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2009 MINI Cooper Clubman Review
Hot Club: An interesting approach to the classic notion of a sports car
By Michael Banovsky, Nov. 13, 2008
There should be a checklist potential owners must complete before allowed to own this car. Do you enjoy speeding? Do you enjoy dicing through traffic like a wayward plastic bag? Do you regret selling your go-kart? Do you have a fondness for the form and function of barn doors? The first three questions could be directed at all John Cooper Works (JCW)-fettled Minis. But the new Mini Cooper S Clubman JCW, with its five doors and ten windows (if you opt for the sunroof) presents an altogether different question: can you have fun and be practical at the same time in a $30,000 German-designed compact car? Apparently the question isn’t asked much, because on the face of it, the Clubman JCW has no natural competitors.

Here’s a vehicle that’s only 13 feet long, weighs just under 2,900 lbs., has 208 hp, a six-speed manual gearbox, a limited slip differential, performance brakes, performance exhaust, bodykit, and more. It will also do a 0-60 mph run in 6.5 seconds, and hit 147 mph.

MUCH MORE THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS

FAST FACTS

1. Console mounted sport button brings tighter steering and reduced traction control.

2. Despite dorky looks the Clubman has 208hp, a six-speed manual and an LSD!

Wait, what are we saying? If we reduce the Clubman JCW to the sum of its parts, there are several cars that will give you the same performance — for less. The Chevrolet HHR SS, the Subaru WRX Premium, and the upcoming Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart liftback all offer more outright speed in one way or another.

But that would be missing the point. With an options list as long as the Titanic, you can leave the dealership knowing that in fact, yes, you are the only person in the world with that exact car. There are ten colors available with two colors of roof trim and two more for the rear trim. Then choices that deal with hood stripes, mirror caps (chrome, painted, or carbon fiber), and the amount of chrome on the outside of your car. Interior choices? Nine for fabric, then you can choose the color of the door inserts, shift boot, parking brake handle, and the material used for the headliner. If you’re an indecisive person, don’t look at the accessories list. Most manufacturers offer a range of floor mats and ski racks. Those are available, too, along with accessories like graphics that will give you checkered exterior door handles.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Where can I get a car that has a rearview mirror that has a mirror on one side and a British flag on the other?” Yup. You can have that, too. So you can start with a go-kart and outfit it exactly to your specifications. Besides Mini, one of the other companies that allows you to do that is Rolls Royce, and BMW owns them, too.

STILL A DRIVER’S CAR: SPORT BUTTON INCLUDED

The other thing that the Clubman JCW has over any apparent competition is the way it drives. To begin with, it’s docile through town, the luxury-filled interior makes it easy to live with day-to-day, and there’s no real indication you’re driving a sporty car. Hit the console-mounted sport button, though, and things change. Like the BMW M3 and other modern performance cars, the steering firms up and feels meaty in your hands. The traction control allows a little more slip when turned off, allowing the car to move around a little more during hard cornering. Step on the accelerator pedal, and the Clubman JCW responds much like stepping on a greyhound’s tail: a yelp from the tires, the steering wheel jerks from side to side as you struggle to gain traction, then it’s off to the races. And because the car is not bulging with big fenders or a loud rear spoiler, you’re unlikely to arouse suspicion when bombing through a twisty section of your favorite roads.

STILL SMALL DESPITE EXTRA ROOM

Things aren’t as peachy for pedestrians, though. There’s only one pocket door, on the passenger side, which means having two people in the back seat forces one to crouch and side-step to sit behind the driver. And despite being a foot longer than a normal Mini, there’s still not much room back there.

POSITIVE

Cornucopia of options means every car can be a one-off
Still a driver’s car
A cut above any similar “competitors”

NEGATIVE

Rear barn doors divide everything in rearview mirror in half
This much longer Mini is still mini in the back seat
Only-a-mother-could-love-it looks

THOSE DARN BARN DOORS

Then there are the rear barn doors, which swing up and out of the way on very well-built metal hinges and gas shocks. Novel idea, and an interesting link to the past, but it means that everything in your rearview mirror is divided in half.

If you can handle being divorced from the notion of rear visibility, don’t have many friends for the rear seats, want to spend years combing through the options list, and answered “yes” to the opening questions, the Clubman JCW is for you. Actually, the Clubman JCW is more than that because it makes you feel good driving it. So, do you enjoy driving?

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