Final report Mini Clubman long-term test
13 March 2017
Author: Guy Bird
|P11D price £21,320|
|As tested £26,465|
|Official consumption 74.3mpg|
|Our average consumption 41.8mpg|
Final report - The fun comes with flaws
Our Clubman's arrival at BusinessCar coincided with an unexpected temporary house move for my family of four. Among the distress of that upheaval it coped pretty admirably with schlepping bags of belongings back and forth due to its long and spacious, 1,250-litre seats-down boot space.
The 116hp 1.5-litre diesel engine was also up to the task of that load-lugging, in city jaunts and motorway missions alike. The Sport mode was seldom used in what is unashamedly a family-oriented car, but when selected it did allow the car to keep Mini's reputation for providing genuine driver enjoyment alive.
That fun was enhanced by the awesome lighting effects. The puddle light that illuminated the floor outside the driver's door floor with every keyfob unlock made me feel like 'Batman summoned', and the rainbow-coloured interior lights delighted my young daughters and old football mates equally. All good, and very Mini.
Less impressive was the seats-up boot space, which at 360 litres is only average in class, and the access to it, because of the low rear spoiler getting in the way, meant clonking your head when reaching far inside was a regular occurrence. The barn-door opening's wide central joining pillar blocked considerable rearward driver vision when shut and it's also remiss that a car as practical as Mini sets out the Clubman to be, still charges £200 extra for split-folding rear seats.
The foot-waving boot opening tech and voice-activated sat-nav were hit and miss too - as, admittedly, are most rivals' systems - and the emergency braking was over-sensitive.
Fuel economy was okay. Our best tank average was 44.2mpg on a long northern jaunt via mainly motorways and dual-carriageways (with highs of 54mpg through some sections), but our despairing low was 35.7mpg after a few weeks of relentless short-run city work.
Neither figure is in the same ballpark of the official combined 74.3mpg. Roll on the forthcoming real-world economy testing, even if the associated readjustment on CO2 will hit tax bills a little harder than the current 19% BIK tax rate for 2016/17. But we will, at least, know where we stand.
Parked up by the previous-generation Clubman, it's clear the new one's exterior fit and finish has come a long way - and mainly for the good. Inside, the central circular infotainment screen is now better integrated, the controls mainly more ergonomic, and the design and materials of higher quality, and subtly British with it too - from the herringbone-style pattern on the passenger-side aluminium dashboard fillet to the tartan storage floor areas.
The one thing that niggles, though, is a nagging feeling that the Clubman is trying ever-so-slightly too hard to be different (those compromised back doors, and gimmicky tech that doesn't work properly) in a segment whose customers simply need more practicality, as opposed to, say, a three-door Mini Cooper driver. If the brand can improve in this area for its next Clubman while keeping the surprise-and-delight features that do work (lighting, driving ability, individual looks) greater sales success would surely follow. For now, this version is more fun than it's flawed.
9th report - Tripped up by the lights fantastic
In the style of a cliffhanger TV series or page-turning thriller, we left you hanging at the end of our last report on what the other minor irritation with our Clubman was. In case you've been bursting to know ever since, here's the deal.
The multi-coloured ambient lighting adjustment that Mini has trailblazed within its interiors for some years has rightly and widely been applauded by critics and on our watch with the latest Clubman, beloved by almost all the passengers it's carried - especially the younger ones - on evening missions where the lights show up best. Keeping the option on 'cycle' - so that the lights around the door handles, footwells and elsewhere keep changing from orange through to purple, green, blue and red - has kept my daughters' friends amused for significant portions of shared journeys. Surprise, tick, delight, tick.
But while this ambient lighting is indeed delightful (alongside the 'Batman light in reverse' that beams on to the floor outside of the driver's door every time you blip the car open), some task lighting needs of the cabin have been missed. Either the Mini designers took their eye off the ball and forgot about some of the lighting requirements at the outset, or the product planners decided it was too expensive or irrelevant at some stage in the car's development to justify shelling out extra time and/or money.
