MINI Clubman Cooper Exclusive 2019 Road Test

The MINI Clubman remains an excellent choice for those who want the style of a MINI but with a bit more practicality than that offered by the hatch. It’s better to drive than the Countryman SUV while the John Cooper Works model in particular - now with an extra 75PS - will appeal to thrill-seekers.

It's the standard Cooper we're testing here, though - in Exclusive trim - and you'll have to look closely to spot the changes. With the Clubman picking up the title of the most popular estate car on last year, buyers evidently aren't demanding any dramatic changes - the most noticeable being the addition of controversial Union Jack LED tail lights. There's also a revised front grille, a selection of new exterior colours and some alloy wheel designs.

As before, the Clubman is more practical than the hatch model but less practical than a conventional estate car. The boot's just 340 litres compared to the Volkswagen Golf Estate's 605 litres, rising to 1250 litres when the rear seats are dropped. It's a useful shape, though, with very easy access thanks to its twin barn doors - and there isn't much of a lip, ideal if you wish to transport a dog or struggle lifting heavy items into the boot.

In the rear seats, there's enough room for a pair of full-sized adults, helped by a huge amount of headroom. It does feel a tad gloomy, though. We think the optional panoramic sunroof (£800) might be a worthwile option if you regularly carry rear-seat passengers.

MINI Clubman (8)

Last year, MINI announced three new trim levels (or 'styles' in MINI parlence) that would be offered across the range. The model we've tested here is the high-spec Exclusive model which, on the Clubman, features highlights such as leather sports seats, chrome interior and exterior highlights and cruise control.

There's a small 6.5-inch infotainment system with navigation, which lets down the car's otherwise very premium interior slightly, although it's the same size as those offered in rivals. Our car was fitted with the Navigation Plus pack - a worthwhile but expensive (£1300) option, bringing with it a bigger 8.8-inch screen positioned in a circle in the centre of the dash.

It's a simple enough system to use, operated by a rotary controller positioned between the seats, while buttons provide access to key features (including handy programmable numbered shortcuts). Apple CarPlay is standard across the range although, frustratingly, there's no Android Auto.

Infotainment aside, the MINI Clubman's cabin is pleasingly upmarket. It's more interesting than mainstream rivals, with a distinctive MINI flair. It's also superbly finished, with not a brittle plastic to be seen. If you've sat in pre-facelift Clubman, you're not going to notice many differences inside, but it certainly feels competitive against the likes of the latest Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3.

MINI Clubman (3)

The 'Cooper' badge on the Clubman's boot refers to the engine - a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol. It might be the entry-level engine but it's also the sweet spot in the range, combining low running costs with enough performance to keep up with motorway traffic. It's more refined than most three-cylinder engines and it works well with the seven-speed automatic transmission fitted to our test car (a £1600 option). That said, the six-speed manual offers a more sporty drive.

MINIs are known for their go-kart handling, and the Clubman lives up to this. It's on the firm side around town (although it's not uncomfortable on the standard wheels), while on open roads it will grip tenaciously. The steering is fine - usefully light at low speeds - but it doesn't provide as much feedback as we'd expect. One annoyance we have is the split rear doors which creates a small blind spot in the centre of the rear-view mirror. It's not a big issue, really, but it takes a little getting used to.

There's nothing groundbreaking about the updated MINI Clubman. It remains a fun, premium choice with an excellent interior and more practicality than the regular hatch. If you've got to carry bulky loads, you'd be better buying a Golf Estate, but the Clubman's boot is easily accessed and there's enough space in the rear seats for children.

So what's the catch? Well, the MINI Clubman still isn't a particularly affordable option. It starts at a fairly reasonable £21,200, although MINI no longer offers the entry-level City model (which started at £19,995 when it was introduced last year). Our test car has a pre-option price of £26,450 - and a few select extras will take that comfortably over £30,000. And that buys quite a lot of Volkswagen Golf.

The MINI Clubman is on sale now.

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