The new Clubman is the most spacious and luxurious Mini to date
Luxe club The new Mini Clubman has traded agility for a stable and more pliant ride.PHOTO: MINI

If you are one of those Mini fans who have been yearning for the brand to return to its minimalist roots, you will be sorely disappointed by the new Clubman.

Apart from being the longest Mini, and boasting the most doors in the range (six), it is also the most upmarket Mini to date.

The carmaker says its models are growing larger in response to market demands.
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The Clubman's extra length is obvious the moment you walk up to it. Compared with its predecessor, the new car is 292mm longer and has a wheelbase that measures 2,670mm - 123mm longer than the previous model.

While it has more doors than its predecessor, it remains unique with its vertically split tailgate, which results in a pair of "fridge doors".

Thanks to its extra length, the boot has grown more useful - it now offers 360 litres with the rear bench in place, and 1,250 litres with it folded. These figures are 100 and 320 litres more than the previous model offered.

When specified with Comfort Access (one of many firsts for a Mini), each of these fridge doors can be opened when a user performs a kicking action below the rear bumper. Opening both doors, however, takes two kicks - the first kick opens only the right door.

I am told that the sensor beneath the bumper is clever enough to open the door only when it senses the kicking action. This means a dog cannot open the tailgate by wagging its tail, even if that is a neat trick to teach your pet.

Also pretty nifty is the puddle lamp on the driver's side that shines the Mini logo on the ground when the door is opened.

Inside the car, it is more than nifty - it has an ambience comparable to an upmarket club's. For the first time, owners can specify backlit door panels illuminated by LEDs.

Also unique to the Clubman are its rectangular air-con vents. Mini wanted to introduce a bit of sharpness into the model, while still keeping the familiar round shapes on the doors and dashboard.

Yet another first are the electrically adjustable front seats. But there is no memory function.

Backseat passengers have enough legroom to stretch out, even if the driver and front passenger both happen to be 1.8m tall. The rear-seat backrests, however, are relatively short.

Despite the Clubman's dimensions, Mini says the model still boasts the brand's trademark go-kart handling - which is a bit of a stretch. Mini has traded outright agility for a helping (or two) of stability. The Clubman feels more like a grown-up than an exuberant teen. Keen drivers might want to wait for the John Cooper Works variant, which is in the pipeline.

Nevertheless, the Clubman's stability and more pliant ride are most welcome features. Undulating tarmac no longer results in a choppy ride, so longer drives (such as the 280km distance clocked on this test drive) are not as tiring as anticipated. In fact, it is the most comfortable Mini I have driven.

Powering the Cooper S variant is a turbocharged 2-litre engine producing 192bhp and 280Nm. It provides enough poke for the Clubman to hit 100kmh in 7.1 seconds and delivers the power in a linear manner.

The engine is paired with a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox. This is the first time a Mini has had more than six forward ratios, and they work very well with the 2-litre motor. The eight-speeder, however, is available only in the Cooper S and Cooper D Clubman variants.

As expected, the ZF gearbox delivers quick and imperceptible gear changes. It would have been nice, though, if the test car came with paddle-shifters.

Those looking for a stylish compact car will probably fall for the new Clubman. But Mini traditionalists should not feel disheartened. After all, given the brand's penchant for being unconventional, the Clubman remains the most offbeat Mini.