Redesigned and more conventional, the new Mini Cooper Clubman brings traditional doors and a sassy demeanor. Gone is the two-door wagon look with the hidden passenger-side “suicide” door. The rear van-like barn doors remain.

The Clubman oozes the unique Mini character and charm, while packing in more room and practicality. It remains an open question as to whether that is enough of a draw in the tightly packed product line given its size and price equation. Pricing starts at $24,100 but with typical option packages our recently purchased Clubman rang in at $31,550. Most Clubmans are sold as front-drivers, but AWD is optional.

Sizing up this wee wagon begs the question: Who needs a Clubman, given the existence of the four-door, five-passenger Mini Cooper? The answer is a combination of legacy, marketing, and incremental functionality.

In order to expand the Mini line and make it more appealing to drivers with family and friends, the Clubman is 11 inches longer, three inches wider, 300 pounds heavier, and $3,000 more expensive than the Cooper four-door. The result is more elbow and shoulder room throughout, a more-accommodating rear seat, and improved cargo space, while preserving the cheeky personality that defines Minis.

This Mini wagon harks back to the original classic, which was also available as a panel van and a woodie. More than a stretched Cooper, the new Clubman actually shares a platform with the BMW X1 and the next-generation Mini Countryman.  

2016 Mini Cooper Clubman rear with open doors

The engine lineup mirrors the rest of the Mini Cooper roster. The base Clubman has a 1.5-liter, three-cylinder turbo that’s good for 134 horsepower; the S version comes with a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder rated at 189 hp. If you opt for the automatic, the former comes with a six-speed transmission, the latter gets an eight-speed box. A six-speed manual is standard.

Our three-cylinder version delivers ample motivation. In fact, most of us wouldn’t spend the extra money for the more-powerful engine. So far, we’ve observed about 27 mpg according to the trip computer. We also noticed that the start-stop feature, which shuts off the engine at idle, is a bit rough at times.

Legendary go-kart handling has always been a Mini Cooper highlight. To a large extent, that character carries over to the Clubman, though less overtly. This maxi Mini is still low slung and feels like it hugs the road, but cornering isn’t as sharp as the regular Mini.

The ride is also in keeping with the Mini spirit, meaning it skews firm. That may be unobjectionable if you’re in a Mini state-of-mind and treat the car as a sporty hatch. But the ride might be perceived as too rough for a family-minded car that’s priced in the low $30,000s. Road noise is quite pronounced, as well.  

Puddle light
As an added touch of luxury, a puddle light shines down on the pavement at night when the door opens.

Always a celebration of details ranging from cheerful to funky, the Mini cabin is full of surprises. Chrome-tipped toggle switches, a red start button flipper switch, and a large round center screen for the infotainment system with a rim that changes colors like a mood ring, reflecting your actions. From dynamics to cosmetics, the Mini engages the driver, with a wink.

The controls certainly take some getting used to, but anyone familiar with BMW’s iDrive will realize that the Mini Connected system employs the same logic, only in a more jolly, graphic way.

Comfortable and supportive seats are welcome, despite the lack of power adjustment. Those who like to sit close to the wheel might hit their knee on the console. The rear seat is relatively habitable for a Mini, although it is still is a tight place to be. Fortunately, the dual-pane sunroof makes the cab feel airy.

One defining Clubman feature is the dual door rear gate, complete with two tiny rear wipers. Apart from the heritage, there’s no practical advantage here. On the contrary, the bisected rear view hurts visibility, the doors resist you when trying to close them, and it doubles the road grime you get on your hands.

There is certainly a personality and premium air to the Clubman, conveyed through its recognizable, smile-inducing styling and bold character. But in terms of actual deliverables, such as ride and handling prowess, powertrain refinement, and room, a Volkswagen Golf wagon is a more accomplished—albeit somber—car.

Ultimately, nothing else has the cool-factor of a Mini even when it comes with an XL tag.  

See our small car buying guide and ratings.