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2011 MINI Cooper Clubman ReviewThe Good
The 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman offers spritely power, particularly with the turbocharged engine, giving good fuel economy, sharp handling and, above all, lots of warm, fuzzy, fun-to-drive feelings.The Bad
Despite a size slightly larger than the Cooper hardtop's, the 2011 Clubman still offers a tight squeeze in the rear seats, both for adult passengers and, with the seats up, for cargo, all at a price that can rapidly climb as options are added.
The CarGurus View
The 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman returns as the stylish and unique slightly larger version of the traditional hardtop. While retaining the hardtop’s fun-to-drive feel, the additional length and width of the Clubman version have not completely alleviated the coziness of the rear and the small amount of cargo room. Although owners continue to revere the MINI Clubman, experts scratch their heads a bit over the Clubman’s place in the MINI lineup: The extra room is not quite spacious enough to make it as useful as the Cooper Countryman, and the Clubman’s added weight takes a toll on the base engine, which isn’t quite as peppy as the smaller hardtop’s.
At a Glance
The 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman is available in three trims: the Base, the S (with a sportier suspension and ride) and the John Cooper Works (JCW) incarnation, named for race car automaker John Cooper. Straddling the line between the fun, carefree spirit of the MINI Cooper hardtop and the utility of the MINI Cooper Countryman, the Clubman body type comes in at almost 9.5 inches longer than the hardtop, while offering unique details, such as split rear barn doors and a single rear-hinged "clubdoor" on the right side of the car, designed to make climbing into the rear seat easier. Both the barn doors and clubdoor must be opened and closed in a specific sequence to avoid risking damage to the sheet metal. In fact, the rear clubdoor can’t be opened if the right side front door is closed, preventing the rear door from being opened accidentally from inside. However, since the extra side door is placed only on the right side of the car, items can’t be loaded into the back seat as easily from the driver’s side.
Although it hasn't undergone a drastic revision, the Clubman sees several changes for 2011, not only under the hood, but in some interior and exterior details as well. Outside, all trims have revised bumper fascias, taillights and bigger foglights (an option for the Base, but standard for the S and JCW trims). New adaptive xenon headlights are also available as an option, as well as five new wheel designs.
The MINI is all about customization, with the company boasting more than 100 ways to decorate the roof, mirror caps and door-handle trim. In fact, for 2011, consumers even have the choice to create their own graphic designs for the “A” panel, roof, side panel, interior and stripes on the car. And while looks aren’t everything, they are a big part of the MINI’s quirky appeal.
The Clubman offers individual options as well as packages to upgrade the look and function of the auto. The Base and S offer the Hampton package, with a specific red-accented color scheme inside and out, xenon headlights and package-specific, 17-inch Hampton twin-spoke alloy wheels with a red accent. The Base and S trims also have an available Sport package to add dynamic traction control with electronic differential lock control (standard in the JCW trim), optional silver or black stripes for the bonnet, xenon headlights, a choice of wheel style and white turn signals.
Additional features can be added with packages of options available for any of the Clubman trims. Among other features, upgrades can add heated front seats, automatic air conditioning, a sunroof and exterior power folding mirrors. Technology can include a Harman Kardon audio system, USB/iPod adapter, universal garage door opener and, this year, the MINI Connected system. MINI Connected, with or without navigation, adds a 6.5-inch high-def display, Smartphone integration, Bluetooth and voice recognition. An Apple iPhone app can connect users to their e-mail or social networking sites and allow an iPod to be used through the system’s audio controls.
The Cooper Clubman’s 1.6-liter DOHC inline 4-cylinder (I4) engine comes with a standard Getrag 6-speed manual (with a 0-60 time of 8.9 seconds) or Aisin 6-speed automatic (registering a longer 10.2 seconds to reach 60 mph). The base engine produces 114 lb-ft of torque and 121 hp (an increase of 3 horses over 2010’s numbers thanks to a change in lubrication, which lessened the amount of power lost to friction). The base engine feels underpowered to some, who recommend the turbocharged version of the engine found in the S and JCW trims. The base Clubman offers respectable fuel economy figures with 35 mpg highway/28 city (manual) and 35/27 (automatic).
The sportier S trim offers a similar engine (a 1.6-liter turbocharged DOHC I4) but has revved up the power by 9 hp for 2011 with Valvetronic valve intake control, generating 191 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. MINI’s 0-60 times for the S trim trounce the Base's at 6.8 seconds with the manual transmission and 7.2 seconds with the automatic. The S trim’s available 6-speed automatic comes with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but produces similar fuel economy figures to the Base: 35/27 (manual) and 34/26 (automatic). An available John Cooper Works (JCW) tuning kit can increase the Clubman S’s engine output to 195 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque.
The John Cooper Works (JCW) trim speeds things up even further, giving a 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds according to MINI. Fuel efficiency, however, suffers slightly with a Getrag 6-speed high-capacity manual transmission (the only available transmission for this trim) with estimates of 33/25. The high output, turbocharged 1.6-liter DOHC I4 engine doesn’t back down on the power, however, delivering 208 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque.
Ride & Handling
The front-wheel-drive Clubman’s goal seems to be matching what MINI calls the “go-kart handling” of the Cooper hardtop. In fact, MINI explains that the chassis, suspension, brakes and driving programs of the Clubman are equivalent to those found in the hardtop, but slightly modified to compensate for the increased weight of the larger Clubman. The Clubman trims offer fully independent suspensions with a MacPherson strut suspension in the front, a multi-link suspension in the rear, and front and rear stabilizer bars. While the S trim comes with a sportier suspension, all trims offer stiffer springs and dampers, combined with a thicker anti-roll bar in an optional sport suspension.
