MINI Clubvan Cooper D review and PetrolBlog heaven

PetrolBlog is invited to France to review the new 2013 MINI Clubvan. The launch involved a drive through rural France and with so many ’80s and ’90s cars on view, it was quite heavenly. Fortunately the MINI Clubvan was pretty good too, as you’ll soon find out. This review is split into two halves. First up the Clubvan review and then the array of French fancies seen during the road test. Something for all.

Occasionally, just occasionally everything goes according to plan. Admittedly I was rather excited about the prospect of driving the new MINI Clubvan anyway, but the resultant trip turned out to be a winner. For two days in February 2013, everything clicked into place. A great car, great weather, great conversation and a plethora of cars that would undoubtedly line the streets of PetrolBlog heaven. Joy.

We were told to meet at Heathrow Airport at 8am and were subsequently given instructions to drive to a hotel near Reims. Aside from a booking on the Eurotunnel, it was a case of do as you wish. We were also given 100 Euros and told to buy something creative to put in the rear of the Clubvan. Hats off to the MINI PR team for adding an interesting twist to the standard launch procedure.

By midday (or 1pm French time), we had safely crossed the Channel and were heading south through rural France. My co-pilot for the day was Keith Adams, he of AROnline fame, so naturally the conversation centred on old and obscure cars. It also meant that the sight of a Renault 4 or Citroën Mehari could result in a yelp of excitement without fear of embarrassment or ridicule.

But what about the MINI Clubvan? Well it’s essentially a MINI Clubman with the rear seats removed and the creation of a van-like load area. It’s undoubtedly more of a lifestyle van than a true workhorse, but for your typical upmarket butcher, baker and candlestick maker it has undeniable appeal. Polycarbonate and foil has been added to the side windows to give it a van-like appearance, but aside from tinted glass on the rear doors and a stainless steel grille behind the seats, it’s pretty much your standard Clubman.

New 2013 MINI ClubvanAnd that’s a good thing. In Cooper D form, the Clubvan is a fantastic little tool. Despite some spirited driving, we were average mid to high 40s mpg all day and only very occasionally did it feel off the pace. Overtaking required a drop from sixth to fifth, but at motorway cruising speeds the Clubvan feels relaxed and refined. This came in handy when we found ourselves still in Amiens at 6.30pm – some 110 miles from our 7pm rendezvous in Reims. Oops.

Disappointingly MINI won’t be offering steel wheels on the Clubvan – not even as an option. Apparently there was talk of a bespoke steel wheel specifically for the Clubvan, but this was ruled out once they discovered the 15-inch alloy would cost the same. A shame really, as the steel wheel would be my choice, but I guess you can understand MINI’s desire to protect the premium brand it has created.

Which probably explains why MINI chose to fit our test cars with just about every option imaginable. Personally I’d have liked to have driven a base spec edition, not least because as a non-business user I’d be paying over £23,000 for ‘my’ Clubvan. Ouch. That’s an awful lot of money for a Clubman with two less seats and a 500kg payload.

MINI Clubvan in FranceBut despite my reservations over price and the minor irritation over the lack of steel wheels (I’m probably a lone voice on this one), I found myself falling head over heels for the Clubvan. It feels the most authentic of all the incarnations of the modern MINI and manages to seamlessly morph from easy-to-drive town car to refined motorway cruiser. But amazingly, it’s also a riot to drive on the French equivalent of a B-road. The ride is firm but not uncomfortable and it has steering to shame hot hatches which should know better.

It should sell well. Perhaps not in huge numbers, but I can see it picking up quite a following – it has a cult hero feel to it. There’s also something uniquely British and anti-establishment about it. It’s deliciously extravagent without being showy and manages to retain a huge dollop of authenticity. This isn’t a word you could use to describe certain other variations of the new MINI.

The load space has been well thought-out, with fabric lining on the roof, walls and even floor. A load space of 860-litres means it only really suitable for light work, but for businesses where image is everything it has a huge amount of appeal. The standard kit is rather generous, but if your business is doing well there’s a plethora of MINI options to make it even more appealing. You’ll pay for the privilege of course, but Pimp My Van could be the next big thing.

