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Supersized Mini Cooper Clubman gets a hi-tech makeover

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 May, 2016, 11:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 May, 2016, 11:03pm

Another year, another supersized Mini. The Cooper Clubman variant of the old British classic, distinguished by its double back “barn doors”, has been given its first large-scale makeover in almost a decade, and the end result is the biggest Mini ever produced.

It has also been invigorated with some serious design panache and upgraded technology that takes the Mini range to a higher level. What’s left intact is the typically British eccentricity that Mini fans expect and has kept the car rolling off the production line for decades.

Although the Clubman is now 4.25 metres in length — not much shorter than a Toyota taxi – the designers have been kinder than they were with the Mini Countryman, which just looks bloated and is not a pretty sight.

Viewed from the front, the Clubman conforms to classic Mini design DNA; a chunky grille and rounded headlights. In the new iteration, the lamps are fitted with LED daytime running lights for the first time, running around the rim.

In profile, extended side windows give the station wagon a faster look. The rear light set-up, meanwhile, has been switched from a horizontal to a vertical arrangement, and are now planted firmly on the rear doors, giving more symmetry to the car’s appearance.

Those distinctive rear double doors are also where a handy bit of the new tech has been injected into the new model. With both hands weighed down by shopping, and the key in your pocket, the driver can simply wave a foot under the back of the car and the doors open automatically. It’s a thoughtful touch, although it takes some trial and error to find the sensors. Once you’ve got the knack, there’s a generous 1,250 litres of space in the split-level boot.

However, it’s the cabin of the Clubman that really impresses, particularly the Clubman S version, which we borrowed for a morning. The interior is stylish, smart and clean, with a taut vinyl finish and few unnecessary decorative flourishes. It’s surprisingly spacious, with ample headroom for a six-footer, and plenty of leg room for the three back-seat passenger. Large wells in the doors provide even more storage space.

The seats are stiff but supportive, and have been designed to hold the posture well, ensuring a comfortable driving position.

One of Mini’s magical touches is the bygone-era simplicity used to quirky effect. The old-style circular dials on the dashboard of the new Clubman are dominated by a large, round multimedia screen in the centre. As well as entertainment options of radio or music played on a smart device via Bluetooth, the screen is linked to a rear-view video camera for safe reversing.

A particular quirk of this screen is its rim of fluorescent LED lighting that continuously changes from one colour of the rainbow to another, and can also be set to respond to road conditions. It might not be to everyone’s liking, though, and it can’t be turned off.

The playful circular theme is continued in the door handles, which are easy to grip.

Another fancy touch, at least in the Clubman S option, is a row of sporty, chrome push-down buttons on the dashboard, dominated by a red stop-start engine button at the centre. The apparent intention is to trick you into thinking you’re driving a Lamborghini. If you’ve ever had that pleasure, you’ll notice as soon as you push down that red button, it’s nowhere in that league. It looks funky, though, and works well with the slick steering wheel with handy thumb grips. Similar sturdy flip buttons are located on the roof behind the rear-view mirror, which operate the double sunroof and interior lights.

Also new in the Clubman is parent company BMW group’s “Head-up Display” feature, in which an image of the car’s speed is projected onto a translucent screen directly in the driver’s sight at the bottom of the windscreen.

Under the bonnet, the Clubman S is powered by a 1,998cc, four-cylinder engine with a modest output of 192 horsepower and 280 Newton metres of torque. If you’re tempted to attempt the 100km/h dash from a standstill, Mini says it takes just over seven seconds. This should remind you that despite the sporty interior, any ambitions of appearing to be a sports car are merely fantasy.

Nevertheless the Clubman S has two drive modes, green and speed, that can be changed with the flick of a switch under the gear knob. The sport mode noticeably ramps up the car’s responsiveness, although it lacks poke in green mode and seems to be a bit slow off the starting blocks.

The Clubman costs HK$356,800, while the sportier Clubman S sells for HK$448,800, including the first registration tax.

Ultimately Mini ownership is as much a lifestyle choice as it is a drive, and die-hard fans should be happy with the new Clubman and the leap forward it has made in technology and design.