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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 5/12/16. Mark Kennedy test drives the Mini Cooper Clubman.
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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 5/12/16. Mark Kennedy test drives the Mini Cooper Clubman.

Fast facts

- Model: 2016 Mini Cooper Clubman

- Exterior color: Silver Metallic

- Interior color: Burgundy

- Engine: 1.5-liter, turbocharged, three-cylinder

- Horsepower: 134

- Transmission: six-speed automatic

- Fuel economy: 34 mpg highway, 24 mpg city

- Price (as tested): $33,450

The 2016 Mini Cooper Clubman is a contradiction in terms. Mini's new wagon is, in fact, the biggest vehicle ever brought to market by the British nameplate, which is owned by BMW.

The 2016 Clubman is an attempt to push the Mini Cooper brand into the realm of full-featured family vehicles, lifting it from the ranks of mere weekend-getaway cars for adventure-seekers. (At the least, we suspect, the added length is meant to stretch a Mini Cooper to fit the needs of a Millennial with a mountain bike and a Great Dane.)

If your image of the Mini Cooper is of a British (VW) Beetle, then the Clubman may slay your stereotype. Fully 17 inches longer than the two-door Mini Cooper hardtop, the Clubman has ample back-seat legroom and 18 cubic feet of cargo space behind the barn-like "split doors" in the rear.

With the added space comes a premium price tag. While the Clubman has a base price of $24,950, our tester with automatic transmission and a host of options (sunroof, navigation, custom wheels, etc.) has a bottom-line asking price of $33,450. The nearest Mini Cooper dealers are in Knoxville and Marietta, Ga., although you wouldn't know it from scanning the roads around Chattanooga where the diminutive autos are found in abundance.

If you think Minis are cool, there's nothing hipper you can own. (Warning, older drivers: You may find the physics of extracting yourself from a car this low to the ground somewhat challenging.) Still, the Mini Cooper Clubman is a nice compromise between fun and practicality and may appeal to those with growing families — canine or otherwise.

STYLING AND COMFORT

From the front, the Clubman highlights the brand's whimsical styling. Mini's unifying design elements are circles and ovals. From the egg-shaped headlight assemblies to the circular screens and switchgear inside, its hard to find a sharp corner anywhere on this car.

The Clubman wagon is so much longer than the two-door Mini that it looks like it's been flattened like a beef patty on a short-order grill. The swing-out doors in the back are the most distinctive feature on the wagon. When deployed remotely with the key fob, the doors open in sequence, right first and then left. To close the doors you have to shut them in the reverse order.

It's one of several quirky features on the Clubman, along with a hood release that requires precisely two pulls, and a gas-tank fill door as big as a personal pan pizza. The circular telematics cluster inside the Clubman is outlined in multi-colored LED lights. Even the door pulls are circular.

The graphics on the navigation system are a bit primitive, which is disappointing since it's part of a $1,700 tech package.

Despite its low-to-the-ground architecture, the Mini Cooper Clubman offers a comfortable driving position with decent outward visibility. Second row headrests and the split back doors obstruct rearward visibility a bit.

Our tester has a six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission, a $1,500 option.

The interior of the Silver Metallic tester is upholstered in attractive burgundy leather with suede bolsters. The seats are snug and supporting for those times when you want to fling the Clubman through twists and turns.

Other amenities include heated front seats ($500) and 17-inch black spoke wheels ($750).

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Mark Kennedy


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DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Our Clubman tester is powered by a 134-horsepower, three-cylinder turbocharged engine. While the three-cylinder has adequate power, we suggest you step up to the Clubman S with its 189-horsepower turbocharged four cylinder if you want the "full Mini" experience.

The base engine propels the Clubman to a top speed of 127 miles per hour, while the four-cylinder turbo can climb to 142 miles per hour. Expect a zero-to-60 mile per hour time of about 8.0 seconds in the three-cylinder.

Except for wishing for a little more power, we found the Clubman a blast to drive. The BMW influence is evident in the car's handling. The steering is heavy and the car feels planted and substantial, belying its Matchbox-car looks.

The little three-cylinder engine gathers power quickly and is fast off the mark, although the power band wanes a bit in the middle rpms. A full manual transmission would add considerably to the fun factor.

BOTTOM LINE

Routine maintenance on the Clubman is free for three years or 36,000 miles, bumper to bumper, or as the Brits say, "boot to bonnet."

All in all, the Mini Cooper Clubman combines fun and practicality in a way that will likely make the brand appeal to a wider audience.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

 

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