I like it. In fact, I like it a lot.

MINI Clubvan load spaceSadly we didn’t win the 100 Euros challenge. Along the way we had dreams of filling the back with Citroën and Renault parts, but this never came to fruition. Other ideas included 500kg of fish, baguettes or onions, but there wasn’t a shop who could offer enough to fill the MINI. We also ruled out the prospect of bringing a MK1 Renault Twingo back. I guess we could have towed it though.

In the end we found ourselves in the Amiens branch of Cash Converters and it was all because of Jean Michel Jarre. Had the exuberant French composer been starting out in 2013, we happen to think he would have found the Clubvan to be the perfect mode of transport for moving from gig to gig. Chuck a synthesizer, some cabling, a few fireworks and a box of matches in the boot and JMJ would be in his équinoxe element.

So he nipped into Cash Converters, sourced a massive keyboard for 99 Euros and headed to the hotel with high hopes of snatching the victory. That wasn’t before we took advantage of the staff toilets, where we discovered the world’s largest collection of Matrix Reloaded DVDs. Clearly they had fallen off the back of a lorry. Or should that be out of the back of a Clubvan?

Either way, we lost the challenge, but we did get an honourable mention for the effort. Honestly, I don’t think they bought the story, which of course wasn’t made up on the journey back to the hotel. Who would claim such a thing?

But it didn’t matter, because the MINI was great and the sun was shining. Truth be told, the test car could have been rubbish for all we cared as the villages of rural France are littered with French fancies. We’d like to say we were late to the hotel through spending too long looking for the keyboard. But honestly, it was all down to the cars. I think PetrolBlog needs a rural France outpost. Here are some of the highlights.

Austin 1300 GT

MINI Clubman and Austin 1300 GT

What are the chances of seeing an Austin 1300 GT? There are fewer than 40 left on the roads of Britain, so there has to be significantly less in France. We spotted this gem within a few hundred yards of leaving the French motorway. Lovely little thing.

E.Leclerc

E.Leclerc is a French hypermarket chain and we stopped at its branch in Bologne. Well I could have stayed there all day because everywhere I looked there was another French fancy.

Like this brilliant Citroën Visa.

Citroen Visa in France

Or how about this Fiat Uno? I’m guessing the chap filling it with fuel doesn’t appreciate just how lovely his 5-door Uno on steelies looks. It even has a Parisien-style dent on the front bumper. Wonderful.

Fiat Uno in France

Citroën Mehari

A few miles down the road we stumbled across a garage selling some weird and wonderful cars. It was there that I began to appreciate the staggeringly high price of used cars in France. I’m not sure this Mehari was for sale, but it’s something I’d like to own. There’s one for sale in Cornwall for a not too unreasonable price. Tempting.

Citroën Mehari

Opel Kadett GTE

It’s funny, the Opel Kadett sounds infinitely more exciting than the Vauxhall Astra. Even in this state, the Opel badge makes this GTE seem appealing. It’s seen better days.

Opel Kadett GTE

Honda Concerto diesel

Notice anything strange about this Honda Concerto? Looks strangely like a Rover 200, right? That’s because it is. In the ’90s, Honda didn’t have a diesel version of the Concerto – something that limited its sales in derv-loving France. The solution was simply to take a Rover 200 diesel and slap a few Honda badges on it. The Power of Deception?

Honda Concerto Diesel

Ronin BMWs

For a crazy moment, Keith and I fancied partaking in a little Ronin-style shenanigans and this pair of BMWs looked like just the ticket – especially the 735 Li on the end. Then I looked at the prices. 5900 Euros for the 7 Series and 5600 Euros for the 5 Series. In other words a combined total of £10,000. It was less Ronin and more running.

Ronin-style BMWs in France

Stop! Shatchback time

Naturally my eyes were kept peeled for Shatchbacks, but they were surprisingly thin on the ground. And, shock horror, some of the culprits were actually rather appealing.

