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Mini Cooper S Clubman in Lucire Left Looking like a chop-top Mini, the Clubman is more worthy than some British journalists have made it out to be.

My fellow Countryman

Jack Yan samples the Mini Cooper S Clubman, saying that its extra door works, and that it’s more a rival to the little SUVs that Sloane Rangers drive about
photographed by the author
From issue 26 of Lucire

 

 

I HAD NEVER DRIVEN a Mini before. When I was at university, I was a bit higher up on the string of British Leyland products—a Triumph no less—and Minis were left to those who had only managed “B” bursaries or those who could tolerate the bluff front end of the original Clubman.
   It was nostalgia that kept it alive, so when I was invited to try out the new Mini Cooper S Clubman, I had to live it. Out with my Italian Job CD. Practise saying, ‘You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off,’ in perfect Alfie Cockney in the voice of Michael Caine. Relearn the lyrics to ‘Self-Preservation Society’.
   Whenever I go to Auckland these days, I seem to wind up driving an English car. Thirty years ago that would have sounded like a curse. Now that those cars are Astons and Minis, I am not complaining. Never mind that bmw controls the Mini company, they are still built at Cowley (BMW Oxford, they call it), which, last time I looked, is still part of the Empah.
   The problem is that Britain itself wants to be seen more as the home of John Galliano than Prince Edward, and Mini reflects that. The updated styling of the R56 Clubman is Euro-friendly, with Bauhaus simplicity rather than the ornamentation of a feathered Philip Treacy hat at Ascot. The really good news is it’s not the bluff-nosed car from my uni days. My car, as tested, featured rally fog lights that impressed everyone who glanced at it. On the left-hand side it doesn’t look like a lengthened Mini, which is technically what it is, but a lowered one—that’s what the extra 240 mm does to it.
   Yes, the left-hand side. On the right-hand side there is what BMW insists on calling a “club door”, which has received a lot of flak in the British media. You see, despite this insistence from cool Britannia Blairites that Galliano and Keira Knightley came from the UK, there’s still that nationalistic element that surfaces each time Jeremy Clarkson makes a joke about Germans. Then it’s all suddenly pomp, circumstance and Penelope Keith.
   The extra door, it is said, is on the wrong side, for the Empah. And any part of the former Empah that drives on the correct (left) side of the road. Egress for young children is made more dangerous because of the “club door” being on the right-hand side. But what makes the British truly indignant is that this device is one of those Continental things, you see, with no place in the Empah, like salami, or Sauerkraut, or some garlic-ridden muck.
   In practice, as I discovered, no one seemed to care about the door. For starters, as my transport at Miss New Zealand, driving runner-up Hannah Matthews, her Mum and her aunt home, they simply assumed, as anyone of a certain age, that the Mini is a two-door car, and the first reaction was to put the passenger seat forward. Even after being made aware of the “club door”, they still got out on the pedestrian side.
   The spare door was really for me. Accustomed to two-door cars anyway, I welcomed the chance to dump my stuff on the back seat when needed without having to fold the front seat forward. In practice, the wee door works.
   The other criticism from the British press was the restriction on the view to the rear. Anyone who can remember the Austin Mini Countryman and the Morris Mini Traveller will remember that the back doors open up like barn doors, so there is a pillar in the centre.
   Again, in the age of massive headrests in most cars, I never really noticed these being a hindrance. Not even Kate Moss is anorexic enough to be obscured by the pillar. The only thing British that could be hidden by the pillar is Pete Doherty’s self-respect, and you usually require a psychic medium to detect that.
   The interior is oh-so-retro-fashionable Mini with the big speedometer in the centre, which from a design perspective seems superfluous because bmw has put in a digital readout in the middle of the rev counter in front of the driver that has the speed. But it’s a detail for the Ministi, along with dashboard-mounted switches for the electric windows.
   I normally dislike retro in cars but I seem to tolerate this, and the absence of steering wheel-mounted radio controls, because it’s a Mini. The dna of stealing $4 million through a traffic jam using three Minis in The Italian Job was still there. I began singing along with Matt Monro, ‘On Days Like These’.
   If there was a disappointment, it was really how darned sensible this car was. You do feel the extra length subconsciously, and that meant you held back on really joining Charlie Croker et al and pretend that the exit to Gillies Avenue is really to the sewers of Torino.
   For all its front-end bravada, the Mini Cooper S Clubman is easy to drive and can, unless you stick it into sport mode, make so much sense as a round-town compact car.
   I don’t predict it will steal sales from other cutesy motors like the Fiat 500 or the phony Volkswagen New Beetle, but from the Toyota RAV 4s and Suzuki Vitaras.
   These little SUVs do not sell because they are high up or are easy to park. They sell because they are a fashion statement about one’s intent to be a Sloane Ranger and have practicality for shopping or the kids.
   With Clubman around, the Sloane Ranger image is even better suited because of how Mini has been marketed: the customized, personalized fashion statement that is classless and classy at once. And in the back, you can shift not just $1·3 million in gold, but $2·6 million. There’s literally double the cargo space. One hundred litres more.
   But Mini still remains an incredibly classless car. Fashionable firms will have theirs signwritten: I almost think it works as a Luciremobile. Whenever I mentioned it to young women, I got more of a positive reaction than when I had the Aston Martin DB9 (see Lucire no. 25), so for blokes the car can pull. And for those Sloane Rangers who sit up high in a vehicle resembling a portaloo with an engine up front—yes, I mean those little SUVs—then the Mini Cooper S Clubman might just be the perfect new thing. •

 


Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.

 

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The extra door, it is said, is on the wrong side, for the Empah. And any part of the former Empah that drives on the correct (left) side of the road. Egress for young children is made more dangerous because of the “club door” being on the right-hand side. But what makes the British truly indignant is that this device is one of those Continental things, you see, with no place in the Empah

 

 

 

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