The offending omission is a lack of lighting around the USB and aux cable ports. Compounded by the fact that the holes are hidden under the lip of the protruding part of the centre console, it makes plugging in your smartphone on a dark night or an early morning run in the winter a matter of prolonged guesswork rather than quick ease. Which slightly takes the shine - all puns intended - off the rather lovely lighting elsewhere.
8th report - Mammoth mission for the Mini
A three-hour each-way mission up north over the holidays gave our Clubman a chance to show its long-distance cruising skills beyond its more expected urban agility.
Perhaps what's most surprising is how quiet the 116hp 1.5-litre diesel is once you get your cruise on. Even at healthy motorway speeds you won't hear it whining or making any sort of racket. And there's almost always plenty of engine oomph for a well-planned overtaking manoeuvre, without having to resort to down shifts through the gearbox, even with a family of four's overnight luggage crammed inside to add to its body weight. It doesn't exactly feel sprinter fast - 0-62mpg takes 10.4 seconds - but it's athletic and urgent when pressed. Ride quality was solidly good, and no one felt in the slightest bit sick either way, despite the small and low-slung cabin.
What also improved on this extra-urban jaunt - on mostly motorways but some dual-carriageways and a town and city at each end - is the average fuel economy. Rising from 41.2mpg the fill before last, the most recent pitstop saw average mpg rise to 44.2mpg (with legal highs of 54mpg on some sections of the route). While the official combined fuel economy of 74.3mpg still remains pie in the sky, it's nice to see our real-world figures on the up, and without major eco-driving techniques employed.
Minor irritations remain though, through some minor flaws in the design that are becoming 'repeat offenders'. One in particular, which took a little bit of tracking down, is a rattling grab-handle on the front passenger side which slaps the ceiling in a loud manner when the car gets slightly unsettled over speed bumps or uneven surfaces. A bit of dampening would solve this. The other relates to lighting but I'll tackle that in the next report.
7th report - Brake dancing
Vehicle technology is heading inexorably towards fully autonomous heaven (or hell, depending on your viewpoint). With this in mind, some carmakers are starting to show off early-stage building block gadgets on current models that will lead to 'hands-off, eyes-off driving' over the next decade.
Mini is one of them. Happy to nudge the brakes for you at low or high speed, it will also - I have discovered recently - slam them on too if it thinks there's a likelihood of an imminent crash. That's not to say I've been goading it, but it's fair to say the onboard sensors don't like the Clubman getting too close to the car in front, even at low speed. In fact, even when (as a human with decades of driving experience under your belt) you're pretty sure the car in front really is about to accelerate after a speed bump, or finally turn left, or turn right despite previous dithering, the car's computer still gets spooked.
First, a Mini-shaped red light flashes up on the dashboard and makes a noise. Then, if your forward momentum continues faster than the car in front, the car brakes, and hard, for you.
While it's reassuring to know that the tech works when you forget, it does seem a little over-sensitive, beeping and flashing at bollards in the middle of the road you may be slaloming quite carefully, or at parked cars it thinks you're driving at, instead of around.
To be fair to Mini, it's not the only one with such delicately calibrated kit - Volvo is another offender. Maybe their sensors just need to do a bit of self-learning or honing to recognise real hazards from perceived ones, otherwise our journeys through built-up cities could end up being one long series of bleeps, shudders and braking (hard). Which is the opposite of traffic calming.
6th report - About those back doors.
I'm all for an aesthetic design flourish - in this case wrapped up in an overt retro reference - but our jury is well and truly out regarding the Mini Clubman's (now controversial) barn-door-style opening, vertically hinged double rear doors.
One reason for the drama is that my wife keeps hitting her head on the lowish roofline of the boot opening while trying to lean in to get stuff from the deeper recesses of the boot space. While no Amazonian in terms of height, she's far from a 'small person' either. The boot itself - with seats up - is an only average 360 litres too (the VW Golf offers 380 and the Skoda Fabia estate 530).
Add in the wide central joining pillar that blocks considerable rearward driver vision - before you even factor in the further obscuring central rear headrest, even when in the 'down' position - and there are some definite downsides to the Clubman's heritage-aping boot doors design (after the original Mini Traveller and Countryman estate models from the 1960s).
