I remember the email message. It said, “Would you be interested in reviewing a Mini Cooper?” I originally composed a note that said, “I don’t think I’ll have time this month; maybe later.” Then I deleted that reply and just wrote: “Sure.”
One of my better decisions of this year.
There’s an image rolling around out there that writing car reviews is all play and no work. That’s often completely false; we do work hard at this. That is, unless you’re driving a Mini; that, my friend, is all play.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. The Mini you see on the road today has more in common now with its big brother – the BMW – than ever. Yes, the Bavarian folks have finally stepped in and taken some of the autonomy away from the kid brother; the engine, for example, is pure bimmer.
You can pick your power plant from either the 3-cylinder or 4-cylinder menu. For the week I drove the S Clubman, so I put the 189-horsepower 4-cylinder through its paces. It comes standard with a manual transmission, and, although I’m not usually one of those Manual Monsters who INSISTS on it, I gotta say it’s the only way to go with this car. Yes, you can opt for automatic if you must.
Front-wheel drive is also standard, but AWD is an option, too.
What made news with this newly-redesigned Mini is the fact that it’s . . . well, it’s not as mini as it used to be. It’s longer, wider, and taller; it’s like Mini hit puberty. No, it’s not massive – hell, it’s still a tiny car – but the added girth does make it seem closer to compact style than subcompact. In years gone by I felt almost invisible on the road in a Mini, surrounded by full-size cars and SUVs. I didn’t have that feeling this time.
Don’t know if I’m crazy about the barn doors in the back. Yes, instead of a hatchback, the Clubman comes with a pair of standard doors. They’re functional, I suppose.
Climb behind the wheel and you quickly remember the quirky touches that Mini used for years to stand out. There’s still a big round gizmo in the center of the dashboard, but that, too, is functional. Hey, it even glows in cool colors! What pizzazz! What style!
The interface took a little getting used to, but that’s always been the case with BMW cars. I particularly enjoyed little touches like the On/Off switch that’s a toggle rather than a button. And the cool hologram logo that shines on the pavement outside the doors is a fun little parlor trick that again makes Mini stand out.
The panoramic moonroof is part of the Premium Package, and I’d recommend it. It really opens up the little car, and would be appreciated by your passengers.
But let’s get to the drive. Here’s the only thing you need to know: More than once I merged onto the highway in the Mini Clubman and looked down to see I was doing over 80 – without knowing it. Minis have always been sporty and nimble, but I truly felt like this car was a little rocket.
Overall, it was just flat-out fun to drive, and I actually felt a little deflated when they took it away from me. Sigh.
As for fuel economy, the 4-cylinder Mini Cooper S Clubman pulled a respectable 26 combined. The base MSRP was $27.6k; with options it was $37k on the nose. Yeah, you’re paying a pretty good amount for such a tiny automobile, but factor in things like performance and style.
Bottom line: The latest Mini is fun to look at and fun to drive. And isn’t that all you really want in a car?
Reviewed by Dom Testa
Car provided by manufacturer