate control, $650; Sport Package of sport suspension, anthracite headliner, 17-inch, five-spoke wheels, $1,200; Bluetooth wireless and USB audio integration, $490)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,350

Price as tested: $36,790
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman

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