The Clubman Base rides on 15-inch alloy wheels, while the sportier S trim includes larger, 16-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tires and an option to upgrade to 17-inch alloy wheels. 17-inch Challenge Spoke alloy wheels are standard for the JCW trim.
Even with the extra weight of the MINI Cooper Clubman, most find the fun-to-drive quotient still high, with responsive steering from the electric power-assisted steering, responsive feedback from the road and good power, particularly in the turbocharged engines found in the S and JCW trims (needed to counteract the added weight). Smaller tires are recommended by most to smooth out the ride, but performance-minded enthusiasts may be happy with the S-trim’s 17-inch wheels. Despite its small size, the Clubman’s wider wheelbase and low profile offer little body lean and stability in a crosswind. The wind does intrude, however, (along with engine and road noise) at highway speeds, despite this year’s addition of MINI’s “enhanced acoustic attenuation” throughout the vehicle.
Cabin & Comfort
The 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman’s interior continues to display its distinctive style, with round dials, toggle switches, and its signature large, round, centered speedometer. Even the display for the navigation system (optional) and entertainment system are integrated into the central speedometer. The rounded key to the Clubman recalls settings for audio and temperature functions, among others (although a Start/Stop button is used to actually start the car). While some of the controls have been re-oriented to make them more user-friendly, some still find that the layout and labeling leave much to be desired.
The Clubman offers standard leatherette upholstery for the Base and S trims and cloth in the JCW trim. Manually adjustable six ways (including height), the seats offer several options, with available lumbar support adjustment and upgrades to leather and heated front seats. Sport seats can be added to the Base, providing bigger bolsters for larger seats that ride lower to the ground (standard in the S and JCW trim levels). Although MINI touts the extra rear legroom as a selling feature of the Clubman lineup, most agree that, while better than the Cooper Hardtop, the rear is still a tight squeeze for most adults. Visibility is generally good, although some complain that the vertical connection where the barn doors meet impedes the view out of the back window.
The Clubman’s cargo space is, again, larger than the Hardtop’s, but not exactly a yawning chasm. The Clubman’s additional length and width increase rear storage to 9.2 cubic feet with the seats up and 32.8 cubic feet with the 50/50 split-folding seats flat. Those looking for more spacious interiors with the Cooper cache may look to the Countryman, which offers a full four doors, 16.5 cubic feet of room in the rear with the seats up and 41.3 cubic feet with the seats folded down.
The 2011 standard audio system comes with 6 speakers, speed-sensitive volume control, AM/FM radio, an MP3-compatible CD player and an auxiliary jack to play music from an external source through the car’s audio system. Previously available only as add-on features, Sirius Satellite radio (with a one-year subscription) and HD radio are now standard as well. A common complaint in previous MINIs has been the layout of the radio controls, a complaint that has been addressed in the 2011 refresh, with, for example, the volume and station tuner knobs now positioned at the same level on the radio.
Available options include a navigation system with maps stored on an in-vehicle hard drive that can be updated through a USB interface in the glovebox. The audio system can be upgraded with a 10-speaker, 480-watt Harman Kardon audio system with an 8-channel digital sound processing amplifier, 4 tweeters, 4 subwoofers and surround sound precisely tuned to each trim’s MINI’s interior.
The 2011 MINI Cooper Clubman comes with six airbags, dynamic stability control, antilock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and cornering brake control. Tire pressure monitoring, brake assist and hill assist (to keep the car from rolling back after releasing the brake pedal) are other standard features in the Clubman.
Dynamic traction control (standard in the JCW, but optional in the Base and S trims) includes an electronic differential lock that controls the spin of the front wheels during acceleration. The 2011 Cooper Clubman introduces adaptive headlights as an available option combined with optional xenon headlights. The adaptive headlights turn in the direction of a curve in the road, better illuminating the view ahead. The Parking Distance Control feature provides another option for the Clubman, with rear sensors’ ultrasonic waves detecting objects behind the car and alerting drivers through a series of beeping tones.
Unfortunately, the MINI Cooper Clubman has not been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The 2011 ratings for the slightly smaller Cooper hardtop were Good (the highest score) for frontal crashes, but only Acceptable (second highest rating) for both the side-impact crash and the roof strength test, which assesses the car’s structural soundness in a rollover. The larger Cooper Countryman, however, scored Good in all areas.
Similarly, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has not tested any of the three Clubman trims with its new, more stringent 2011 standards, nor had it assessed the 2010 Clubman with its former standards.
What Owners Think
MINI Cooper Clubman owners can’t seem to wipe the grins off their faces. They love the sporty power (even with the base engine), the precise handling, stability, comfort and fuel economy of the Clubman. Taller drivers feel at ease and find that they fit with room to spare. Cargo space is adequate for owners, particularly with the rear seats folded down. However, as one owner pointed out, you know you’re not shopping for an SUV when you’re looking at the MINI line, so the space should be no surprise. Common complaints from 2010 Clubman owners involved the layout of controls and the obtuse nature of their function—after all, a Rosetta Stone should not be required to operate the stereo. However, MINI seems to have tried to address these concerns with this year’s revision of several features and controls (e.g., audio and air conditioning controls). 2010 owners also wished for a quieter cabin, and, again, MINI has enhanced the acoustic dampening for this year’s Clubman. Owners are hard pressed to find fault with the Clubman and turn to details (such as the size and number of cupholders) as noteworthy problems. But the overall impression that owners seem to convey is fun, fun, fun.
by Jessica McCombe
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