However, on the plus side, the rear remote door opening still produces a wow factor that is hard to beat, pinging open at some speed from afar door by door, when you blip the key fob - and sometimes surprising passersby who pass by too close! - while the 1250-litre rear seats down space is large and useful (you can sling an adult bike in there no problem).
But, such are the number of negatives compared with the undoubtedly nice but fewer positives, even those of the jury that were originally in the "aren't they novel and fun" camp can't help quietly thinking that a plain ol' single-door hatchback from a higher roof hinge might be worth a look for the mk3 version. Form and function and all that.
5th report - That syncing feeling
Another day, another car-related app (or seven) arrives. It can be a little overwhelming. But in the interests of robust long-term testing I dutifully downloaded Mini's latest Connected app - it was free after all - to see if my Clubman-related world would suddenly become more alive, calm, organised and well.connected.
The download to my Apple iPhone was easy enough - users of Android systems look away now as your version is still in the development stage - and as my iPhone was already linked to the car it didn't take much further screen-and-button jiggery-pokery to get the thing started.
Once done, the first thing I wanted to explore was the function that syncs your iCalendar to the car. If you added an address into your original calendar entry, it will pop up on the Mini's screen too and, if you're about to drive to that destination, offer satnav guidance.
This is a big early win for the app as it saves you the hassle of re-inputting the address via the car's sometimes clunky (voice-activated or switch-related) controls.
And it worked a treat the other day - in real time - on a tricky mission to drop my girls off to a weekend Guides camp situated down a one-track, no-street-light Kentish lane on a dark and rainy evening. Owners of cars that can sync with Apple CarPlay will know that its system has been able to do something pretty much the same for awhile, but this version feels a little more tailored to Mini and the Clubman and keeps the sort of functionality many BMW Group apps have had for awhile like telling you your average mpg, journey times and distances afterwards, which is neat. We'll be exploring more of what the app can do in future reports.
4th report - Toggle right for green and left to go
There's a curious chrome-tipped switch on the base of the Mini Clubman's gear stick gaiter surround labelled 'Sport' and 'Green'. Replete with fast-forward and reverse sideways chevrons, I figured out what it probably did awhile ago, but was taken by its unusual po-sitioning long before I actually had a chance to play with it.
Compared to similar driving mode functions from other brands, unleashed by conventional buttons placed on various spots around the dashboard - or sometimes only unearthed after working through way too many touchscreen layers - it's an intuitive switch that does what it says on the tin, or in this its case gaiter surround, very well.
Toggle right to 'Green' mode and the main driver dial illuminates with some suitably green-lit details, and it's ready for an eco max-out. One light graphic tells you how many miles you've added to your range by your current driving style while another pops up - when you go above its perfect cruising rate, in this diesel unit's case at about 50-55mph - and subtly suggests easing off on the accelerator by means of an anti-clockwise white arrow within a green circle. The latter graphic was a surprise but nonetheless useful and also managed not to feel too finger-wagging or reprimanding, as some car-to-human eco mes-saging can.
If you then need to get a move on (or just fancy a more dynamic drive) a toggle to the left into Sport mode instantly stiffens the sus-pension while making the acceleration and steering feel more re-sponsive for an experience we've come to expect from Mini vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Out on open roads, the Clubman belies its longer length, keeps itself flat and solid through corners and genu-inely lives up its 'fun-to-drive', go kart-like personality. Which is nice.
3rd report - A case of foot and mouth
'Deeply suspicious' is the only way to describe how I feel about the quality of most car-related voice- and gesture-control systems. So many voice systems are unintuitive, with too many steps and menus to loop through, before failing miserably to comprehend your vocal commands and adding only consternation.
Similarly, the waving of hands and feet - grandly known as 'gesture control' - to turn up the volume or open a boot, when you could as easily press a button or blip a remote, seems equally pointless.
The Clubman offers both voice and gesture control. But before you sigh too hard, I can report that the tech seems to be improving. The wavy-foot-under-the-rear-bumper-thing to open the boot when your hands are full but your key is in your pocket does work. most of the time.
