2009 MINI 1.6 Cooper S Clubman (GB)

I’ll cut to the chase straight away – the MINI Cooper S Clubman is a superb car. That much was never in doubt. Some of the reasons for this conclusion came as a surprise, though.

This was the MINI I’d been waiting to drive. Having sampled many MINIs in more basic flavours, I needed no convincing as to the car’s fundamental dynamic capabilities. However, the was always the niggling and frustrating suspicion that a powerful engine would really make the most of those virtues. Here was the MINI’s chance to prove it.

This specimen passed the approach test with aplomb. Finished in bright Chili Red with black roof and mirror caps and a set of snazzy black multispoke 17-inch alloys, set off with the extra brightwork of the chrome line exterior pack, the car really looked the part. I’d happily lose the MINI 50th anniversary graphics, but otherwise it was every inch the premium pocket rocket.

 

 

The merits of the Clubman body shape could be argued ad nauseum, but to my eyes the estate-like glasshouse and long roof, combined with the longer wheelbase, make for a more appealing and quirky car than the regular three-door hatch. As I discovered, the extra length between the wheels pays dividends in other areas, too.

Not least of these is the extra space it affords over its hatchback stablemate. It’s by no means palatial, but the rear seats – with seatbelts and headrests for three but realistic accommodation for two – are spacious enough and the boot is far more commodious, with a very useable square-sided shape and a handy extra storage compartment under the floor.

The cabin is otherwise very much what you’d expect from a MINI, which is to say of good quality and bursting with nifty ‘surprise and delight’ details. The basics are also spot-on, with an excellent driving position and well-judged ergonomics. The leather-wrapped three spoke steering wheel is perfectly proportioned, with a fairly thin rim that feels just right in your hands. The pedals spacing enables easy heel-and-toe downchanges and, unusually for a small car, there is a proper foot rest to the left of the clutch pedal. My only gripe is with the standard sports seats, which, although blessed with an array of adjustment options, are too short in the squab, offering not quite enough support. I suspect that the Works seats would be a worthwhile, albeit costly investment.

However, the static qualities are just an appetite-whetting prelude to the main appeal of the Cooper S – threading it down some challenging roads. And this is where the MINI really delivers the goods. It passes the 300-yard test with flying colours, delivering a sense of tight tautness across the car park, while joining the road immediately reveals the impressive oomph of the turbocharged 1.6 litre four. It’s a good first impression.

Conditions were wet when I first got behind the wheel, and the MINI initially felt riotously unruly. From a standstill, it sprints off the line in a flurrly of wheel tramp to the accompaniment of frantic flashing from the traction control light. Although the steering wheel twitches, the car does at least surge forward in a straight line, presumably thanks in part to the MINI’s equal length driveshafts.

It is, however, quick. Proper, grown-up quick. The engine is delight, idling smoothly and quietly, pulling smoothly from lower revs and then delivering a tremendous thump of torque when the turbo gets into its stride. It sounds endlessly energetic with a throaty, fizzing induction roar filling the cabin as the rev needle swings around the dial. There is a slight trace of lag in the lower reaches, but if you make sure you’re in the right gear it turns out that the Cooper S is a prodigious overtaking tool. Whether nipping past a dawdler on a single carriageway or accelerating out of speed-limited roadworks on the motorway, the motor pulls with sizzling vigour and great enthusiasm, although it does become slightly strained once your pass 6,000rpm. Where legally permitted, it continues to haul strongly well into three figure speeds.

This accessible grunt is part of the reason why the MINI is able to carry considerable speed across country. Kept on the boil, it will dash out of corners with its nose high, surging with conviction down the road. It’s this ability to pile on speed that truly sets it apart from other MINIs, enabling it to exploit its chassis to the full. Along swooping, winding British B-roads, the Cooper S maintains a pace that would humble far more illustrious machinery. It demonstrates a supreme blend of light-footed agility, unshakeable body control and pin sharp steering precision along with a suppleness of ride that I hadn’t expected. This is a trait for which I imagine we have the longer Clubman wheelbase to thank, as in my experience the hatch is slightly more unyieldling.

During the wet first few miles in the car, I had inital doubts about the MINI’s ability to handle its power, as full throttle caused the wheel to tug alarmingly, with the car twitching as it followed the road’s bumps and cambers. It was huge fun and very amusing, but it made me wonder how tolerable it would be on a daily basis. It was then that I discovered the secret of the ‘Sport’ button. Having started off with the button’s functions firmly ‘on’, I decided to see what difference switching it off would make. The answer was – a great difference. The softer throttle response and more relaxed steering reduced the immediate effect of inputs to those controls, considerably quelling the car’s tendency to torque steer and wheelspin. What I couldn’t help thinking was that £170 for the optional limited slip diff must surely be a bargain worthy of serious consideration.

Driving the same roads later in dry conditions, the Sport button made much more sense. Its changes are very well judged and bring about an appreciable change in character. The top of the loud pedal’s travel delivers a much sharper response and the steering firms up, reining in the laid-back slack of the non-Sport mode’s helm and heightening the sense of iron-fisted control over country roads. Such is the influence that the Sport button has on the car’s reactions that it could almost be considered a ‘weather’ button – on for dry; off for wet.

To my surprise, though, the Sport button is also ideally suited to town driving – sharper throttle – and also on the motorway, thanks to the meatier steering weight. On the motorway was where the Cooper S revealed a strength that really was unexpected. Far from feeling like a little supermini, its manners were supremely confident even in torrential rain, the engine enabling it to punch far above its weight and the car feeling utterly rock-steady at speed, damping away tricky surfaces with exceptional composure. Cruise control and decent bi-xenon headlights completed the big-car feel at night.

The brakes and gearchange are as good as in any other MINI, the lever snicking with deft lightness around the gate and the all-round discs shedding speed nicely via a linear if slightly mute pedal. Heavy braking on the approach to corners highlights the lively mobility of the MINI chassis, the tail squirming as weight transfer throws the balance forward. The car can be effortlessly coaxed into lift-off oversteer which is easily corrected with a dab of oppo, although its standard cornering stance is to remain unflappably neutral, its Dunlop runflats gripping gamely at both ends unless the driver entices them to do otherwise.

Other than a minor complaint about the seat size – one which does not detract from the fact that I emerged from the car in a decent state of comfort after a lengthy motorway trip – I failed to identify any other weakness during my time with the Cooper S Clubman. The only matter is one that bears no relevance to its driving characteristics, and that is a price tag that appears rather hefty for a small car, even one of such talent. With a basic price of £17,530 that surely only exists in theory, the running total of the car you see here is likely to be nearer £20,000. That said, lightly used examples with a healthy spec list can be picked up for considerably less than that.

The MINI Cooper S Clubman impressed me so much that, as I’d hoped it would, it has become my favourite MINI, dispelling my suspicion that the One is the pick of the range. Its performance is so impressive, its spread of capability so broad and its ownership proposition so strong that it is a car I would give serious thought to owning.

2009-08-27 21:18:13

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Home Forums 2009 MINI 1.6 Cooper S Clubman (GB)

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    zAppiDev
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    I’ll cut to the chase straight away – the MINI Cooper S Clubman is a superb car. That much was never in doubt. Some of the reasons for this conclusion
    [See the full post at: 2009 MINI 1.6 Cooper S Clubman (GB)]

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