REVIEW | The 2020 Mini Clubman is one of the last wagons on the market
The chance of finding a shop shelf fully packed with sanitiser today is higher than spotting a new estate car on SA roads. That is because the genre is pretty much extinct. You can count remaining offerings on one hand, without even using all fingers.
Panic-stricken, stockpiling shoppers might have yearned for the berth and depth of a station wagon this week. Sure, crossovers and sport-utilities might be the prevailing trend, but that old, traditional body format has versatility benefits that are undeniable. Which was relatively well-proven by the Mini Clubman Cooper S that spent 48 hours in our possession recently.
We say relatively, because its luggage capacity of 360l is less than average by most standards — that extends to 1,250l with the seats folded. Consider that the Countryman offers a 450l compartment with its rear seats in place, though it is slightly more expensive.
I will spare you the tired diatribe about how the brand has abandoned its classic establishment values of compactness and astute packaging. Yes, Mini makes cars that are big by current standards, erring on the luxurious side of the scale, evincing more than a hint of DNA from its owners, BMW. Deal with it already. This Clubman, for example, does not appear considerably far off a 3-Series in length if you were to park them side-by-side. Nor is it dramatically far off in price, when specified in certain ways, but you knew that already. Be judicious with that list of extras.
But you could be grinning as you cough up those Randelas, because the Clubman, like all models from the brand, is imbued with a tangible cheerfulness that makes a person giddy to get behind the wheel. Hitting the unlock button and seeing those big, round, LED irises light up, this practical Mini was like a friendly, doe-eyed creature in the darkness of our office parking basement.
And eager it was to nose through the cityscape. Power comes from the same 2.0-litre, boosted four-cylinder found in many regular BMW applications, yet it sounds so chipper in this state of tune, replete with whooshes and flutters as the turbocharger spools and expels. The tune translates into an impressive rhythm, too, as the Clubman S is always keen to sprint. Possibly too keen: it has been a long time since we encountered such notable torque-steer in a contemporary performance car. Its steering writhed as the front wheels wrestled with multitasking power application and direction stability.
No mystery why the JCW model, with its 225kW and 450Nm has four-wheel drive. In the S, the quoted output of 141kW and 280Nm is good for a claimed 0-100km/h time of 7.2 seconds (feels more rapid than that); with a seven-speed automatic on duty.
The range begins with a 1,499cc, turbocharged three-cylinder (100kW and 220Nm); a proven unit that has kinship with the now discontinued BMW i8. That costs upwards of R450,000. Go for this Cooper S and you will pay R530,000 before options.