WASHINGTON - I wanted it too much. It was bound to disappoint. It did.
The 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman, the base model driven for this column, was not what I thought it would be.
It was cute. It turned heads. That was fun.
But in the merchandise pickup bays at several Virginia home improvement stores, it was outdone by less expensive urban wagons, including the Hyundai Elantra Touring; the Pontiac Vibe, which is also sold as the Toyota Matrix; and the Honda Fit Sport.
The 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman wagon has zippy performance and cute looks but falls short on utility and common sense. Washington Post
It was fantasy blown to bits by reality. As the longtime owner of a Mini Cooper hatchback car, I should've been prepared for this. But I was blindsided by unrealistic expectations of the elongated Clubman wagon.
Here's the deal:
Urban wagons are small haulers of people and stuff, brilliantly agile in tight city traffic, easy to park, zippy, fun to drive, not bad to look at, and easy on the wallet at point of sale and, later, at the gas pump.
The tiny hatchback Mini Cooper car scores well in agility, parking and fun-to-drive. But its charm is its size - 145.6 inches front to rear, a bit more than 12 feet long in a world of behemoths often double its curb weight (factory weight including vehicle fluids, but minus passengers, cargo and aftermarket options) of 2,568 pounds.
Driving the Mini Cooper hatchback is like piloting a go-kart; it's like being behind the wheel of a car in a cartoon movie. It goes zip-zip, beep-beep in a world of zoom and honk! It's a car that makes you smile.
But it's nobody's darling when it comes to practical living. It gets 27 miles per gallon in the city and 37 miles per gallon on the highway. But it requires premium gasoline - and that's "requires" with no exceptions.
2009 Mini Cooper Clubman
• The bottom line: Zippy performance and cute looks aren't everything. If BMW is serious about giving us a serious urban wagon, it should pay attention to what Hyundai is doing in this segment. Were I now in the market for an urban wagon, I'd buy the Elantra Touring and get more utility, more power and as much safety for a lot less.
• Complaint: Once you live with the Clubman on a daily basis, you realize that it might've made more sense to buy something else.
• Ride, acceleration and handling: A longer body with more weight and the same engine equals less enjoyable road performance in the Mini Cooper Clubman compared with the Mini Cooper hatchback. But it still gets good marks in all three.
• Body style/layout: The Mini Cooper Clubman is a small, front-engine, front-wheel-drive urban wagon with two full-size side doors, one small rear access door on the passenger side and two swing-out rear doors.
• Engine/Transmissions: The Clubman wagon comes with a standard 1.6-liter, 16-valve engine that develops 118-horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 114 foot-pounds of torque at 4,250 revolutions per minute. The engine is linked to a standard six-speed manual transmission. A turbocharged, 172-horsepower version of the 1.6-liter engine is available. Also available is a six-speed automatic transmission.
• Capacities: In the Clubman, there are seats for four people. Cargo capacity with the rear seats up is 9.2 cubic feet. Capacity is 33 cubic feet with the rear seats down. The fuel tank holds 13.2 gallons of required premium gasoline.
• Mileage: Combined city-highway mileage of 32 miles per gallon.
• Safety: Standard equipment includes ventilated front disc brakes/solid rear discs; electronic braking assistance; electronic stability and traction control; and side and head air bags.
• Price: On the 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman, the base price is $20,200. Dealer's invoice price on that model is $18,180. Price as tested was $25,350, including $4,500 in options (primarily onboard navigation and leather seat covering) and a $650 destination charge. Dealer's price as tested is $22,880.
The Mini Cooper hatchback car doesn't carry much, which is why Germany's BMW, maker of the Mini, extended the hatchback 9.4 inches and added two rear swing-out doors and a small rear access door on the passenger side, thus turning it into the Clubman wagon.
The alterations were done prettily - enough to seduce me into believing that, somehow, a major miracle had been worked in the small wagon segment. I was partially right. But the miracle was more a work of design and marketing than it was a matter of automotive innovation.
Certainly, the Clubman is the cutest little urban wagon you'll ever see. But it's also one of the dumbest. Try getting into a back seat of the Clubman using that slit of rear door in a crowded parking lot. The front passenger door of the Clubman opens one way. The skinny rear door opens another. Meanwhile, on the other side of the car, the driver's side, the driver is standing with the driver's door open and the driver's seat pushed forward to allow entry to the second rear passenger. It's madness! It's a circus!
And when everybody has been shoveled into the longer, heavier Clubman - heavier than the Mini Cooper hatchback by 155 pounds - it still accommodates only four people, same as the smaller, lighter Mini Cooper hatchback.
The Clubman's maximum cargo capacity is 33 cubic feet, nine more than what are available in the Mini Cooper hatchback, but considerably less than the 65 cubic feet of cargo space offered by the Hyundai Elantra Touring, which also has seats for five people.
The Elantra Touring also has a bigger engine - 2-liter, 138-horsepower inline four-cylinder compared with a 1.6-liter, 118-horsepower inline four-cylinder in the Mini Cooper hatchback and Clubman. The Hyundai is less fuel-efficient, with a combined city-highway mileage of 26 miles per gallon compared with a combined city-highway mileage of 32 for the Mini Cooper hatchback and the Clubman. But the Elantra Touring runs quite nicely on less-expensive regular gasoline.
(Yes, we've dropped the "unleaded" adjective from gasoline, because all gasoline sold in the United States nowadays is unleaded.)
To add Elantra Touring insult to Mini Cooper hatchback and Clubman injury:
The Elantra Touring arguably has a better sound system than what is available in the Mini Cooper hatchback and Clubman. Its flip-up rear door makes for easier loading than the Clubman's two swing-out rear doors. It offers as much standard safety equipment and has a safety rating that is as good, or better. And ... the Elantra Touring starts at $17,800. The Mini Cooper Clubman starts at $20,200.
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