Acknowledgement comes via the rear lights flashing before the Clubman's right barn door flips open. We'd prefer a reassuring sound confirmation too though, especially in bright sunlight, and for the process to work first time, every time, rather than after multiple and increasingly frantic foot waggles, which, when you're standing on one leg with heavy shopping, isn't a good look. Heaven forbid the fashion crisis if you're wearing suede or light-coloured shoes, and catch the bumper's dirty underside.
The Clubman's voice control is better, but still hit and miss. To work the nav, once you press the steering wheel-mounted button and say 'Destination Input' in your clearest English the system asks you to say the address in a set order - house number, road name and area - which seems like a good idea and sometimes is.
However, it can also transpose different parts of your answer into plausible but wrong order, wrong place results. For instance, a London address with 'seven' and 'Road' in the title got mistaken variously for Leven (near Hull) or Rode (near Frome). True story. The trickier the pronunciation, or your accent, the longer the process. If you persevere, it does get there in the end, but for now, in my opinion, buttons are best.
Mini One D Clubman
|P11D price £21,320
|Forecast/actual cost per mile 43.3p/46.7p
|Our average consumption 42.4mpg
|Official combined consumption 74.4mpg
2nd report - Branded by the light
At first I thought it was just me, but as time with guest passengers has confirmed, the Batman-style light in reverse on the Clubman - which illuminates the floor below the driver's door with a Mini logo rather than the night sky when you blip the lock open at night - is getting a lot of love, with young and old, and male and female alike.
It's not the first marque to offer the feature, but the clarity and size of the logo trumps others I've seen. And even if it isn't the Cape Crusader's wing motif, it still makes this driver feel a little superhero-y every time it comes on.
1st report - Larging it with new Mini Clubman
The new Clubman is the latest Mini BusinessCar has run as a long-termer following the Countryman in 2011. The Clubman feels more acceptable, both to me and others I talk to, compared with the SUV Countryman. Perhaps it's simply because there used to be a classic Mini estate, or just because its proportions work better.
The second-generation's dimensions have expanded in every direction over the old model, as Mini attempts to compete directly with the VW Golf, but the biggest percentage changes are in its 4275mm length (+9%) and 1801mm width (+7%), which make the car look more solid on the road.
The car has four regular passenger doors now (rather than the quirky suicide one on the offside of the previous generation) but retains the barn-door boot, which pleases some, on account of its novelty and good access, but irritates others, because of the wide central joining pillar, which blocks some rearward driver vision.
The interior feels more grown-up than the older model. The infotainment screen is better integrated within the signature central circular dial, the electric window switches are now on the door below the window - instead of non-intuitively within the centre console like before - and the design and materials are a step-up in quality, from the herringbone-style pattern on the passenger-side aluminium dashboard fillet to the textured upholstery that brings to mind British tailoring rather than generic car seat covers.
Typically for a Mini, there are smile-inducing gimmicks too. A large light logo projects pleasingly on to the floor by the driver's door when you blip the lock open at night, and the interior switch from the old model, which allowed users to change the colour spectrum of a few mood lights, now affects more cabin locations.
Less good is that while these fun features are standard on the One D trim level, practical items like split-fold rear seats (£200) and even a first aid kit and triangle (£55) are optional extras. More advanced satnav and rear parking sensors have also been added on our car within the Media (£1010) and Chili (£2875) packs.
It's very early days for driving impressions, but the 116hp 1.5-litre three-cylinder diesel engine is noticeably noisy before it settles down.
However, the unit has enough grunt to carry five humans or a rear seats-down boot full of stuff (1250 litres max), and its 99/km CO2 rating and official combined 74.3mpg (before extras) result in a pretty low 19% BIK tax rate for 2016/17.
Overall, Minis usually provide more to talk about than many other brands' vehicles, and BusinessCar is looking forward to joining the Club(man) to do just that over the next six months.
Mini One D Clubman
|Our average consumption
|Model price range
|Service, maintenance and repair
|Vehicle Excise Duty
|CO2 (BIK band)
|BIK 20/40% per month