There are a very specific words that come to mind when describing a MINI: quirky, fun-to-drive, tongue-in-cheek to downright cheeky. Nothing embodies British style and pizzaz in a pop culture setting more. And yet the MINI is an icon of British packaging and engineering ingenuity. The perfect small car that is environmentally conscious because of its small footprint, which endows it with amazing dynamism and style.
The traditional MINI 3-door isn’t the most practical of cars, but it’s targeted at young ‘uns and empty nesters alike. So what does one do if you want the MINI lifestyle, but have got your adulting needs to satisfy as well?
Well, thankfully MINI offers three variants: the MINI 4-door, the MINI Countryman compact cross-over SUV, and the Clubman, seen here and decked out in full JCW trim.
On a side note, the Clubman is not to be confused with the MINI Cooper 4-door, which is slightly smaller and shorter, despite sharing major components like drivetrain, electronics and interior bits. The Clubman is the brand’s biggest model, built atop the BMW Group’s UKL2 platform and internally designated F54. Power comes from the BMW Group’s own B48 engine, a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder direct injected twin-scroll turbocharged engine used across the board and seen here outputting with a revised (since Q3 of 2019, but only recently available in the Philippines in 2020) 306hp and 450 Newton-Meters of torque, sending power to all four wheels via the ZF 8-speed automatic and an electro-hydraulic center differential which defaults to 50:50 torque split, but can move power to either front or rear axle by 100%, depending on road conditions and grip. It generally defaults to FWD to deliver a very good fuel consumption figure, which in my long-drive was a surprising 15km/liter on my mostly highway drive.
But what’s just as surprising is the ride comfort: despite riding on massive (for a MINI) 19-inch wheels shod with 235/35R19 Continental Premium Contact Tires (which aren’t the best-riding tires), and not to mentioned the sport-tuned suspension, the MINI rides very good, cool and composed even on bumpy roads. From EDSA, we took SLEX and exited to CALAX where the concrete surface was choppy. Exiting Santa Rosa, we headed up to Silang to drop by our editor’s place for some of the best coffee around and the ride was supremely good. Ditto the powertrain: previous MINIs always wanted to go all-out at even the slightest prodding of the throttle. This Clubman felt very calm, composed, well-measured and progressive. The result? I could actually have a very good conversation with my friends inside the MINI, without the car being too much of a chore to handle. But slot into sport mode, focus on the road ahead, and the Clubman still delivers the good for fast and frenetic driving, but with the added composure of AWD. Flicking the paddles for manual control over the gears added a degree of control and crucially fun as we hustled the MINI through the tight inner and deserted back roads of Silang, Cavite, the LED headlights casting a bright glow over the road ahead.
About the only thing quite bothersome was the super-supportive seats: they look fantastic, hold you in place securely especially through sessions of mad sawing behind the wheel, but lack padding to support your body when the surface gets really jiggly, such as broken tarmac, broken concrete surfaces and the odd rumble strips. But driving position couldn’t be more perfect: low, shoulders aligned with the steering column, and all other controls within easy reach. However, after roughly 2 decades, the MINI’s interior, particularly the round instrument display theme and toggle switches is getting rather old. Evolved it has, but it hasn’t strayed far from the first BMW-built MINI. Fans might like it the way it is, but many style mavens I spoke to feel MINI is banking on their heritage too much yet fails to do something truly ground-breaking with the interior, choosing instead to play it safe.
The other less serious, but noteworthy concern is the lack of Apple Carplay, at least for local variants. You have to download the BMW Connected App to get any sort of seamless mobile phone integration with the multi-media system and for some reason, even after I downloaded it, my phone wouldn’t fully connect to the infotainment system. Thankfully, the driving was enjoyable, and the company providing conversation was entertaining enough that we didn’t mind the radio silence.
As a daily driver, the Clubman, if you can afford the P4.25M asking price, is a surprisingly practical proposition. Rear seat space is good, trunk space is useable and the barn-door style rears open to a modest but very useable cargo space. It’s also a safe car: six (6) airbags are standard, with ABS-EBD brakes, traction and stability control plus the aforementioned overabundance of grip from the All4 AWD system.
The Clubman, in especially in JCW trim represents a fun, quirky yet practical premium package for those who want something more exciting (in terms of looks and driving performance) and different from the usual premium Audi / BMW / Lexus / Mercedes compact luxury sedans and aren’t shy about wanting to be different. It has all the solidity one expects from a premium brand, all the fun factor of a MINI, yet all the responsible traits of a proper family car.
A car enthusiast through and through, Botchi Santos believes that different people have different needs. He tries to find the best car for a specific audience, and spruces things up by delving into car culture, helping make the local car community vibrant and enjoyable for all. His passion for motoring is built around a belief that cars are among the top three life purchases.