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First look: Mini goes clubbing

Culture club: Five-door Clubman's wheelbase is 80mm longer.

BMW reveals the next derivative for its popular MkII Cooper range, the Clubman

31 Jul 2007

MINI has released full details and images of its stretched, five-door Clubman in Europe, less than six months after launching its second-generation Cooper hatch range here.

Not due on sale in Australia until next year, BMW's newest Mini model adds more rear legroom, headroom and cargo space to the Bavarian's front-drive small-car menu, in a nostalgic 21st century take on wagons like Morris Mini Traveller, Austin Seven Countryman and Mini Clubman Estate. The biggest surprise is a small rear-hinged rear door on what will be the driver’s side in Australia – as opposed to the kerb side in Europe – which, combined with a pair of Mini-trademark rear barn doors, arguably brings the total number of doors to five.

Dubbed Clubdoor but likely to attract the “suicide door” label (which Mini says is incorrect because it cannot be opened on the move, or without first opening the driver’s door), it is virtually identical in function to the Mazda RX-8’s Freestyle twin rear door system. But that hasn’t stopped Mini claiming the Clubman’s single reverse-opening door is a passenger-car first.

“It’s a niche model for a relatively niche brand,” BMW Group Australia’s communications and specialist media manager Alexander Corne told GoAuto. “Obviously the Clubdoor gives the Clubman its unique appeal and because it’s aimed at giving young, trendy customers a bit more flexibility, the idea is to get stuff in and out of the back more easily, as opposed to using it like a people-mover.”

39 center imageThe equally-novel vertically-split rear doors were first featured on the Mini Concept Geneva of 2005, a two-door “shooting brake” wagon that was modified for a further three motor shows – Frankfurt and Tokyo the same year and Detroit in 2006 – to celebrate 45 years of the Morris Mini Traveller. Mini confirmed production plans for a five-door model at the Geneva motor show in March and the all-new Cooper Clubman range joins the year-old MkII R56 Cooper hatch and two-year-old Mini Cooper Cabrio on sale in Germany on November 10, two months after its Frankfurt public premiere. Apart from the wide-opening side-hinged twin rear doors – each with a chromed door handle and windscreen wiper – the Clubman ushers in new Mini design cues like vertically-stacked tail-lights, an extended rear roofline that doubles as a spoiler and a unique “Hot Chocolate” paint colour. The barn doors also feature contrasting frame trims to symbolise the wooden rear-end frame of bygone cars, which is matched with the roof colour (available in white, silver, black or body-colour). The company says the Cooper Clubman combines more functionality and practicality with the agile Cooper hatch-style dynamics for the first time. Along with more customisation options, Clubman introduces Brake Assistant (BA) and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with hill-start assistance as standard on all models, plus a limited-slip differential optional for the Cooper S Clubman. As with the three-door Cooper, the long-wheelbase five-door will come standard with a “crash-optimised” passenger safety cell, six airbags, three-point seatbelts all round, front seatbelt latch tensioners and seatbelt force-limiters. “The Mini Clubman will be idea (sic) for fashionable folk who wish to mix their active or outdoor lifestyle pursuits with a small, prestige car that can be specified to a very high degree,” said the press release. Three of BMW’s latest lean-burn petrol engines will be available from launch in Europe, but Clubman engine choices in Australia will mirror those offered in the R56 Mini Cooper hatch because of our inferior petrol quality.

That spells two 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engines developed in collaboration with France’s PSA Peugeot Citroen, instead of the original R50 Mini’s similar-capacity Chrysler engines. The Mini Cooper Clubman will therefore share the Cooper hatch’s naturally-aspirated engine, which offers 88kW at 6000rpm and 160Nm at 4250rpm.

Instead of the supercharged engine of the original Cooper S, the range-topping Mini Cooper S Clubman adds a twin-scroll turbocharger and direct petrol-injection to produce 128kW at 5500rpm and 240Nm of torque between 1600rpm and 5000rpm (260Nm with “Overboost”).

Both engines come standard with a six-speed Getrag manual transmission, or an optional six-speed Aisin auto with manual-shift mode via steering wheel paddles. Mini claims the Clubman virtually matches its three-door Cooper cousin in terms of acceleration, fuel consumption and exhaust emissions, but provides no further engine performance or weight details. It does, however, confirm the Clubman rides on an 80mm-longer wheelbase, and is 240mm longer overall, than the three-door Cooper. Both models are identical as far back as the B-pillar and all of the extra wheelbase length is housed in the rear. Up to 260 litres of luggage space is available behind the 50/50-split folding rear twin-seat, and a respectable 960 litres is on offer with the rear seatbacks folded – enough to accommodate a mountain bike with the front wheel removed, it's claimed. A very cosy three-position rear bench seat will be offered as an option in some markets, but because the Mini wagon is longer but no wider than the hatch, and remains directed primarily at people without children, it is unlikely to be made available in Australia.

Expect the Clubman to carry a price premium over the Mini Cooper hard-top launched in February this year (from $31,100) but to undercut the Cooper Cabrio soft-top range released here in February 2005 (from $37,500).

The five-year-old Mini brand expects to break its 2005 sales record of more than 200,000 global vehicle sales in 2007, following last year’s 20 per cent expansion in production capacity at its Oxford production facility in the UK, where the Clubman will be built.

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Mini joins the Clubman

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