Behind The Wheel: Mini is bigger, but stays sporty

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Mini has rolled out its biggest model ever in the 2016 Cooper Clubman, and although the wagon is a foot longer and nearly 5 inches wider than before, it has retained the sporty handling and character that has made it the British carmaker's flagship vehicle.

The Clubman's growth spurt means the wagon's back seats now accommodate adult passengers more comfortably, and its new rear side doors open wide enough to make getting in a cinch.

With its wide and low stance and longer body, the 2016 Clubman grips the pavement well in turns and feels solid. And its longer wheelbase helps alleviate up-and-down bobbing sensations that can come from riding over highway expansion cracks.

The Clubman has also retained its quirkiness. The ignition is a toggle switch in the center console, and the wagon's display screen is in a big dial in the middle of the dashboard, whereas most cars have rectangular displays.

Instead of the typical liftgate found on wagons, the Clubman has two back clamshell doors, allowing for access to one side or both sides of the rear cargo floor.

Jump in price

The Clubman's price has grown as substantially as its body, with the base model carrying a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charges, of $24,950 for models with a six-speed manual transmission and $26,450 for those with a six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. The 2014 Clubman — there was no 2015 model — started at $22,195.

The base Clubman comes with a 134-horsepower turbocharged three-cylinder engine. However, buyers who want more power can move up to the 2016 Cooper S Clubman, which has a 189-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The starting retail prices for the Cooper S Clubman are $28,500 with manual transmission and $30,000 with a new eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission.

These prices put the Clubman into premium car territory and don't include features that many buyers want today, such as a rearview camera and leather interior.

The test-driven Cooper S Clubman, which included an optional rearview camera, leather upholstery, premium audio system, navigation system and moonroof, priced out at $38,750.

The new Clubman didn't seem bigger from the outside, but once inside it was clear how much more unexpected room there was. The front seats offer 41.4 inches of legroom, while back seats now have more than 34 inches.

Sitting behind a petite driver during a test drive, a back-seat passenger was able to extend his legs in comfort on the flat rear floor.

There's more shoulder room in the front and back seats and the Clubman now has a right-side, driver armrest. However it's still a tight fit for three adults to sit in the back, but the back headroom tops out at a decent 38 inches in models without a moonroof.

A big part of the Clubman's appeal is its versatility. Seatbacks fold down to expand the trunk-like 17.5 cubic feet of cargo room to an SUV-like 47.9 cubic feet. This is a full 15.1 cubic feet more than the previous Clubman.

Better yet, the cargo floor is low, so heavy items don't need to be lifted very high before being loaded.

The test-driven Cooper S Clubman had the larger engine — a 2-liter TwinPower turbocharged four-cylinder mated to the new eight-speed automatic. With torque peaking at 207 foot-pounds and coming on at a low 1,250 rpm, this engine gave the relatively heavy car — weighing some 3,300 pounds — good pep and sounded great.

There was road noise from the 17-inch run-flat tires, and the Clubman rode over bumps firmly, with occasional harshness. The steering was precise.

The car averaged 26 mpg in combined city and highway driving, which is 1 mpg less than the federal government's estimate, where the car is rated at 24 mpg in city travel and 34 mpg on highways.

The gas tank holds only 13.2 gallons, so travel range was just over 340 miles. Filling the tank with premium gasoline costs $29 at today's prices.


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