Take for example this Ford Orion 1.6 D Ghia. Now admittedly one-point-six-diesel-Ghia doesn’t roll off the tongue quite like one-point-six-injection-Ghia, but I’d still happily take this Orion back to Blighty.

Ford Orion 1.6 Diesel

Or how about this Renault 19 Chamade? I have to agree with Antony Ingram, the Chamade is growing old quite gracefully.

Renault Chamade

Which is something you can’t say about the Vauxhall Astra Shatchback. Once a horror story, always a horror story.

Vauxhall Astra Shatchback

Wild West

But at least the Astra Shatchback made for a decent support act for this scene which could have come from an automotive Wild West movie. Perhaps it’s me, but I see this Mercedes–Vauxhall standoff ending with the pair of them doing a 180º turn and shooting until the weakest car dies. My money’s on the Merc.

Merc meets Shatchback

Peugeot 205

I love this photo. It’s just so French. Nothing more to say.

Peugeot 205 in France

Renault 4

A trip to France wouldn’t be complete without a photo of a Renault 4. And so it remains.

Renault 4

Peugeot 505

So much to love about this car. It’s a 505 for a start, but the yellow-tinted headlights and fog lights are simply the icing on the cake. C’est magnifique.

Peugeot 505 with yellow lights

 

Side view of Peugeot 505

Garage Guy Wallon

The name Guy Wallon may not mean anything to you. And you may not be familiar with the village of Wailly Beaucamp. But let me tell you this – the village is full of treats for the fan of French obscurities.

Lurking behind the doors of an otherwise unassuming garage is a selection of old Renaults.

How about an Alpine GTA? Note the ghostly reflection of the breakdown truck in the glass. How apt.

Renault GTA

Or if that doesn’t float your boat, how about a race-prepped Renault 11?

Race-prepped Renault 11

I don’t recall ever seeing a Renault Clio Williams in France, so this was a bit of a treat. Shame it’s hidden behind the hideous blandness of the Renault Koleos and new Megane.

Renault Clio Williams

MK1 Renault Twingo

Every day I get a little closer to Twingo ownership, with each trip to France only serving to heighten the desire. I have a plan and it involves a trip to Paris. More soon (hopefully).

MK1 Renault Twingo

Two more pictures and we’re done – I promise!

Thanks to Keith I was able to visit the old Circuit Gueux near Reims. In many ways I’d have liked to have seen it before they restored the old grandstands, but it remains a glorious spectacle. Besides, the restoration has been done so sympathetically it’s hard not to be impressed.

MINI Clubvan at Reims

One day I’ll return with a more conventional two-seater!

And finally, a classic case of old versus new. BMW had laid on this original Mini van – a lovely old thing. I thought the Clubvan would look hideous parked alongside it, but surprisingly I don’t think it does.

Amusingly, the BMW guys refused to start it up until after we had all left. Clearly they knew people who attempted to start them on a cold day in the 1970s. It was minus three yesterday, so I’ll admit to being rather grateful to have climate control and heated seats in the Clubvan. Van drivers have never had it so good.

MINI Clubvan and old Mini van in France

Thanks for the memories, France. I’ll be back again soon.

PetrolBlog Score

MINI Clubvan Cooper D

Pint of Milk: Why nip to the shops for a pint of milk when you can head to the dairy for a couple of crate loads. Hugely fun little thing: 8

Filling station forecourt: Surely the best looking compact van you can buy? It attracted A LOT of attention in France: 8

You don’t see many of those: Destined to be quite a rare thing, especially away from Cheshire and Surrey: 8

Is it worth it?: The Clubvan can get expensive with lots of options. But for business users who need an image makeover, this does the trick : 7

Petrolbloggyness: Perhaps one of, if not the most PetrolBloggy of all the new MINIs. A PetrolBlog support wagon of the future: 8

Total score for the MINI Clubvan: 78

An alternative review of the MINI Clubvan can be found on MSN Cars.

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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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