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First drive: Mini Clubman – on sale November 10



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Clubman will be a real test of the strength of the Mini brand in the UK. On the face of it, the car appears to be a self-inflicted injury. But it’s bound to be a winner.

It has been designed to win sales among motorists who need more space and practicality than the Mini hatchback provides, particularly men. Its concession to those motorists is 8cm more rear legroom and a so-called ‘clubdoor’ – a forward opening rear door on the right side.

Fine for the European mainland, but it means that in right-hand drive markets like the UK the rear seat passengers must disembark on the road, or clamber through the nearside front door onto the path. This has caused much consternation among the UK media, which has accused the clubdoor of being unsafe for our streets.

Yet although the UK is Mini’s largest market, 75% of all production at BMW’s Plant Oxford is destined for left-hand drive markets, and re-engineering clubdoor to the left side for a quarter of sales was deemed uneconomical.

Clubman has 100 litres more boot space than the Mini hatchback, accessed through two side-hinged rear doors. But it’s still surpassed by a Vauxhall Corsa or Honda Jazz on space and practicality.

Price is another stumbling block. Unless a Mini One Clubman is launched, the cheapest is the Cooper Clubman, priced £14,235. Add optional extras such as air-con, flat boot floor, bonnet stripes and metallic paint and the price rises well above its mainstream competitors.

Not that this will trouble Mini dealers. A customer who wants a Mini Clubman is going to buy a Mini Clubman, no matter what its weaknesses. And Mini knows that 90% of customers will add one of its Salt, Pepper or Chilli option packs to improve the specification.

Forward orders already exceed 1,400 units, and that’s before Mini’s launch marketing campaign, headlined The Other Mini, hits TV channels, websites and city centres. Full-year volumes are expected to be around 10,000 units.

Reassuringly, Clubman drives just as wonderfully as its hatchback brother, having lost none of the speed, feel and playfulness. Once behind the steering wheel, it’s easy to forget the odd clubdoor and van-like rear end, and concentrate on enjoying the road ahead.

Price: £14,235 - £17,210
Engines: 1.6: 120bhp; 1.6D: 110bhp; 1.6Turbo: 175bhp
Transmission: 6-sp man, 6-sp auto
Performance: 0-62mph: 7.6-10.4 sec; top speed: 120-139mph
Efficiency: 44.8-68.9mpg, 109-150g/km CO2
Cap RV 3yr/30k: £8,075-£9,700 (55%-57%)
Rivals: Fiat 500, Honda Jazz, Mazda2
Strengths: Individuality, the Mini brand, fun to drive
Weaknesses: Expensive, impractical, van-like looks

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