Ton’s view on the 2011 MINI Clubman

Ton Dumans, PetrolBlog’s Dutch correspondent, is back with some thoughts on his MINI Clubman. Over to you, Ton.

As luck would have it, I found myself sooner than expected in the position to replace my Honda Civic Hybrid as a daily driver. After having driven a sensible, cheap car for nearly three years, I wanted something a little less dull. A bit more me, rather than another dime-a-dozen chickenbox. Where do you start with this in mind? Honestly, I had no clue. Until a year ago, I had never considered a MINI. It simply had not occurred to me. This was until I had the opportunity to drive a colleague’s MINI Cooper that was being used on loan from a BMW dealer when his 116i was in repair. I was pleasantly surprised by a car that, until then, I had only seen as a nice shopping trolley. The car felt like a go-kart, and perhaps even more importantly, it put a smile on my face.

So when the opportunity arose to ditch a car that made me look at least ten years older than I actually am, I paid a visit to the MINI dealership. After a great deal of effort to keep my stomach’s content inside of my stomach when standing eye-to-eye with a Countryman, I spotted something more to my liking. This object of my desire was the MINI Clubman Hampton edition. This story was getting weirder by the minute. Weeks ago I hadn’t even considered a MINI, but now I found myself admiring the ugliest car ever made. Well, this is according to the – granted, not extremely knowledgeable nor subtle – blokes over at Top Gear…

It’s a bit of a cliché, but with the Clubman I guess it’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of situation. And perhaps it’s the same for the Countryman, but for me, the scale tips the other way on that one, as you might already have figured out after reading about my near-vomitting-experiences earlier on.

As I liked what I saw, I arranged a test drive for the following day. Wise as I was at that moment, (on average these moments make up for 14 minutes a month), I arranged to have a test drive in the most basic model available. What’s the point of test driving a MINI Clubman Cooper S John Cooper Works when you know you can’t afford it? So, a test drive in a base model 100bhp petrol-engined Clubman One was booked.

Loved it. Simple as that. Despite the car’s dull grey color, I was basically sold. That’s where the fun and games started. If you have never seen a MINI brochure or a configuration tool before, I can only suggest you have a look. I for one am not the best decision maker in the world, so when being presented with a million possible combinations of options you can understand my problem.

MINI Clubman Hampton and Honda Civic HybridOne thing that I would correct this time around, was the fact that I shall not see another car of the same specifications on the way to work and back. Not an easy task on a limited budget, and with the Honda I clearly failed. Every other car sold in 2008 and 2009 was a black Honda Civic Hybrid. It was the colour of interior that made the difference. Never again.

As you were probably expecting to read about the car itself rather than the selection process, I will round up this part of my story. Suffice to say that after a short flirt with the ubiquitous Pepper White, I went for an Ice Blue MINI Clubman One with a modest choice of options, including tinted windows, multi-function sports steering wheel, Black Jack mirror caps, chrome line exterior and, last but not least, heated mirrors and washer jet nozzles. Yes, you read it right. Those things are optional on a MINI. It is, in the end, a BMW and levels of standard kit are thus, leaving you in a mixed state somewhere between laughing and crying.

Collecting the MINI Clubman Hampton from the dealerFast forward a few months and the MINI was ready to be delivered. I think it’s worth a short mention that the chocolate presented to me by the BMW/MINI dealer when picking up the car was really good. Nothing to do with the car, of course, but a nice gesture. (Surely Hobnobs would have been better? – ed)

What’s there to say about the car? If you’ve read this far, (you really are bored, aren’t you?), I’m glad to report that in general, the car is excellent. The handling is superb for what it is and the appearance of the car is, if nothing else, thought provoking. No other car I’ve ever driven has stimulated so much debate. Positive or negative, it really doesn’t matter. In a world where BMWs can be had in 37 shades of silver and you can have your Mercedes AMG in any colour you like as long as it’s black, I think it’s a welcome change to see a car (and driver) that dares to be different.

Having driven 10,000kms in three months, I think I can say a few words on the build quality. First of all, I hate to say it, but I think the German bloke called Günther Neumann, (or so I imagine), who is in charge of Quality Control was on sick-leave when my car was built. It’s only minor imperfections, but to be honest I had not expected a car that is made by BMW to be imperfect. After this remark I will be banned from PetrolBlog and never be allowed to step foot on British soil again, but, well…it really is more of a British car than a German one! I didn’t see that one coming…

But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care the chrome in the front grille is mounted by a blind guy and hence sits there a little crooked. Nor do I care, (except on certain days), that there is this rattle coming from under the dashboard whenever driving on less perfect road surfaces. Why don’t I care? Because it gives the car a little character, something so painfully missing with most brand new cars.

MINI Clubman Hampton dashboard at nightWith the stupidly huge speedometer placed in the centre, the pretentious racing stripes, (despite having only 100 horses to play with), the Black Jack mirror caps, the small 15″ black alloys with tyres with sidewalls the size of Big Ben, you either think it’s great, or you think I’m ready for the nut house and should’ve picked a black Toyota Auris Hybrid instead.

But at least you think something!

No review would be complete without a list of positive and negatives, especially if you’re not a fan of waffle, (is so, what are you doing on PetrolBlog, anyway?!), so here they are:

Positive:

– In three months of ownership, I’ve only seen one other MINI in Ice Blue, and it wasn’t a Clubman.

– Great driving characteristics.

– Makes me smile nine times out of ten.

Negative:

– German Quality Control – bloke was on sick leave when mine was made, there are some small production imperfections.

– Engine idle RPM goes all over the place when cold.

– Wipers – because automatic wipers in the world of BMW will set you back about a million quid, I don’t have them. Now, my wipers have the following options: ‘there might fall a drop of rain every minute or so’, or the more enthusiastic ‘psychopath mode’. I just don’t have the right setting for the type of rain I see 363 days a year here in Holland.

– Level of standard equipment leaves you in a roller coaster of laughing and crying. Basically you should call yourself lucky if your level of equipment includes all four wheels.

Overal verdict: Highly Recommended*

*If you are a bit bonkers and don’t mind other people’s opinions too much.

You can follow Ton on twitter @Tonsty.

Images:

Top left – out with the old, in with the new. MINI Clubman with the very car it replaced.

Top right – ready to be picked up at the MINI dealership.

Second row, left – personally, I like my stripes better than the Rozzers’.

Second row, right – chocolate makes the world go round!

Third row, left – 10,000 effortless kilometres.

Third row, right – as rare a sight as a Carrera GTS.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

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