MINI Cooper S

Clubman Auto

MINI Clubman, side action
MINI Clubman, front action
MINI Clubman, rear action
MINI Clubman, dashboard
MINI Clubman, dash detail
MINI Clubman, front seats
MINI Clubman, rear seats
MINI Clubman, wheel detail
MINI Clubman, rear doors
MINI Clubman, rear doors open
MINI Clubman, boot
MINI Clubman, badge

MOST descriptions of a new car start at the front and work rearward but this time let's begin at the back.

Where, on this all-new MINI Clubman you'll find the same split rear doors of the outgoing model, designed to evoke Minis from an earlier age and leave a permanent block in the rear view mirror.

Then open those doors, discovering that pressurised struts help lighten the task and revealing a boot space that is very un-Mini indeed. Bigger than the void you'll find in a Ford Focus, for instance (back seats up or down).

Move a little more forward still and you'll be sitting in a rear seat that's both comfy and comes with the sort of legroom you most decidedly don't associate with anything with Mini in its name.

That's thanks to putting more distance between front and rear wheels than before, and more than you'll find in a four-door MINI Hatch. There is now enough room in the rear for a couple of tall men - and you'd never have dared say that before.

And now to the biggest change in this new Clubman - it's actually got four doors. Not three, like the edition before, which made do with a silly single rear door - and that on the 'wrong' side of the car for UK buyers, disgorging rear seat occupants into the road.

Now, step back and take a long at this newcomer in profile, where you find a car that's still very much a MINI but stretched like a piece of pasta until it is a mere hands-span shorter than, say, a Focus. And that is certainly not a small car.

You might think the stretch has added a gawky touch to the car as the price it has to pay for growing up. A turn at the wheel will discover if that's a deal worth the making.

From the driver's seat the sense of pure MINI-ness returns as you face a dashboard, complete with plate sized central dial that once held the speedo but these days acts as somewhere to put the sat nav, which comes as standard on every new Clubman.

It's a fine system and the built-in cost to the car's maker shows how it intends this version to head upmarket in this country, to the extent that we are not offered the less expensive versions available elsewhere.

Here, the Clubman range starts at £19,995 and tops out (for the moment) at a very un-mini like £27,410. And that is before you start to pile on the options.

Most buyers add a £3,865 Chili pack, with heated front seats, bigger alloys, rear spoiler and aero kit and sports steering wheel among its attractions.

Go crazy with the box ticking (some do) and you can end up with something like this particular car, whose options list groaned under the weight of add-ons to the tune of £10,480 worth of extras. Not mini at all.

For the moment there is a choice of two petrol and two diesel engines with more powerful versions sure to come as the range settles down. Big car options have trickled down to the extent you can order your Clubman with an eight-speed automatic gearbox - and a fine thing it is too.

The car's potent petrol motor provides plenty of pep, accompanied by the sort of refined roar that makes you smile.

So does the way the car tackles a typically pockmarked British road surface, banishing thoughts of old Minis hopping from bump to bump (even as the driver laughed at the sheer fun of it all).

FAST FACTS

MINI Cooper S Clubman Auto

Price: £24,455

Mechanical: 189bhp, 1,998cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving front wheels via 8-speed automatic gearbox

Max Speed: 142mph

0-62mph: 7.1 seconds

Combined MPG: 48.7

Insurance Group: 22

C02 emissions: 134 g/km

Bik rating: 21%

Warranty: 3yrs/unlimited miles

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